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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Trump’s Next Task: Learning The Limits Of Military Power

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War on the Rocks notes about the writers:

Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, USA (Ret.) is a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, and Dr. Nora Bensahel is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence, at the School of International Service at American University. Both also serve as Nonresident Senior Fellows at the Atlantic Council. Their column appears in War on the Rocks every third Tuesday.

David Barno and Nora Bensahel write at War on the Rocks:

During its first 100 days, the Trump administration has relied heavily on the U.S. military to address its first set of national security problems. This approach has clearly put adversaries on notice that the new president is willing to employ military power assertively around the world in defense of U.S. interests. Yet it is also very dangerous, because military force is being used absent a more comprehensive approach that integrates all elements of national power. Continuing to rely so heavily on military force risks escalating crises into unexpected, unpredictable, and ultimately more deadly conflicts.

Since Inauguration Day, the U.S. military has launched a cruise missile strike against Syria; intensified air strikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq; used the largest U.S. conventional bomb for the first time, against an Islamic State target in Afghanistan; launched a major raid and increased air strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen; deployed additional troops to Somalia; dispatched F-35 fighters to Estonia; and engaged in confusing saber-rattling with North Korea. Trump directly approved some of these missions, but he has also delegated substantial authority to the Pentagon and military field commanders to conduct operations around the world without prior White House approval.

Why has the Trump administration used the military so frequently? There seem to be at least four reasons. Left unchanged, they suggest that the Trump administration will continue to turn to the military as the first (and possibly only) choice rather than as a last resort — a penchant that could incur dangerous long-term consequences.

First, Trump is, by all indications, enamored with military power. This apparent fascination has taken many forms. It threatens to set the United States on a dramatically different and potentially far more dangerous trajectory in its foreign policy and national security endeavors than any strategy in our history. Candidate Trump pledged to build up and show off the U.S. military, and emphasized using unrestrained force against America’s adversaries. He argued for using torture against suspected terrorists (a position he later reversed), and pledged to “bomb the shit” out of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. His enthusiasm for using military force has not dimmed in office, since he characterized the missile strikes against Syria as “incredible. It’s brilliant. It’s genius.” Trump’s excitement in the trappings and use of military power is almost palpable, and comes across in ways that suggest he may fail to grasp the lethal and unpredictable second- and third-order consequences.

Second, the Trump administration is reducing its non-military options by systematically gutting the civilian elements of U.S. national power, especially diplomacy and development. Its recent budget proposal would slash the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by a whopping 29 percent — a cut so deep that Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish Republicans in Congress, pronounced it “dead on arrival” because it “shows a lack of understanding about what it takes to win the war.” Last week, Foreign Policy reported that the administration is considering abolishing USAID altogether and transferring its responsibilities to the State Department. Moreover, the forceful advocacy for diplomatic options so essential to a robust and balanced interagency discussion of looming policy choices is largely missing because the vast majority of senior positions at the State Department remain vacant. All of this is made worse by a secretary of state who has chosen to remain largely invisible at home and around the world in his first few months in office. As a result, the United States now has a hollow, unempowered, and demoralized diplomatic corps that cannot effectively make its voices heard in critical interagency debates or in discussions with foreign governments. When diplomats’ vital perspectives on both the alternatives to military power and the limitations of using force are missing from policy debates, military options will inevitably seem more attractive than patient statecraft.

Third, the Trump administration has too many generals influencing its thinking on national security. As we noted in a previous article, the Pentagon is deeply in the midst of what we called the oversight gap. While hundreds of Defense Department political appointee slots remain vacant, senior generals are effectively in charge of many of the day-to-day operations in the Pentagon. Furthermore, two of the most important civilian positions in the national security realm (other than the president) are held by military men with battlefield experience in recent wars. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is the national security advisor, who sees the president daily and dispenses advice on dealing with every international security crisis. (His chief of staff at the National Security Council is Keith Kellogg, a retired Army three-star general.) And James Mattis retired so recently as a Marine four-star general that he could not be confirmed as secretary of defense until Congress had waived the legal requirement for the person filling that position to have been out of uniform for at least seven years. Both of these posts are purposefully designed to be filled by civilians in order to exert effective civilian control over the military, and to help ensure civilian viewpoints are considered in national security debates. No matter how smart and qualified these two men are, the fact that they have spent their entire careers in the military inevitably shifts the policy debate toward military options and away from diplomatic, political, and economic alternatives.

Fourth, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 9:22 am

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