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Without a Plan
Obama’s ISIS Policy Has Critics in High Places

Some of America’s most decorated generals and a former intelligence official of the highest rank declared this week that the Obama Administration has no clear, overarching plan for how to win our various Middle East conflicts. As The Washington Post reports:

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.

Mattis also made a point we’ve raised before: Congress needs to play a larger role in constructively shaping foreign policy. Mattis pointed to ending sequestration; more hearings like this, with informed questioning, would also help.

But there is no doubt that at the end of the day, foreign policy leadership is the Executive’s responsibility, and on that front, it’s not only the generals and admirals who went before Congress who are worried. Former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (and Obama appointee) Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn laid into the Administration’s approach to Islamic extremism in a speech on Monday that received “cheers” and “a standing ovation” from assembled intelligence professionals. The Daily Beast reports:

He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy.

“There are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity,” said Flynn, so they “accept a defensive posture, reasoning that passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”

As the nation approaches the next Presidential election and the end of President Obama’s time in office, a few things seem clear. Firstly, whether the next President is a Democrat or a Republican, he or she is likely to be to the right of President Obama on national security issues. Secondly, the nation—and clearly, its military and intelligence professionals—is eager to hear its leaders articulate a clear and sensible policy for confronting the growing dangers abroad, including but not limited to Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

Those candidates who can fulfill the second need will greatly increase their chances of holding the Presidency.

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  • Andrew Allison

    The fact that the Obama Administration has no clear, overarching (or, for that matter, any) plan for how to win our various Middle East conflicts is not a reason to increase defense and, since “entitlements” are sacrosanct, deficit spending. The disengagements in Afghanistan and Iraq have should have freed up the significant increases which funded those engagements. The military has a ridiculously bloated command structure which, as demonstrated by the F-35 fiasco, has no interest in what’s needed for today’s wars. Let’s start putting the existing budget to work by taking a meat axe to the command structure, instituting a top-to-bottom review of the weapons needed by the troops (starting with, in the light of the utter failure of all such efforts to date, joint platforms, and bringing home the 65,000 troops we have stationed in Europe — it’s time for Europe to defend itself.

    • FriendlyGoat

      In other words, we don’t need the generals to tell the president to tell the Congress to declare war? Maybe we could get the Congress to declare a war, raise the taxes to fund the war, give “direction” to the president, who would then pass “direction” to the generals?

      • Andrew Allison

        Nothing to do with my comment, as usual.

        • FriendlyGoat

          You’re criticizing the generals and so am I. I’m also trying to help you focus on the actual subject.

      • Andrew Allison

        To paraphrase a great statesman, everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own subject in reply to a comment. Mine referred to the suggested increase of the defense budget. As anybody with a passing familiarity with the US Constitution is aware, the generals don’t tell anybody to declare war — their job is to prosecute military actions authorized by Congress. As an aside, one of the reasons for the spectacular ineffectiveness of said prosecution for the past half-century has been “direction” (aka hamstringing) from Congress and the sundry Administrations involved: just as you wouldn’t want a politician telling your heart surgeon how to proceed with getting the job done, the military should be given responsibility for doing the jobs assigned to it by Congress — which, I hasten to add, has absolutely nothing to do with the nonsensical weapons systems under development thanks largely to Congress, which cares much more about the votes per pound of pork delivered that national security, which was a subtopic of my comment.

        • FriendlyGoat

          You think we have too many generals who attempt to lead the president and/or the Congress by the nose. I do too. You think the Congress cares more about in-district defense spending than defense. I do too. I’m adding that the Congress ought to decide whether to declare some kind of war against ISIL and other radical actors and get its A$$ on the record rather than permitting its members to criticize Obama’s actions or lack thereof in absence of any constitutional declaration.

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