Like Horatius at the Bridge, the U.S. Senate stands between President Obama and the initiation or continuation of stupid wars that sacrifice lives and money on fool’s errands that make the nation less safe — the very definition of insanity.
The Senate should refuse to confirm any Secretary of Defense nominee to succeed Chuck Hagel who declines to promise resignation if directed by Mr. Obama to fight a gratuitous war with no clearly defined or achievable national security objective or without express congressional authorization.
Massachusetts Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge set the standard of Senate wisdom and courage in defeating President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations Treaty that would have obligated the United States to defend every boundary in the world at the whim of the White House. He should be an inspiration to new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The most important qualification for any Defense Secretary is knowing what wars are worth fighting. Wars in self-defense in response to an actual or imminent attack on the United States by a state or non-state actor capable of inflicting mass civilian casualties or crippling key infrastructure clearly qualify. Other justifications for war are problematic.
Carl von Clausewitz taught in “On War”: “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” If a war is fought in the absence of a defined political goal that is more than a hail Mary pass, it is war for the sake of war — an obscenity to civilized peoples. No nation should send its soldiers into harm’s way like the “Charge of the Light Brigade” for light, transient, undefined or futile causes.
Colin Powell, former National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in “My American Journey”: “In 1991, I was asked why the US could not assume a ‘limited’ role in Bosnia. I had been engaged in limited military involvements before, in Vietnam for starters. I said, ‘As soon as they tell me it’s limited, it means they do not care whether you achieve a result or not. As soon as they tell me ‘surgical,’ I head for the bunker.” I criticized the pseudo-policy of establishing a US ‘presence’ without a defined mission in trouble spots. This approach had cost the lives of 241 Marines in Lebanon.”
Applying the wisdom of Clauswitz and the experience of Mr. Powell, Mr. Obama’s war against the Islamic State (IS) is as stupid as was President Ronald Reagan’s dispatch of Marines to Lebanon in the midst of a civil war. Mr. Obama says the war is to “degrade and destroy” IS. That is a meaningless tautology. Every war ever fought has included the goal of killing the enemy. A political objective is something more, for instance, regime change, partition, adherence to international conventions, or otherwise.
In addition to lacking a political objective, Mr. Obama’s war against IS is doomed to failure on its own terms. IS recruitment is fueled by corrupt, tyrannical, sectarian governments that we cannot alter. To kill individual members is as pointless as whack-a-mole. Military leaders are convinced, sotto voce, that the prospects of destroying IS are nil without substantial U.S. ground troops, which are not part of Mr. Obama’s strategy.
Moreover, Mr. Obama’s IS war lacks congressional authorization. The U.S. Constitution’s makers believed that no war was worth fighting if the president could not persuade a majority of the House and Senate to support it by an express declaration or its equivalent. They understood that the president, unlike Congress, has a conflict of interest in deciding on war because it aggrandizes executive power.
Everything that discredits Mr. Obama’s war against IS applies in spades to his continuation of war in Afghanistan via executive agreement: It lacks any defined and achievable political objective; it is irrelevant to the safety of Americans or the security of the nation; and the president has not convinced Congress to vote in favor of its necessity. Lt. Col. Chris Hossfeld told The Washington Post that he was clueless as to the mission of troops recently scheduled for deployment: “Now it’s something bigger than us fighting and winning. That doesn’t matter. It is up to the Afghan forces. … What does winning look like? It’s difficult right now to truly define it.”
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reveals in his memoir, “Duty,” that despite his conviction that Mr. Obama’s war in Afghanistan was stupid and unwinnable, he remained in office seemingly undisturbed that men and women would die on his watch for a political mistake.
The Senate needs to ensure that the next Secretary of Defense is made of sterner stuff.
For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.