Charlie Leonard: Calling on Caspar: time for clear war policy
August 24, 2011
Given the enormous controversy surrounding both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it’s really quite extraordinary that our country does not have a clear and cogent policy today for undertaking military action.
As a candidate, Barack Obama told us his foreign policy would differ sharply from the Bush administration’s by placing a greater emphasis on diplomacy, especially with our enemies and adversaries. He also said he would rely more heavily on international cooperation and be less willing to unilaterally commit American troops to battle. Like so much of what candidate Obama said, it all sounded quite reasonable – in theory. In the real world, it’s been something else altogether.
By any standard, I think it’s fair to say President Obama has not had a consistent doctrine for the use of military force. Notwithstanding his campaign promises for a different approach, he has dramatically escalated the war in Afghanistan. And, despite what looks like a promising outcome, his willingness to commit troops to Libya, which posed no threat to the United States and has no real strategic importance in the Middle East, is yet another example of the president’s incoherent use of force.
The fact of the matter is that the United States needs a clear and cogent policy – rather than the unpredictable judgment of a president – for committing our military to foreign conflicts.
The clearest standards I know of for authorizing and conducting military actions were last articulated by Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, in a speech he delivered in November 1984. As summarized in a Wikipedia entry, the former secretary said:
1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
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2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning.
3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.
Let’s put the Weinberger Doctrine to the test in Afghanistan.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, no one could dispute that al Qaida, and their enablers, the Taliban, posed a serious threat to our national security.
To the extent that any war has had a clear mission and definition of success, as well the support of the Congress and the American public, the initial invasion of Afghanistan arguably met all of Weinberger’s conditions.
You can pick your own marker for when U.S. forces defeated the Taliban, but most agree it was sometime in the five-month period between December 2001 and the spring of 2002 when the last of the major Taliban-controlled cities fell and the CIA concluded that most al Qaida operatives in the country had retreated to Pakistan. It was a resounding military victory, and fewer than 10 U.S. military personnel were killed during those five months of hostilities.
For the next two years, the United States fought to create security conditions for the conduct of free elections. With a new and equally clear mission, the U.S. military again rose to the occasion, securing its targets and enabling Afghans to vote amidst relatively peaceful conditions.
In total, the U.S. military reported 161 fatalities between 2001 and 2004. On the cash side of the ledger, government accountants reported that we had spent somewhere on the order of $300 billion to $400 billion.
That was seven years ago.
Since then, more than 1,600 American soldiers have been killed and we’ve spent an additional $700 billion on military operations and billions more on development projects that we can ill-afford and are of arguable diplomatic usefulness.
According to the White House, the mission today is to assist the current Afghan government, which is widely viewed as corrupt, inept and often antagonistic to the United States, in its fledging attempt to gain control of the country.
I hardly think Weinberger would approve.
For a whole host of reasons, it’s clear a majority of Americans, including Democrats and Republicans, want an end to our direct military involvement in Afghanistan. For me, the Weinberger Doctrine provides the soundest rationale I can think of that this military engagement should have ended years ago.