The new Amer­i­can strat­egy

The U.S. no longer wants to man­age its prob­lems pri­mar­ily through force

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - OPINION -

The U.S. en­voy for Syria, James Jef­frey, said Thurs­day that the U.S. would re­main in Syria as long as Iran does. He then clar­i­fied that this does not nec­es­sar­ily mean U.S. forces would re­main there. Jef­frey’s state­ment is im­por­tant not only in the Syr­ian con­text but also in terms of broader U.S. strat­egy.

Since 1945, the United States has held to a strat­egy that in the event of sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges, it would not only be a ma­jor force but lead the way in com­bat. Dur­ing the Cold War, when the pri­mary ad­ver­sary was a sin­gle coun­try, the Soviet Union, this made sense.

The stakes were as­tro­nom­i­cal then. The U.S. needed to make cer­tain that the Sovi­ets didn’t dom­i­nate all of Europe and con­trol its eco­nomic and tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This was the over­rid­ing con­flict at the time. When the Korean War broke out, or when there was com­mu­nist pres­sure in South­east Asia, it was re­garded as part of a global strug­gle that re­quired U.S. in­ter­ven­tion. The ma­jor re­sis­tance against a key ad­ver­sary, with U.S. com­mand and forces lead­ing the way, did not take place in Europe, as ex­pected. Oddly, it oc­curred in Kuwait, with U.S. com­man­ders lead­ing a coali­tion and Amer­i­can troops de­ployed with­out limit. The irony is that the mil­i­tary as­pect of the strat­egy was im­ple­mented against Iraq, not the Soviet Union. It re­minds me of James Dean’s line in ‘Rebel With­out a Cause’. When asked what he was re­belling against, he an­swered, “What have you got?”

9/11 trig­gered the same re­sponse. The threat was to the home­land, and the pri­mary re­spon­der was the U.S. mil­i­tary. This was a com­pletely un­der­stand­able re­sponse. Any­one who wasn’t fright­ened in the af­ter­math of 9/11 was not in touch with re­al­ity. No one knew what was com­ing next. But strate­gi­cally, it didn’t make much sense. This was not the Cold War, and the Is­lamic world was not the pri­mary ad­ver­sary. It was frag­mented. It didn’t present a pro­file that could be read­ily en­gaged by mas­sive mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. Most im­por­tant, the U.S. was now the only global power, and while the war against ji­hadists was crit­i­cal, it could not be the sole fo­cus. U.S. strat­egy was in a way trapped in the Cold War model of see­ing only one en­emy; ev­ery­thing else was sec­ondary.

The al­ter­na­tive model was re­ally the only one that was sus­tain­able: the Bri­tish model. The Bri­tish rarely used main force in manag­ing their global in­ter­ests. They had some force in some places, but man­aged its threats by us­ing the lo­cal bal­ance of power. In­dia was frag­mented among lo­cal rulers with com­pet­ing in­ter­ests. The Bri­tish sup­ported some rulers against oth­ers with money, weapons or small units, and they lever­aged lo­cal ten­sions to their ben­e­fit. They had in­ter­ests through­out the world, and the con­stant ap­pli­ca­tion of main force would have ex­hausted them.

The U.S. has been at in­volved in ex­haust­ing and in­con­clu­sive com­bat for 17 years. It did not achieve the po­lit­i­cal ends in­tended. In Syria, there are Turk­ish forces and Rus­sian forces as well as lo­cal forces, all of whom might be mo­ti­vated to con­tain Iran. Nearby are the Is­raelis and the Saudis. Many coun­tries in­volved in Syria can’t leave (though not Rus­sia). They have no op­tion but to deal with the Ira­ni­ans in Syria and else­where.

The United States can pro­vide in­tel­li­gence and other sup­port, but it need not and can­not be the pri­mary fight­ing force. It wouldn’t be wel­comed in the long run, and it has other is­sues such as North Korea, China and Rus­sia with which to con­tend. The Amer­i­cans, like the Bri­tish, can be there and not there at the same time.

Jef­frey has sim­ply stated the ob­vi­ous. Syria is a prob­lem, but not ev­ery prob­lem re­quires U.S. forces. Global power is a sub­tle thing. The Cold War was not.

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