The overmilitarization of American foreign policy

Robert M. Gates

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to go it alone in responding to the coronavirus pandemic is but the latest manifes-tation of the United States’ waning global leadership. Even before the virus struck, there was broad bipartisan agreement that Washington should reduce its commitments abroad and focus on problems at home. The economic and social toll of the pandemic will only reinforce that position. Many Americans — and not just the president’s supporters — believe that the United States’ allies have taken advantage of the country. They think that the costs associated with international leadership have been too high. They have lost patience with endless wars and foreign interventions.

The United States remains the most powerful country in the world, in both economic and military terms. Yet nearly three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it faces challenges on multiple fronts. China and Russia are strengthening their militaries and seeking to extend their influence globally. North Korea poses an increasingly sophisticated nuclear threat in East Asia, and Iran remains a determined adversary in the Middle East. After 19 years of war, thousands of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Islamic State continues to conduct terrorist attacks. Deep divisions have beset the United States’ strongest allies in Europe. And now, nearly every country on earth is grappling with the devastating consequences of the pandemic.

Without a return of U.S. leadership, these challenges will only grow, moving us closer to a might-makes-right world and further from one shaped by international cooperation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. But such a return would depend on first addressing the fundamental flaws in U.S. foreign policy today.

Washington has become overly dependent on military tools and has seriously neglected its nonmilitary instruments of power, which have weakened as a result. And it has attempted to develop and implement policy using a national security structure that was designed for the Cold War and has changed remarkably little since the 1940s. Without greater military restraint and far-reaching institutional restructuring and reform, U.S. politicians and policymakers will have an increasingly hard time persuading Americans to support the global leadership role so essential to protecting the security and economy of the United States. And without American leadership, there will be truly dark days ahead.

As essential as it is to build and maintain a strong military, it’s just as — or more — important to know when and how to use it. When facing a decision of whether to use the military, presidents must better define the objective. What are troops expected to do, and are the resources adequate for the mission? If the mission changes, as it did in Somalia under President Bill Clinton (from famine relief to peacemaking and improving governance) and in Iraq under President George W. Bush (from toppling Saddam Hussein to occupation, fighting an insurgency, and nation building), is there a commensurate change in the resources applied? Is there a mismatch between U.S. aspirations and U.S. capabilities, as in Afghanistan?

Finding the right answers to these questions has proved difficult. The objective of any military intervention must be clear, and the strategy and resources committed must be adequate to fulfill the objective. Sensitive to domestic politics, presidents sometimes are tempted to use just enough military force to avoid failure but not enough to achieve success. Such an approach is not only strategically unwise but also immoral. The lives of American men and women in uniform must not simply be thrown at a problem and squandered in halfhearted or impulsive efforts.

Presidents must be especially wary of mission creep, the gradual expansion of a military effort to achieve new and more ambitious objectives not originally intended. Often, once they have achieved the established objectives, leaders feel emboldened to pursue broader goals. Such overreach is what happened under Clinton after he sent troops into Somalia in 1993 to forestall humanitarian disaster and into Haiti in 1994 to overthrow the military dictatorship, and it is what happened under George W. Bush after U.S. troops toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003.

Before intervening militarily, leaders must assess whether core U.S. interests are really threatened, how realistic the objectives are, the willingness of others to help, the potential human and financial costs of intervention, and what might go wrong when U.S. troops hit the ground. These are hard questions, but they must be addressed with eyes wide open. The bar for the use of the U.S. military for purposes short of protecting vital national interests should be very high.

The consequences of an insufficiently planned military intervention can be devastating. Take, for example, the U.S. intervention in Libya in 2011, which I opposed. Once President Barack Obama decided to go in, the administration made two strategic mistakes. The first was agreeing to expand the original NATO humanitarian mission from simply protecting the people of eastern Libya against the forces of Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi to toppling the regime. NATO could have drawn a proverbial line in the sand somewhere between the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern city of Benghazi; a no-fly zone and attacks on Qaddafi’s ground forces could have protected the rebels in the East without destroying the government in Tripoli. Under those circumstances, perhaps some kind of political accommodation could have been worked out.

The second strategic mistake was the Obama administration’s failure to plan in any way for an international role in reestablishing order and a working government post-Qaddafi. (This is ironic in light of Obama’s earlier criticism of Bush’s alleged failure to plan properly for a post-Saddam Iraq.) Drawing on nonmilitary tools, the government could have taken a number of useful steps, including sending a U.S. training mission to help restructure the Libyan army, increasing the advisory role of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, and restraining Egypt and the Gulf states from meddling prior to and after the outbreak of the 2014 civil war.

What is so striking about the overmilitarization of the period following the Cold War is just how much U.S. policymakers failed to learn the lessons of the seven previous decades. One of the United States’ greatest victories of the twentieth century relied not on military might but on subtler tools of power. The Cold War took place against the backdrop of the greatest arms race in history, but there was never actually a significant direct military clash between the two superpowers. Indeed, most historians calculate that fewer than 200 U.S. troops died due to direct Soviet action. Because nuclear weapons would have made any war between the two countries catastrophic for both sides, the U.S.-Soviet contest was waged through surrogates and, crucially, through the use of nonmilitary instruments of power.

Most of those nonmilitary instruments have withered or been abandoned since the end of the Cold War. But as the great powers today expand and modernize their militaries, if the United States is smart, the long competition ahead with China, in particular, will play out in the nonmilitary arena. Those nonmilitary instruments must be revived and updated.

Like a strong military, diplomacy is an indispensable instru-ment of national power. For many years now, Congress has starved the State Department of sufficient resources, and the White House has often sidelined the agency and failed to support its budgetary needs. The State Department’s critics, including those inside the department, are right that the organization has become too bureaucratic and requires far-reaching reform. Still, any effort to strengthen the United States’ nonmilitary toolkit must position a stronger State Department at its core.

The United States’ economic power offers further nonmilitary means of courting partners and pressuring rivals. After World War II, the United States presided over the creation of institutions designed to strengthen international economic coordination largely on American terms, including the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. was a principal advocate for free trade and a more tightly knit global trading system.

Attitudes changed, however, in the early 1990s. It became increasingly difficult to get Congress to approve free-trade agreements, even when they were negotiated with friendly countries such as Canada and Mexico. U.S. presidents came to see economic power mainly as an instrument to mete out punishment. Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has applied economic sanctions — mostly in the form of targeted trade and financial restrictions — against dozens of countries in an effort to alter their behavior. President Trump, in particular, has been hostile to nearly all multilateral organizations and has weaponized U.S. economic power, starting tariff wars with both rivals and allies.

The Trump administration has also tried to slash foreign aid. Such assistance remains a useful tool, even though some of the public has been skeptical of spending money abroad rather than at home. With little popular support, the U.S. Agency for International Development has shrunk since the end of the Cold War. When I retired as director of the CIA in 1993, USAID had more than 15,000 employees, most of them career professionals, many working in developing countries in dangerous and inhos-pitable environments. When I returned to government as secretary of defense in 2006, USAID had been cut to about 3,000 employees, most of whom were managing contractors.

In shrinking USAID, the United States unilaterally gave up an important instrument of power. By contrast, China has been especially adept at using its development projects to cultivate foreign leaders and buy influence. Its boldest gambit on this front has been the Belt and Road Initiative, which in 2019 encompassed projects in 115 countries with an estimated cost of over $1 trillion.

Another casualty of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the U.S. Information Agency and the United States’ overall strategic communications capabilities. During the Cold War, the USIA established a global network of facilities stocked with books and magazines about democracy, history, American culture, and an array of other subjects. The agency’s Voice of America broadcast news and entertainment around the world, presenting an objective view of current events to millions who would otherwise have been dependent on government-controlled outlets. The USIA and its many outlets and programs reached every corner of the planet. It was a sophisticated instrument, and it worked.

Nevertheless, the USIA was abolished in 1999, with its residual efforts folded into the State Department. That had real consequences. By 2001, U.S. public diplomacy was a pale shadow of its Cold War self. Unlike China and Russia, the United States now lacks an effective strategy for communicating its message and countering those of its competitors.

U.S. policymakers have many nonmilitary tools at their disposal. But those tools will remain inadequate for the challenges ahead if Washington does not overhaul its outdated national security apparatus. The current structure, established by the National Security Act of 1947, has outlived its usefulness. Under it, there is no formal place at the table for any of the departments or agencies overseeing international economic policies. Apart from when it involves military matters, our government has little ability to orchestrate all its instruments of power.

The State Department should be the central nonmilitary instrument of U.S. national security policy. Although the State Department and USAID traditionally have been staffed by some of the most talented people in government, in organizational terms, the two entities are nightmares. The State Department has a stultifying bureaucracy that frustrates its best people and greatly impedes its agility. It doesn’t always allocate its resources well. For example, it has too many people in comfortable postings such as Berlin, London, Paris and Rome and not nearly enough in the capitals of key developing countries. The State Department needs a bureaucratic restructuring and cultural shakeup — and then significantly more funding and personnel. A restructured and strengthened State Department would serve as the hub for managing all the spokes of the government involved in directing nonmilitary resources to address national security problems.

In the United States’ nonmilitary competition with China and Russia, U.S. officials also need to look at how to reform the alliances and international organizations Washington helped create to make them better serve U.S. objectives today.

Strengthening the nonmilitary tools of U.S. foreign policy would advance U.S. national interests and create new, more cost-effective, and less risky ways to exercise American power and leadership internationally. Across the political spectrum, there is a belief that post–Cold War presidents have turned too often to the military to resolve challenges abroad. It should not be the mission of the U.S. military to try to shape the future of other countries. Not every act of aggression, every oppression, or every crisis should elicit a U.S. military response.

Finally, most Americans want their country to stand for something beyond just military strength and economic success. They want it to be seen admiringly by others as the world’s strongest advocate for liberty. In formulating a foreign policy that the American public will support, U.S. leaders should recognize that it is important to use every nonmilitary instrument of power possible to encourage both friends and rivals to embrace freedom and reform, because those objectives serve the U.S. national interest. Even if U.S. officials get all the right military and nonmilitary tools in place, it will still be up to American leaders, American legislators, and the broader American public to understand that the long-term self-interest of the United States demands that it accept the burden of global leadership.

Robert M. Gates was U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011. His article is edited from Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, July/August 2020.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


stephen_kinzer.jpg (3531 bytes)Egypt protests show folly of American foreign policy
While popular uprisings erupt across the Middle East, the U.S. stands on the sidelines.

Stephen Kinzer

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I walked into the British Foreign Office for a meeting with Middle East policy planners. “Tunisia is melting down and the Lebanese government has just fallen,” my host said as he welcomed me. “Interesting times.” During our meeting, one veteran British diplomat observed that since United States policy toward the Middle East is frozen into immobility, change there comes only when there is a crisis. I asked where he thought the next crisis might erupt. “Egypt,” he replied.

Events have moved quickly since then. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has been overthrown, Hezbollah has chosen the new prime minister of Lebanon, and thousands have taken to the streets in Egypt to demand an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. The Middle East is erupting—and the U.S. is watching from the sidelines. Unable to guide the course of events, it can do little more than cheer for its sclerotic allies and hope that popular anger does not sweep them aside.

Washington sees the various local and national conflicts in the Middle East as part of a battle for regional hegemony between the U.S. and Iran. If this is true, the U.S. is losing. That is because it has stubbornly held onto Middle East policies that were shaped for the Cold War. The security environment in the region has changed dramatically since then. Iran has shown itself agile enough to align itself with rising new forces that enjoy the support of millions. The U.S., meanwhile, remains allied with countries and forces that looked strong 30 or 40 years ago but no longer are.

Iran is betting on Hezbollah, Hamas, and Shiite parties in Iraq. These are popular forces that win elections. Hezbollah emerged as the heroic champion of resistance to Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, winning the admiration of Arabs, not only for itself but also for its Iranian backers. Many Arabs also admire Hamas for its refusal to bow to Israeli power in Gaza.

Pro-Iran forces have also scored major gains in Iraq. They effectively control the Iraqi government, and their most incendiary leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, recently returned to a hero’s welcome after an extended stay in Iran. By invading Iraq in 2003 and removing Saddam Hussein from power, the U.S. handed Iraq to Iran on a platter. Now Iran is completing the consolidation of its position in Baghdad.

Whom does America bet on to counter these rising forces? The same friends it has been betting on for decades: Mubarak’s pharaonic regime in Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, the Saudi monarchy, and increasingly radical politicians in Israel. It is no wonder that Iran’s power is rising as the American-imposed order begins to crumble.

The U.S. keeps Mubarak in power—it gave his regime $1.5 billion in aid last year—mainly because he supports America’s pro-Israel policies, especially by helping Israel maintain its stranglehold on Gaza. It supports Abbas for the same reason: he is seen as willing to compromise with Israel, and therefore a desirable negotiating partner. This was confirmed by WikiLeaks cables that show how eager he has been to meet Israeli demands, even collaborating with Israeli security forces to arrest Palestinians he dislikes. American support for Mubarak and Abbas continues, although neither man is in power with any figment of legality; Mubarak brazenly stage-manages elections, and Abbas has ruled by decree since his term of office expired in 2009.

Intimacy with the Saudi royal family is another old habit the U.S. cannot seem to kick—even though American leaders know full well, as one of the WikiLeaks cables confirms, that “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al-Qaeda.” The fact that the Tunisian leader fled to Saudi Arabia after being overthrown shows how fully the Saudis support the old, eroding Middle East order.

As for Israel itself, it will lose much if new Arab leaders emerge who refuse to be their silent partners. Yet Israel clings to the belief that it will be able to guarantee its long-term security with weapons alone. The U.S. encourages it in this view, sending Israelis the message that no matter how militant their rejectionist policies become, they can count on Washington’s endless support.

The U.S. has long sought to block democracy in the Arab world, fearing that it would lead to the emergence of Islamist regimes. Remarkably, however, the Tunisian revolution does not seem to be heading that way, nor have Islamist leaders tried to guide protests in Egypt. Perhaps watching the intensifying repression imposed by mullahs in Iran has led many Muslims to rethink the value of propelling clerics to power.

Even if democratic regimes in the Middle East are not fundamentalist, however, they will firmly oppose U.S. policy toward Israel. The intimate U.S.-Israel relationship guarantees that many Muslims around the world will continue to see the U.S. as an enabler of evil. Despite America’s sins in the Middle East, however, many Muslims still admire the U.S. They see its leaders as profoundly mistaken in their unconditional support of Israel, but envy what the U.S. has accomplished and want some version of American freedom and prosperity for themselves. This suggests that it is not too late for the U.S. to reset its policy toward the region in ways that would take new realities into account.

Accepting that Arabs have the right to elect their own leaders means accepting the rise of governments that do not share America’s pro-Israel militancy. This is the dilemma Washington now faces. Never has it been clearer that the U.S. needs to reassess its long-term Middle East strategy. It needs new approaches and new partners. Listening more closely to Turkey, the closest U.S. ally in the Muslim Middle East, would be a good start. A wise second step would be a reversal of policy toward Iran, from confrontation to a genuine search for compromise. Yet pathologies in American politics, fed by emotions that prevent cool assessment of national interest, continue to paralyze the U.S. diplomatic imagination. Even this month’s eruptions may not be enough to rouse Washington from its self-defeating slumber.

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. His books include “Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” (2006), recounting the 14 times the United States has overthrown foreign governments, and “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror” (2003). His article is edited from Newsweek, January 28, 2011.

– PeaceMeal,Jan/February 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Obama lays out security strategy based in diplomacy

President Barack Obama, speaking to a graduating class at the United States Military Academy, West Point NY, outlined a new national security strategy on May 22, one based in diplomatic engagement and international alliances, as he repudiated his predecessor's emphasis on unilateral American power and the claimed right to wage pre-emptive war. Eight years after President George W. Bush came to West Point to change course in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Obama used the same setting to offer a different doctrine, one that vowed no retreat against enemies while seeking "national renewal and global leadership."

Most of the 1,000 graduating cadets were 12 years old when hijacked passenger jets destroyed the World Trade Center and smashed into the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. President Obama told them, "America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don't." Mr. Obama said the United States "will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well" while also trying to "build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions."

The president's address was intended not just for the young men and women who could soon face combat in Afghanistan or Iraq as second lieutenants in the Army, but also for an international audience that in some quarters grew alienated from the United States during the Bush era. The contrasts between Mr. Bush's address in 2002 and Mr. Obama's in 2010 underscored the ways a wartime U.S. has changed.

When Mr. Bush spoke, he had succeeded in toppling the Taliban government in Afghanistan and a victory of sorts appeared at hand, even as he was turning his attention to a new front in Iraq. As Mr. Obama took the stage, the American war in Iraq was finally beginning to wind down after seven years, as combat forces prepare to withdraw by August. Mr. Obama all but declared victory in Iraq, crediting the military but not Mr. Bush, who sent more troops in 2007.

But Afghanistan has flared out of control and tens of thousands of reinforcements are flowing there. And terrorists have made a fresh effort to strike on American soil, as the new president reformulates the approach to countering them.

In the face of sharp criticism that he is weakening America's defenses, he defended his efforts to bring counterterrorism policies in line with the Constitution and international law: "We should not discard our freedoms because extremists try to exploit them," he said. "We cannot succumb to division because others try to drive us apart."

– edited from The New York Times, May 22, 2010
PeaceMeal, May/June 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Top ex-diplomats slam militarization of U.S. foreign policy

U.S. diplomatic and foreign aid assets have largely atrophied and must be quickly rebuilt by the new administration that takes office in January, according to a report released in Washington DC in October by former senior foreign service officers. While the Pentagon’s budget has risen to heights not seen since World War II, the State Department has seen its human and financial resources reduced 30-50 percent since the end of the Cold War. The report by the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) and the Henry L. Stimson Center calls for a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of diplomats and aid and development specialists recruited into the foreign service over the next five years. This would cost about $3 billion — approximately what the Pentagon spends every ten days on military operations in Iraq — over current budget estimates.

The vacuum created by the lack of diplomatic resources has translated into the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, warns the 26-page report, A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future. “Today, significant portions of the nation’s foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished,” it says. “The work migrates by default to the military that does have the necessary people and funding but neither sufficient experience nor knowledge. The ‘militarization’ of diplomacy exists and is accelerating.” The report asserts: “The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests.”

As part of the fix, the report calls for the State Department to take over control from the Defense Department of nearly $800 million a year budgeted for several security assistance programs, including humanitarian aid, created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help friendly militaries prosecute the global war on terrorism.

“Our view is that the Secretary of State has and should have responsibility for assuring that all foreign and security assistance is carried out in accord with U.S. foreign policy, including setting overall policy, approving countries to receive assistance, and setting the budget for such assistance,” the report says. “It is important for the U.S. to ensure that its non-military international presence and engagement be carried out primarily by civilians, not by the military.”

The new report echoes the views of a growing number of non-governmental organizations and foreign policy experts that the Pentagon, simply by virtue of its enormous budget and its worldwide presence with nearly 800 overseas bases, has become far too dominant in policy making. Even Pentagon chief Robert Gates, a former senior intelligence officer, has complained about the imbalance between U.S. military and diplomatic resources. “Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs...remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military,” he declared in a much-discussed speech a year ago. “What is clear for me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.”

Gates has also noted ruefully that there are more people serving in military bands than in the entire State Department.

Despite his support, however, Gates’ views have not yet substantially altered the political equation in Congress, which has routinely approved or even increased the Bush administration’s budgetary requests for the Pentagon over the last eight years while casting a far more skeptical eye on requests for the State Department, which lacks a comparably broad-based constituency in the electorate and industry.

The Defense Department is slated to receive well over $527 billion for 2009 — not including at least $170 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — roughly 13 times more than the State Department’s budget of less than $40 billion. And in October, the Pentagon submitted a new projection for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than it had previously announced, according to Congressional Quarterly, beginning with an almost 10-percent increase in its 2010 budget to nearly $600 billion — again, not including war costs.

– edited from Inter Press Service, Oct. 15, 2008
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Terrorism is ‘blowback’ from U.S. foreign policy

Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Osama bin Laden unit of the CIA

In CIA jargon, the term “blowback” refers to the unintended negative consequences of U.S. covert operations against foreign nations and governments. The term was first used in a 1954 report on the CIA’s 1953 operation that overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected head of state in Iran, and installed the Shah as dictator. The suicidal hijacker attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States were instances of blowback from American clandestine operations in Afghanistan. Following is a statement by Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who resigned in 2004, given at the National Press Club in Washington DC, May 24, 2007, addressing this issue:

The only indispensable ally that Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and their allies have [is] U.S. foreign policy.

It is a patent absurdity on the part of the governing establishment of the United States to believe that the war we are engaged in at the moment has anything to do with our freedoms, our democracies, gender equality, or myself having a Budweiser after work in the evening. There’s nothing more absurd than that that you could imagine.

This war [in Iraq] has to do with our foreign policy and its impact in the Muslim world. Al Qaeda and its like ... have focused on U.S. foreign policy and they have found it a glue of cohesion, a glue of unity across the Islamic world, which is, as every other civilization on Earth, as diverse, as fractious as can be imagined — ethnically, linguistically, divisions between sects and within sects of religion.

There is no Islam; there is [sic] no Muslims; there is just the Muslim world. And the cohesion that bin Laden has given it stems from the impact of our policies, simply six in number:

1. Our ability, until recently at least, to control the price of oil and make it acceptable to Western consumers;

2. Our unqualified support for Israel;

3. Our presence on the Arabian Peninsula;

4. Our military presence in Muslim countries [in] places like Yemen and Saudi Arabia, but now including Iraq and Afghanistan;

5. Our support for governments that are viewed across the Islamic world as oppressing Muslims — Russia and Chechnya in the North Caucasus, India in Kashmir, the genocide by inundation of the Chinese in western China;

6. And perhaps most painfully of all for America is our 50 years of support for Arab police states and tyrannies.

There is within the movement of Al Qaeda and the Islamists a large measure of liberation sentiment. And Muslims, especially in the Arab world, have been governed by dictators who installed generals and absolute monarchs since World War II. And we have supported, nurtured and protected them.

In response to a question on the situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer stated the following:

The President was sold a bill of goods by George Tenet and the CIA — that a few dozen intel guys, a few hundred Special Forces, and truckloads of money could win the day. What happened is what’s happened ever since Alexander the Great, three centuries before Christ: the cities fell quickly, which we mistook for victory. Three years later, the Taliban has regrouped, and there’s a strong insurgency. We paid a great price for demonizing the Taliban. We saw them as evil because they didn’t let women work, but that’s largely irrelevant in Afghanistan. They provided nationwide law and order for the first time in 25 years; we destroyed that and haven’t replaced it. They’re remembered in Afghanistan for their harsh, theocratic rule, but remembered more for the security they provided. In the end, we’ll lose and leave. The idea that we can control Afghanistan with 22,000 soldiers, most of whom are indifferent to the task, is far-fetched. The Soviets couldn’t do it with 150,000 soldiers and utter brutality.

~ Michael Scheuer is the author of “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.”

– PeaceMeal, May/June 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


dan_sisk.jpg (1452 bytes)Friendship formula for world peace

by Dan Sisk

Having a birthday during Lent is bad enough, but growing up in a family of five brothers and four sisters is like answering to a whole team of junior executives. Eventually, even my baby sister rose above me in the management chain, leaving me with the post of family irritant, which I pursued with ardor. As I grew, the words of my big brothers and sisters seemed dry and tedious, and they passed like tumbleweeds on the wind seeking some other fence to roll against.Maturity has given me more respect for the wisdom of my siblings. Fatherhood tends to force that. And empathy, too: My sons have trampled many perfectly good suggestions under foot, often with glee.

It occurs to me that my family’s dynamics aren’t all that different from the way nations interact. I often think of countries that have spent their modern lives in the shadow of big brother America. Constantly gazing across the oceans for approval, they’ve longed to win our acceptance. The same dream often burned in their hearts as they stood in awe, a dream of equality and friendship. But it can be a pitiful dream.

Lately, the dream seems to have decayed to rivalry and anger. Possibly miffed by our muscle-flexing, our unwanted advice or our self-interest, the membership of Uncle Sam’s fan club dwindles while detractors run out of name tags. But why should we care?

Behind our pride, we try to understand what went wrong. Like anyone losing the trust and respect of admirers, we secretly dig for a root cause, but the answer towers overhead.

Though the attack on Pearl Harbor seized and rattled us, we endured and overcame. The universal ideals and principles handed down to us prevailed again, fortifying us even more.

Now, fear has a dogged grip and we can’t shake it off. As a result, we’ve lost our self-respect and confidence. Glued to the threat level, we bounce from panic to panic like pinballs, then escape to TVs where others navigate realities that conveniently avoid our own. Meanwhile, our former admirers scoff at our disarray and see little value in a superpower afraid of its own shadow.

When waylaid by stress and uncertainty, two choices remain: curl up into a ball or reclaim the rock you once stood upon and build again. For us, the rock embodies the timeless principles so astutely compiled by our forefathers years ago. Today, the message still has relevance; the champion just got a bit flabby.

Unfortunately, a successful approach eludes us. Do we force it with guns and bombs and house-to-house searches? Or do we bribe our way in by funding nations where religious tolerance means freedom to attend state-run services?

Our founders must have forgotten to jot down the specifics. Either that or they’re all too obvious.

All this brings me back to the family business, or what’s left of it. Oh, the team’s still there, for the most part, but at some point along the line, the firm reorganized. While life distracted us, we were re-engineered, refocused, and reassigned. Now we’re, well, just a bunch of people who share adventure, happiness, sadness and power tools. In a word, friends.

Together, in our own way, we grope our way forward, sitting down together from to time to encourage, compare notes or just take a load off.

The answers I’ve gathered along my own meandering path serve well. Though many questions remain, one thing is clear to all of us: We don’t need big brothers anymore, but we’ll always need friends.

Maybe that’s what the world needs, too.

Dan Sisk, Richland, is a manager in the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. His article was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on 25 March 2007.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)