Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"The US Has Unfinished Business in Ukraine and Iraq"

That's the title of an interesting and pragmatic article from Stratfor.  Here's an excerpt, republished with permission of Stratfor.

When we consider Ukraine and Iraq, they are of course radically different, but they have a single thing in common: To the extent that the United States has any interest in the regions, it cannot act with direct force. Instead, it must act with indirect force by using the interests and hostilities of the parties on the ground to serve as the first line of containment. If the United States intervenes at all, it will do so by supporting factions that are of interest to Washington. In Ukraine, this would mean supporting the former Soviet satellite states in Central Europe. In Iraq, it would mean applying sufficient force to prevent the annihilation of any of the country's three major groups, but not enough force to attempt to resolve the conflict.

Americans like to have a moral foundation for their policy; in the cases of Ukraine and Iraq, the foundation is simply a necessity. It is not possible for the United States to use direct force to impose a solution on Ukraine or Iraq. This is not because war cannot be a solution to evil, as World War II was. It is because the cost, the time of preparation and the bloodshed of effective war can be staggering. At times it must be undertaken, but those times are rare. Constant warfare with insufficient forces to impose political solutions in countries where the United States has secondary interests is a prescription for the worst of both worlds: a war that ends in defeat.

Limiting wars to those that are in the national interest and can be won eliminates many wars. It substitutes a much more complex, but no less realist and active, approach to the world. Underwriting nations that find themselves in a position of having to act in a way that supports American interests is one step. Another is creating economic bonds with nations that will shape their behavior. There are other tools besides war.

The simultaneous fighting in Ukraine and Iraq proves two things. First, the United States cannot avoid global involvement because in the end, the globe will involve itself with the United States. Becoming involved earlier is cheaper. Second, global involvement and large-scale warfare are not the same thing. The situation in Ukraine will play itself out, as will the one in Iraq. It will give the United States enough time to determine whether and how much it cares about the outcome. It can then slowly begin asserting itself, minimizing risks and maximizing rewards.

This is not a new strategy for the United States, which has vacillated from pretending it is immune from the world to believing it can reshape it. Dwight Eisenhower was an example of a U.S. president who avoided both of those views and managed to avoid involvement in any major war, which many would have thought unlikely. He was far from a pacifist and far from passive. He acted when he needed to, using all means necessary. But as a general, he understood that while the threat of war was essential to credibility, there were many other tools that allowed Washington to avoid war and preserve the republic.

Eisenhower was a subtle and experienced man. It is one thing to want to avoid war; it is another to know how to do it. Eisenhower did not refuse to act, but instead acted decisively and with minimal risk. Obama's speech at West Point indicated hesitancy toward war. It will be interesting to see whether he has mastered the other tools he will need in dealing with Ukraine and Iraq. It helps to have been a warrior to know how to avoid war.

There's much more at the link.  Interesting and recommended reading.


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