Counterinsurgency Math Revisited

When does 32,200 – 60,000 = 109,000? That seemingly inaccurate equation represents the estimated number of Islamist-inspired terrorists when the war on terror began, how many the U.S. has killed since 2015, and the number that fight today. And it begs the question of just how can the terror ranks grow so fast when they’re being depleted so rapidly.

Read the full post on the Cato at Liberty blog.

Trump’s New National Security Strategy

National security strategies are strange beasts. Their glittering generalities and kitchen sink approach to detailing threats, interests, and priorities can make it difficult to know how literally, or seriously, to take them. All strategies reflect on the importance of American leadership and bask in the warmth of American values. And thanks to the growing bipartisan consensus around primacy since the end of the Cold War all strategies have more or less looked the same. Each one promises a stronger and safer America with help from our trusted allies. Given this, most Americans would be hard pressed to tell one national security strategy from the next.

Sadly, Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy contains not only the worst elements from the past, namely the pursuit of primacy and a commitment to an endless war on terrorism, but also charts new territory by embracing a new nationalism that unnecessarily elevates immigration to a national security threat and retreats from the post-World War II commitment to free trade.

Read the full post at Cato.org

Trump’s Quagmire Strategy

As North Korea’s nuclear weapons continue to dominate the headlines, President Trump has quietly sunk the United States ever more deeply into a series of foreign policy quagmires. In Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, the United States is trying to influence the course of civil conflicts that have nothing to do with the United States and little to no impact on America’s national security.

None of these situations will end soon, nor will any of them end well for the United States. That this is happening with a new commander-in-chief who as a candidate urged America to get smart about foreign engagements is ironic but hardly surprising.

Read the full piece @ NY Daily News.

Time to Step Back from the War on Terror

President Donald Trump has expanded every aspect of the war on terror he inherited from his two predecessors. In his first nine months Trump has ordered a renewed surge in Afghanistan, increased the tempo of drone strikes, and granted the military greater autonomy. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban now control or contest more districts than at any point since 2001. And last week four American soldiers died in Niger, an increasingly active front in the war on terror. Americans are now fighting — and dying — in at least eight different countries across the Middle East and Central Asia. The deaths of American forces are a particularly sobering reminder of the war’s high costs and should prompt people to ask whether the costs are worth it.

Read the whole thing at War on the Rocks.

Recent Writings

Here are a few of my most recent writings around the web:

August 28, 2017, “Terrorism and the New Domino Theory,” @Cato.org

August 22, 2017, “The Slim Chances That Trump’s Afghanistan Policy Will Succeed,” @NY Daily News

August 21, 2017, “New Strategy, Same Results,” @U.S. News & World Report

August 10, 2017, “U.S. Drone Strikes in the Philippines Would Be a Massive Mistake,” @Washington Post

July 21, 2017, “Remember George W.’s War on Terror?” @Newsweek

Fatal Fallacies in the War on Terror

As I argue in my recently published policy analysis here at Cato, the American-led war on terror has clearly failed. Unfortunately, rather than accept the obvious fact that the campaign was badly misguided and focusing homeland security efforts in more fruitful areas, the Trump administration appears ready to embrace, and perhaps even to escalate, the American commitment in the Middle East. Though President Trump himself has frequently voiced concerns about nation building in Iraq and the mission in Afghanistan, few of his senior advisers appear to share his worries. And sadly, few voices from the foreign policy establishment have questioned the need for continued American intervention.

The near total lack of debate begs a simple question: Why do so many smart people support the continuation of a strategy despite its abject failure over sixteen years and in the absence of anything even remotely approaching a new theory of victory?

Read the full post at Newsweek.

America’s Identity Crisis

In August 2010 President Barack Obama brought Gen. James Mattis, then head of U.S. Central Command, to the White House. When Obama asked him what his priorities would be, Mattis famously answered, “I have three: Iran, Iran, and Iran.” But when asked in May this year what worried him most as secretary of Defense, his answer was very different: “The lack of political unity in America.”

At root, what Mattis is talking about is the question of whether or not Americans still share a sense of national identity and pride. Do we all still believe that the United States is something bigger and more important than political parties or who’s president, a bold experiment in individual liberty and freedom worth fighting and dying for?

As Mattis suspects, increasingly the answer is “not really.”

Read the full post at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Failure of American Leadership

Advocates for robust American global leadership are having a bad decade. Donald Trump’s election was clearly a wake-up call to the foreign policy establishment in Washington. In contrast to decades of bipartisan consensus that the United States was the “indispensable nation,” Trump appears to be monumentally indifferent to America’s role in the world.

His tense relations with longstanding allies and his decisions to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate treaty have moved critics like former national security adviser Susan Rice to argue that Trump is “undoing American leadership on the international stage.”

Fears about Trump, however, simply echo concerns voiced throughout the Obama administration. Critics point to Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, his failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war, and his failure to check Russia over Crimea and Ukraine as evidence of unhealthy retrenchment resulting in “the desperation of our allies and the glee of our enemies.”

The real issue, however, is not America’s failure to lead; it is the failure of American leadership.

Read the full post at Inside Sources.

Lessons from the Failed War on Terror

Cato has just published my most recent study, “Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror.”

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States launched an international war on terrorism defined by military intervention, nation building, and efforts to reshape the politics of the Middle East. As of 2017, however, it has become clear that the American strategy has destabilized the Middle East while doing little to protect the United States from terrorism.

After 15 years of considerable strategic consistency during the presidencies of George Bush and Barack Obama, Donald Trump now takes the reins having promised to “bomb the sh—” out of ISIS and “defeat them fast.” At the same time, however, Trump broke sharply in his campaign rhetoric from Republican orthodoxy on Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever President Trump decides to do, an evaluation of the War on Terror should inform his policies.

Read the full analysis at Cato.org

%d bloggers like this: