Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows recently with her apparent dig at President Obama: “Don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.” Because she is a Clinton, it should be assumed this was not a slip. And because she is Hillary Clinton, it should not be forgotten that she voted in support of the 2002 resolution to go to war against Iraq.
The war in Iraq was a colossal tragedy for many reasons: the staggering loss of Iraqi civilian life; the mental and physical casualties ensured by American soldiers whose needs to this day go under-addressed; Post-911 mission creep when the American desire to strike back against terrorism was manipulated and misdirected by a President and his neo-con handlers.
This essay is not an attempt to re-litigate the Iraq war. That verdict has already been rendered. But the aftermath of this messy post-Iraq geo-political realignment has led me to begrudgingly veer towards Clinton’s assertion that a new set of organizing principles is needed to navigate this complicated world. There is a glaring need for muscular global strategy on which America must lead.
For the tragedy of Iraq also plays out today in the emergence of ISIL – a well financed, well governed and military savvy operation that is establishing a base of operations from which to pursue a caliphate that unifies the Islamic world—albeit, a type of world that most Muslims reject.
An under-reported insight on the growing appreciation of this threat is that the Obama Administration started referring to this organization as “ISIL” instead of ISIS. This marks the Administration’s recognition that ISIL not only has ambitions beyond Iraq and Syria, but also the Levant (the “L” of ISIL), which includes Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and most alarming, Israel.
America does not have the luxury of W’s division of good versus “evil-doers.” Unfortunately, we will have to choose among worse evils, and create the kinds of coalitions needed to keep extremist elements in check.
Aside from the aforementioned tragedies of the Iraq War is the need to understand that America and her allies were probably safer when the repugnant Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq. Furthermore, we are probably safer with Assad in power in Syria. Just as in WWII we had to form unholy alliances with the likes of Stalin’s Russia—as brutal a dictator there ever was—in order to defeat the global designs of a genocidal Nazi dictator, we now must keep in check a global terrorist organization whose desire, and cruelty to match, is to purge the Middle East (and beyond) of the non-faithful.
New Organizing Principles
Under new organizing principles, our ability to halt the most dangerous global threat is to join forces with less seemly partners that are equally motivated to keep in check this threat, and that includes the likes of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
We also must reconsider American troop deployment. Today, of some 160,000 American troops deployed overseas, the good majorities are in Europe and East Asia. This geography of American deployment does not complement the geography of today’s emergent global threat. For example, we currently are downsizing our operations in Afghanistan, which likewise reduces American military capability near a nuclear Pakistan that has long been a safe haven for terrorists.
America must also unify our allies and enlist their strategic leverage over our gravest threats. We must first acknowledge the threat, and then plot global response. Publicly, at least, the effort seems haphazard, and insufficient to the cause of defeating the greatest terrorist threat to date—one that has an army, international recruits (who can travel in and out of the West), and vast real estate for a base of operations.
While the French take to the streets to protest Israel, or Russia focuses on Crimea, the larger looming danger that is ISIL takes a backseat to fragmented and parochial interests. This must change. And America must take the lead in rallying the world against an emergent terrorist state that poses a potential grave threat against our own safety and the safety of our currently unfocused allies.