Without a clear strategy from the White House and the return of a robust defense budget, the United States is set for failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, argued former generals James Mattis and John Keane, as well as former admiral William Fallon in congressional testimony Tuesday.
The United States “needs to come out from our reactive crouch and take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values,” Mattis, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He went on to highlight the damage done by widespread budget cuts across the Department of Defense. “No foe in the field can wreck such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving today,” Mattis said.
Referring to threats from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen under the umbrella term “radical Islam,” Keane lamented what he called a disjointed approach to combating U.S. enemies in the region.
“We are reduced to a very piecemeal effort,” said Keane, referring to the current drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. He also said airstrikes in Iraq and Syria were supporting “unproven” local ground forces.
“This approach almost certainly guarantees we will be incrementally engaged with one radical group after another with no end in sight,” Keane added.
Mattis raised concerns about strategy in Syria, saying U.S. political objectives remains unclear. He also said the time to support moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as well as the Islamic State had “passed.”
Fallon, also a former CENTCOM commander, pushed for continued engagement in the Middle East as well as a residual force in Afghanistan after 2016. He also emphasized the need to enable local partners in the region, including the new government in Iraq.
“In Iraq, success will rest on the ability of the new government to convince the majority of his countrymen and women, specifically the Sunni minority, that they will get a fair shake going forward,” Fallon said. “Absent this political foundation nothing we do will be effective in the long term.”
This piece has been updated to correct Mattis’s last position in the military.