Tag Archives: War on Terror

The Iraq War Part 2 – BBC2

Last night the BBC broadcast the second episode in its three part series on the Iraq War. The first episode, shown last week, dealt with the decisions that led to war. The BBC website describes this one, titled After the Fall, as follows:

In After the Fall, part two of this three-part series, key insiders describe the chaotic aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Dick Cheney and Colin Powell come to blows over America’s role as occupying power. General David Petraeus recalls the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army. The representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani – Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric – tells how Sistani forced the Americans into agreeing to elections in Iraq. One of the greatest challenges came from Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. America and the new Iraqi government were able to defeat Sadr militarily, but it set the stage for sectarian war.

Disappointingly Powell and Cheney came to blows verbally, rather than physically.

The original Coalition administrator in Iraq was Jay Garner, a retired US general. He had been involved in the establishment of a safe zone in Kurdistan, so was popular with the Kurds. He regarded himself as a facilitator who would quickly hand over power to Iraqis.

Many Iraqis welcomed the US army into Baghdad, but some, including Sheikh Mahdi Sumaidaie, a Sunni cleric, resisted. Most waited to see if the Coalition would act as liberators or occupiers.

Garner arranged a meeting between Kurdish leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Barham Salih and Massoud Barzani, and some of Saddam opponents who had just returned from exile: Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister who had been in exile for 35 years. Ahmed Chalabi, who returned with a private army, and Dr Mowaffah Rubaie, a Shia. The meeting established a Governing Council.

Garner was concerned about the vacuum at the top, which resulted in a lack of essential services and an inability to stop looting. Some locals formed vigilante groups to defend their neighbourhoods and hospitals from looters. He wanted to form an Iraqi administration as soon as possible.

President George W. Bush, however, was nervous that he had the wrong team in Baghdad even as he declared combat operations to be over on 1 May 2003. Garner had thought that he had three months, but Bush decided to accelerate the change to a civilian administrator: Jerry Bremer.

Bremer told the Governing Council that it was not representative of Iraqis as it included no women, Christians or Turkomans, and that he possessed full executive, legislative and judicial authority. Rubaie said that this meant that Bremer was a Viceroy, and Iraq was under real occupation.

There was a dispute on the US National Security Council when it debated the speed of change. Secretary of State Colin Powell wanted a slow move towards Iraqi rule, arguing that the Coalition did not know who to turn power over to and that any Iraqi administration would need Coalition forces to maintain security. Vice President Dick Cheney wanted a quicker change. Bush leaned towards Powell and Bremer’s preference for a slow move.

Bremer authorised payments of about six months salary to Iraqi civil servants, but nothing was paid to soldiers, who had not been paid since February.

A group of Iraqi general staff officers approached Colonel Paul Hughes of the Coalition staff. They warned him that there would be trouble if the soldiers were not paid. Hughes took their concerns to Walt Slocombe, the US adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. Slocombe thought that the Iraqi soldiers had a nerve asking the Coalition to pay them money owed by Saddam. He argued that there was a need to get rid of Saddam’s institutions, and that a new army should be build from scratch.

Before the war Bush had approved a plan to use the Iraqi army as a national reconstruction force. It was thought to be too dangerous to demobilise all the soldiers at once, and they had been promised that they would be looked after if they surrendered. According to Frank Miller, his  Special Assistant, Bush now said that he would leave it up to ‘the guy on the ground.’

No Coalition troops were killed by hostile forces in the week before the Iraqi army was disbanded; five were killed the next week. General David Petraeus, then commanding the 101st Airborne Division, said that it was getting worse week by week. He bluntly told Slocombe that his policies were killing Coalition soldiers. Iraqi soldiers had to be given the means of feeding their families.

US troops opened fire on a protest on 18 June after stone throwing by Iraqis. Bremer announced five days later that payments would be made to soldiers, but it was too late. Attacks worsened and showed clear signs of being carried out by professionals.

The USA was not surprised to be opposed by the Sunni minority, which lost the privileges that it had enjoyed under Saddam. It had expected to be welcomed by the Shia majority; a revolt by them would mean serious trouble. Hajaf, their religious centre, was more important than Baghdad in the eyes of many Shias, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani was very influential.

A Brazilian UN diplomat, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was sent to Iraq as a mediator. Sistani was unwilling to meet Americans, but did meet de Mello. Sistani’s aide Ahmed Safi said that Sistani insisted that any constitution had to protect Iraqi interests and religious principles. It must be written and approved by elected Iraqis.

Bremer insisted that it was impossible to hold elections because the necessary mechanisms were not in place. Only de Mello appeared to be able to mediate, but he was killed on 19 August, along with 21 other UN employees, when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was destroyed by a suicide bomber. Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility.

On 8 September Bremer published a blueprint for the future without consulting anybody, not even Bush. It proposed a two-year process of writing a constitution, approving it in a referendum and holding elections. He was told that he had to hand over power by 30 June 2004.

Bremer did not have time to organise elections, so came up with a scheme based the US caucus system. Locally appointed councils would select the government. The Governing Council, unfamiliar with the caucus system, rejected the idea. Millions of Shias were alienated. Muqtada al-Sadr, the rising Shia star, insisted that the USA must leave.

In March 20o4 four US contractors were killed in the Sunni city of Fallujah and their bodies desecrated. The US Marines retaliated, resulting in heavy civilian casualties before their attack was stopped. Three weeks later it was revealed that US troops were mistreating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Bremer was forced to appoint a government. He initially wanted Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia, to be Defence Minister, but appointed him Prime Minister after meeting him. Allawi’s government took control on 28 June.

On 6 August Sistani flew to London for medical treatment. Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army then took control of Najaf and its holy shrines. Allawi summoned General George Casey, the Coalition military commander in Iraq. This was an opportunity for the new government to show that it was in control. An attack was launched; it included some Iraqi forces, but the main firepower came from the US Marines.

Sunnis joined the Shias. They took heavy casualties, including a hand wound for Al-Sadr, but were outgunned. However, they continued to hold the Golden Mosque. The risk of damage to it led the government to send Rubaie to negotiate. Al-Sadr refused to meet him, but sent a leading cleric to negotiate on his behalf. A ceasefire was agreed, but it required government and Coalition forces to leave Najaf and not return.

This was unacceptable to the rest of the government, which insisted that the Mahdi Army must be disbanded or it would resume the offensive. At this point Sistani returned and it was agreed that the Shia hierarchy would settle the matter.

Al-Sadr formed a political party, and helped the Shias to win an election five months later. The third and final programme next week deals with the war between Shias and Sunnis.

An interesting programme, which showed that the USA (the other Coalition partners played little role in this episode) went to war without a clear plan of what to do after it had won. Those plans that it had were quickly changed. It seemed to be assumed that the Iraqis, at least the Shias, would be so grateful to have been liberated from Saddam that they would be happy to be ruled by the Coalition for a short period. The difficulties of how to organise elections, how to write a constitution and what to do with the army were ignored.

For UK viewers the programme is available on the I-Player until 9:59pm on 19 June, the usual one week after the last episode. There was a lengthy list of co-producers, who will presumably show it in their home markets.

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The Iraq War – BBC2

On 29 May 2013 BBC2 broadcast the first of a three part series on The Iraq War, billed as being ‘The inside story of the war in Iraq’. The description of the first episode, titled ‘Regime Change’, from the BBC website says that:

The people at the top of the CIA and Saddam’s foreign minister describe just how the US and Britain got it so wrong about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.

Tony Blair recounts how he flew to President Bush’s private retreat at Camp David to go head to head with Vice President Dick Cheney. Colin Powell explains how he came to make his disastrous presentation to the United Nations. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describes how he – and even President Bush himself – tried to persuade Tony Blair that to join in the invasion was political suicide.

As well as Cheney, Powell, Blair, Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, interviewees included more junior British, French and US officials; Kurdish leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Leader, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Barham Salih, Prime Minister Kurdish Region and Massoud Barzani, Leader Kurdistan Democratic Party; and Iraqis including Salim Jomaili  of the Secret Service, Republican Guard General Raad Hamdani, Foreign Secretary Naji Sabri, UN Ambassador Mohammed Douri and General Hussam Amin, Iraqi liaison to UN weapons inspectors;

Jomaili said that, just after 9/11, the USA asked Iraq, via what was described as ‘a trusted emissary, to help in the War on Terror against Al Qaeda. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz agreed, but President Saddam Hussein argued that UN sanctions against Iraq were also terrorism, and had killed far more than died on 9/11. Jomaili said that USA thought that Iraq was playing games and dropped its request. He also argued that Saddam’s regime was opposed to religious extremists, so did not support Al Qaeda.

After the Afghan Taleban were deposed in early 2002 Cheney turned his attention to what he thought was the next likely source of terror: Iraq. He asked CIA if it was possible to organise a coup. Luis Rueda, the CIA’s Chief of Iraq Operations, explained in the programme that he told Cheney that this was impossible because Saddam had crushed all internal opposition.

The USA therefore turned to the Kurds for intelligence. They had helped the USA in the past, but had suffered as a consequence. They said that it was impossible to remove the regime without external help, and would not be left stranded again.

The USA feared that Saddam would supply Al-Qaeda with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons of mass destruction (WMD). His army had already used chemical weapons against both Iran and his internal opponents.

In the UK Blair supported the USA, but faced domestic problems. Alastair Campbell, his Head of Communications, said that the head of the Secret Intelligence Service had returned from a trip to the USA believing that war with Iraq was a matter of when, not if. Straw thought that there were two issues: to support the US desire for regime change or just to force Saddam to comply with UN resolutions? Blair thought that the separation was unreal, as Saddam would not comply. Straw pointed out that the UK considered that going to war just to change the regime was illegal.

In Iraq, Hamdani warned Saddam that there was a real risk of war, and that Iraqi weapons were obsolete. He risked his life by trying to point out these home truths to Saddam. However, Saddam, whilst dismissing his fears, took no action against him.

Powell was worried that Bush was being pushed into war; all his briefings were on military operations. Powell thought that the USA needed allies, so convinced Bush to seek new a UN Security Council resolution. Cheney was unhappy; he thought that Saddam was good at deception, and made a public speech criticising the idea of weapons inspectors.

Powell, lacking US allies, looked to the UK, meeting Straw to try to form a coalition. The UK regarded war without another UN resolution as being illegal, and could not have obtained a Parliamentary majority for it.

Blair thought that the UK had to be clear to the USA that it was a firm ally, not a fair weather friend, but would have been in an impossible position if Bush had supported Cheney. However, the President opted for a UN resolution.

Amin said that Saddam thought that the USA and UK would never be satisfied so played for time. Most governments thought that Saddam was lying when he denied having WMD. He had kept some after the Gulf War because he feared an attack by Iran, but later had them destroyed as he was afraid that they would be found. All paperwork relating to them was also destroyed, in case it was later found.

The CIA conducted a global search for evidence about WMD. At one point it thought wrongly that Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri wanted to defect; see the blog entry on The Spies Who Fooled the World, a previous BBC documentary, for more on this part of the story.

In the UK opposition to the war and demands for more information were rising. Blair presented a dossier prepared by the intelligence services to Parliament; it included the infamous and now discredited claim that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes. Blair admitted that he now wishes that he had just published the intelligence reports.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution  giving Iraq 30 days to prove the absence of WMD unanimously. A 12,000 word Iraqi report was not enough for the USA, according to Stephen Hadley, the  Deputy National Security Adviser.

Bush asked the CIA for the intelligence case for war, and was told by CIA Director George Tenet, who did not appear in the programme, that it was a ‘slam dunk.’ The US case was to be presented to the UN by Powell. He complained that he lacked back up for the assertions made, and was given only the WMD case, not the human rights or terrorism ones. However, Bush had already made up his mind.

One apparently key piece of evidence was a recorded conversation in which Hamdani appeared to tell a subordinate to hide his units’ chemical weapons. Hamdani said that he was only making sure there was no trace of old chemical launchers for the UN to find.

There were huge anti-war demonstrations in 60 countries one weekend in February, including one of a million people in London. Blair needed a second UN Security Council resolution, but Cheney thought that this was a sign of weakness. Hadley said that Bush thought that it was important to go the extra mile for an ally.

The French, according to de Villepin thought that there was not enough evidence to go to war. President Jacques Chirac met Russian President Vladimir Putin and de Villepin met Powell, who said to him ‘don’t underestimate our determination.’ Chirac announced soon afterwards that France would veto the resolution.

The Labour Party whips estimated that half of their MPs would vote against was or abstain without a second resolution. Hadley said that Bush would have preferred the UK dropping out of the coalition to Blair having to resign. However, Blair said that he would prefer to have quit as PM than to have backed down; see the BBC website for an extract from the programme.

The Labour leadership managed to persuade two-thirds of their MPs to back war, enough the vote for war to be passed in the House of Commons with Conservative support. Straw adopted the old British policy of blaming the French; he told Labour MPs that the USA and UK had been forced into war by the French veto as a Security Council Resolution backed by the threat of war would have forced Saddam to stand down.

Three of Saddam’s security team were spying for CIA. They reported that he was at palace on banks of Tigris as war was about to start, giving the USA an opportunity to decapitate the enemy and perhaps win without serious fighting. There was a nightmare that it was disinformation, and some other target such a school would be hit. Cheney recommended taking the chance, and Bush decided to strike as soon as the deadline had expired. Initial reports said that a body resembling Saddam had been taken out of the rubble, but it was not him.

As war was about to start, Saddam told the Republican Guard to go to Palestine to liberate Jerusalem from Israel after they had defeated the USA; ‘a fantasy, a dream’ according to Hamdani. He asked Saddam’s son Qusay if Iraq did have WMD. He was worried that chemical weapons might blow back onto his own troops, but was told ‘don’t worry, we don’t.’

The programme is available for UK viewers on the I-Player until 19 June. The second episode next week recounts how the USA and UK won the war, but lost the peace.

There were a number of co-producers, who will presumably show the programme in their markets: National Geographic, Canal+, NHK, ABC, SVT, NRK, RDI/Radio-Canada, VPRO, DRTV, TVP.

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Avoiding the Wars That Never End

Republished from Stratfor.

Avoiding the  Wars That Never End is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer, Stratfor.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would  transfer the primary responsibility for combat operations in Afghanistan to the  Afghan military in the coming months, a major step toward the withdrawal of U.S.  forces. Also last week, France began an  intervention in Mali designed to block jihadists from taking control of the  country and creating a base of operations in France’s former African  colonies.

The two events are linked in a way that transcends the issue of Islamist  insurgency and points to a larger geopolitical shift. The United States is not  just drawing down its combat commitments; it is moving  away from the view that it has the primary responsibility for trying to  manage the world on behalf of itself, the Europeans and its other allies.  Instead, that burden is shifting to those who have immediate interests  involved.

Insecurity in 9/11’s Wake

It is interesting to recall how the United States involved itself in  Afghanistan. After 9/11, the United States was in shock and lacked clear  intelligence on al Qaeda. It did not know what additional capabilities al Qaeda  had or what the group’s intentions were. Lacking intelligence, a political  leader has the obligation to act on worst-case scenarios after the enemy has  demonstrated hostile intentions and capabilities. The possible scenarios ranged  from additional sleeper cells operating and awaiting orders in the United States  to al Qaeda having obtained nuclear weapons to destroy cities. When you don’t  know, it is both prudent and psychologically inevitable to plan for the  worst.

The United States had sufficient information to act in Afghanistan. It knew  that al Qaeda was operating in Afghanistan and that disrupting the main cell was  a useful step in taking some action against the threat. However, the United  States did not immediately invade Afghanistan. It bombed the country extensively  and inserted limited forces on the ground, but the primary burden of fighting  the Taliban government was in the hands of anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan  that had been resisting the Taliban and in the hands of other forces that could  be induced to act against the Taliban. The Taliban gave up the cities and  prepared for a long war. Al Qaeda’s command cell left Afghanistan and shifted to  Pakistan.

The United States achieved its primary goal early on. That goal was not to  deny al Qaeda the ability to operate in Afghanistan, an objective that would  achieve nothing. Rather, the goal was to engage al Qaeda and disrupt its  command-and-control structure as a way to degrade the group’s ability to plan  and execute additional attacks. The move  to Pakistan at the very least bought time, and given continued pressure on  the main cell, allowed the United States to gather more intelligence about al  Qaeda assets around the world.

This second mission — to identify al Qaeda assets around the world —  required a second effort. The primary means of identifying them was through  their electronic communications, and the United States proceeded to create a  vast technological mechanism designed to detect communications and use that  detection to identify and capture or kill al Qaeda operatives. The problem with  this technique — really the only one available — was that it was impossible to  monitor al Qaeda’s communications without monitoring everyone’s. If there was a  needle in the haystack, the entire haystack had to be examined. This was a  radical shift in the government’s relationship to the private communications of  citizens. The justification was that at a time of war, in which the threat to  the United States was uncertain and possibly massive, these measures were  necessary.

This action was not unique in American history. Abraham Lincoln violated the  Constitution in several ways during the Civil War, from suspending the right to  habeas corpus to blocking the Maryland Legislature from voting on a secession  measure. Franklin Roosevelt allowed the FBI to open citizens’ mail and put  Japanese-Americans into internment camps. The idea that civil liberties must be  protected in time of war is not historically how the United States, or most  countries, operate. In that sense there was nothing unique in the decision to  monitor communications in order to find al Qaeda and stop attacks. How else  could the needle be found in the haystack? Likewise, detention without trial was  not unique. Lincoln and Roosevelt both resorted to it.

The Civil War and World War II were different from the current conflict,  however, because their conclusions were clear and decisive. The wars would end,  one way or another, and so would the suspension of rights. Unlike those wars,  the war in Afghanistan was extended indefinitely by the shift in strategy from  disrupting al Qaeda’s command cell to fighting  the Taliban to building a democratic society in Afghanistan. With the second  step, the U.S. military mission changed its focus and increased its presence  massively, and with the third, the terminal date of the war became very far  away.

But there was a broader issue. The war in Afghanistan was not the main war.  Afghanistan happened to be the place where al Qaeda was headquartered on Sept.  11, 2001. The country was not essential to al Qaeda, and creating a democratic  society there — if it were even possible — would not necessarily weaken al  Qaeda. Even destroying al Qaeda would not prevent new  Islamist organizations or individuals from rising up.

A New Kind of War

The main war was not against one specific terrorist group, but rather against  an idea: the radical tendency in Islamism. Most Muslims are not radicals, but  any religion with 1 billion adherents will have its share of extremists. The  tendency is there, and it is deeply rooted. If the goal of the war were the  destruction of this radical tendency, then it was not going to happen. While the  risk of attacks could be reduced — and indeed there were no further 9/11s  despite repeated attempts in the United States — there was no way to eliminate  the threat. No matter how many divisions were deployed, no matter how many  systems for electronic detection were created, they could only mitigate the  threat, not eliminate it. Therefore, what some  called the Long War really became permanent war.

The means by which the war was pursued could not result in victory. They  could, however, completely unbalance U.S. strategy by committing massive  resources to missions not clearly connected with preventing Islamist terrorism.  It also created a situation where emergency intrusions on critical portions of  the Bill of Rights — such as the need to obtain a warrant for certain actions  — became a permanent feature. Permanent war makes for permanent temporary  measures.

The break point came, in my opinion, in about 2004. Around that time, al  Qaeda was unable to mount attacks on the United States despite multiple efforts.  The war in Afghanistan had dislodged al Qaeda and created the Karzai government.  The invasion of Iraq — whatever the rationale might have been — clearly  produced a level of resistance that the United States could not contain or could  contain only by making agreements with its enemies in Iraq. At that point, a  radical rethinking of the war had to take place. It did not.

The radical rethinking had to do not with Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather  with what to do about a permanent threat to the United States, and indeed to  many other countries, posed by the global networks of radical Islamists prepared  to carry out terrorist attacks. The threat would not go away, and it could not  be eliminated. At the same time, it did  not threaten the existence of the republic. The 9/11 attacks were atrocious,  but they did not threaten the survival of the United States in spite of the  human cost. Combating the threat required a degree of proportionality so the  fight could be maintained on an ongoing basis, without becoming the only goal of  U.S. foreign policy or domestic life. Mitigation was the only possibility; the  threat would have to be endured.

Washington found a way to achieve this balance in the past, albeit against  very different sorts of threats. The United States emerged as a great power in  the early 20th century. During that time, it fought three wars: World War I,  World War II and the Cold War, which included Korea, Vietnam and other, smaller  engagements. In World War I and World War II, the United States waited for  events to unfold, and in Europe in particular it waited until the European  powers reached a point where they could not deal with the threat of German  hegemony without American intervention. In both instances, it intervened heavily  only late in the war, at the point where the Germans had been exhausted by other  European powers. It should be remembered that the main American push in World  War II did not take place until the summer of 1944. The American strategy was to  wait and see whether the Europeans could stabilize the situation themselves,  using distance to mobilize as late as possible and intervene decisively only at  the critical moment.

The critics of this approach, particularly prior to World War II, called it  isolationism. But the United States was not isolationist; it was involved in  Asia throughout this period. Rather, it saw itself as being the actor of last  resort, capable of acting at the decisive moment with overwhelming force because  geography had given the United States the option of time and resources.

During the Cold War, the United States modified this strategy. It still  depended on allies, but it now saw itself as the first responder. Partly this  could be seen in U.S. nuclear strategy. This could also be seen in Korea and  Vietnam, where allies played subsidiary roles, but the primary effort was  American. The Cold War was fought on a different set of principles than the two  world wars.

The Cold War strategy was applied to the war against radical Islamism, in  which the United States — because of 9/11 but also because of a mindset that  could be seen in other interventions — was the first responder. Other allies  followed the United States’ lead and provided support to the degree to which  they felt comfortable. The allies could withdraw without fundamentally  undermining the war effort. The United States could not.

The approach in the U.S.-jihadist war was a complete reversal from the  approach taken in the two world wars. This was understandable given that it was  triggered by an unexpected and catastrophic event, the reponse to which flowed  from a lack of intelligence. When Japan struck Pearl Harbor, emotions were  at least as intense, but U.S. strategy in the Pacific was measured and cautious.  And the enemy’s capabilities were much better understood.

Stepping Back as Global Policeman

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win, and it  certainly cannot be the sole actor in a war waged primarily in the Eastern  Hemisphere. This is why the French  intervention in Mali is particularly interesting. France retains interests  in its former colonial empire in Africa, and Mali is at the geographic center of  these interests. To the north of Mali is Algeria, where France has significant  energy investments; to the east of Mali is Niger, where France has a significant  stake in the mining of mineral resources, particularly uranium; and to the south  of Mali is Ivory Coast, where France plays a major role in cocoa production. The  future of Mali matters to France far more than it matters to the United  States.

What is most interesting is the absence of the United States in the fight,  even if it is providing intelligence and other support, such as mobilizing  ground forces from other African countries. The United States is not acting as  if this is its fight; it is acting as if this is the fight of an ally, whom it  might help in extremis, but not in a time when U.S. assistance is  unnecessary. And if the French can’t mount an effective operation in Mali,  then little help can be given.

This changing approach is also evident in Syria, where the United States has  systematically avoided anything beyond limited  and covert assistance, and Libya, where the United States intervened after  the French and British launched an attack they could not sustain. That was, I  believe, a turning point, given the unsatisfactory outcome there. Rather than  accepting a broad commitment against radical Islamism everywhere, the United  States is allowing the burden to shift to powers that have direct interests in  these areas.

Reversing a strategy is difficult. It is uncomfortable for any power to  acknowledge that it has overreached, which the United States did both in Iraq  and Afghanistan. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that the goals set by  President George W. Bush in Iraq and Obama in Afghanistan lacked coherence. But  clearly the war has run its course, and what is difficult is also obvious. We  are not going to eliminate the threat of radical Islamism. The commitment of  force to an unattainable goal twists national strategy out of shape and changes  the fabric of domestic life. Obviously, overwatch must be in place against the  emergence of an organization like al Qaeda, with global reach, sophisticated  operatives and operational discipline. But this is very different from  responding to jihadists in Mali, where the United States has limited interests  and fewer resources.

Accepting an ongoing  threat is also difficult. Mitigating the threat of an enemy rather than  defeating the enemy outright goes against an impulse. But it is not  something alien to American strategy. The United States is involved in the  world, and it can’t follow the founders’ dictum of staying out of European  struggles. But the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in  the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and  shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with  clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no  choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the  primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not  irresponsible.

The greatest danger of war is what it can do to one’s own society, changing  the obligations of citizens and reshaping their rights. The United States has  always done this during wars, but those wars would always end. Fighting a war  that cannot end reshapes domestic life permanently. A strategy that compels  engagement everywhere will exhaust a country. No empire can survive the  imperative of permanent, unwinnable warfare. It is fascinating to watch the  French deal with Mali. It is even more fascinating to watch the United States  wishing them well and mostly staying out of it. It has taken about 10 years, but  here we can see the American system stabilize itself by mitigating the threats  that can’t be eliminated and refusing to be drawn into fights it can let others  handle.

Read more:  Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor

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