What’s one lesson?
“The best-intentioned foreign intervention is bound to bog its armies down in endless wars fighting invisible enemies to help ungrateful locals,” as the Economist magazine frankly wrote in its Jan. 26 issue.
How about what then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told West Point cadets almost two years ago: “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”
On Tuesday night, former secretary of state George P. Shultz, in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations here in Washington, put it this way: “Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be the template for how we go about” dealing with threats of terrorism.
The Obama refinement to such intervention may be to provide intelligence and logistic support to those deserving such help and capable of receiving it. But the lead for using combat troops, “boots on the ground,” should be taken by those whose vital interests are directly involved — starting with the host government. Next should be neighboring countries. In the best of circumstances, they would be banded together in regional organizations, and, if possible, with authorization from the United Nations.
If the situation requires U.S. diplomacy to facilitate such collaboration and authority, fine. That is where the world’s greatest power should take the lead. If more hawkish Americans want to call this “leading from behind,” then that’s all right, too. Finally, when outside ground forces from a major power are required, it should come from a nation with historic roots in the host country.
France is a good example. It stepped up and took the lead by going into Mali, a former colony, in response to the Bamako government’s call for help. Another example is the international cooperation on the oceans off Somalia that has successfully been dealing with the piracy problem.
At Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to become defense secretary, members are going to ask Hagel about his views on how to confront our numerous threats, including terrorism.
He would do well to echo some of the views Shultz stated Tuesday night.
Shultz said, “We have paid a very heavy price in this country in our response to [terrorism], personally I think much too heavy.” He added that what is needed is “a much more precise strategy for dealing with the terrorism that arises mostly from a sometimes violent brand of Islam. . . . It’s not going to go away and we have to find a way to deal with it.”