Leon Panetta’s memoirs as summed up by the Economist this week The stings of Leon offer a fascinating insight into the current lack of strategic planning based on the real world in the US foreign policy arena. The two specific issues I would like to highlight is his belief that the United States should have left a residual force in Iraq and bombed Assad after the chemical weapons usage last year.
Mr Panetta’s suggestion that the failure of the Iraqi forces to contain ISIL because the US did not have a presence in Iraq is completely misguided. The reason that ISIL was so successful is because the Iraqi leaders and armed force chose not to fight. Their own actions were directly responsible for the rise of ISIL. To think that the US should have been there to save Iraqis from themselves displays a complete and utter lack of understanding of what is vital to the security of the US. Mr. Panetta’s view would continue to waste US resources and lives for people who do not want to fight for their own country. What he basically advocates is the never ending presence of US force to support people who do not want to support themselves.
His comments also reflect a complete and utter lack of accountability. After all, the final phase of Iraqi force build up took place under his watch. And yet not he, Mr. Gates (previous defense secretary), or a single general officer has been held accountable for the performance of Iraqi army. If someone in civilian life promised and built a company that was supposed to be permanent and yet completely fell apart a few years after that person left, wouldn’t he or she be held accountable? Given the culture in our foreign policy apparatus which perpetuates this lack of accountability, that is doubtful. What people like Panetta insure is that the US will continue to waste resources and live in pursuit of wishful thinking. As we continue to do so in Afghanistan, where we think that a 10,000 strong force is needed for the Afghan army to defend their own country. The Afghans should defend their own country because they believe in it, not because the US wants them to.
The other notion that we should have bombed Assad’s force after chemical weapons use reminds me of Star Wars. Apparently all we had to do was kill Assad (the Emperor) and then the Sunni rebels (Rebel Alliance) would bring peace and prosperity to the country. It would be rainbows and unicorns and everyone would be happy in the world most peaceful democracy. Seriously? If we would have attacked Assad and his regime fell, it would now be an even worse bloodbath. Apparently Mr. Panetta does not understand the make up of Syrian population. If Assad fell last year, we would now be intervening in Syrian to prevent outright slaughter of Christians and Alawites by Sunnis.
As ISIL so clearly demonstrated, the vast majority of Syrian rebels are Wahhabi Sunnis. The only moderates that ever existed were in the mind of Mr. Panetta and people like him who believe in premise of the Star Wars universe that as soon as the bad leader dies, everyone lives happily ever after. One would think the example of Iraq would be clear as to what happens when a ruler is removed by force in a religiously and ethnically divided country. One would hope that people like Panetta and Gates would be held accountable for their fairy tale/fantasy foreign policy.
Unfortunately that is not the case. The only person today that seems to understand and speak truly about what our foreign policy entails is the Vice President Biden. Yet every time he points out that the sky is blue (such as Turkey and UAE support of Sunni fundamentalists) he get blamed and has to apologize and pretend that the sky is green (our allies would never do such thing). Until we look at the world as it is and not as we want it to be we will continue to bomb Sunni Wahhabi groups, while at the same time protecting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that support those same groups. And so our Star Wars foreign policy continues, as Mr. Panetta clearly shows, in that reality it is happily ever after once the bad guy is dead. No thought at all as to what is going on in the real world and no accountability for failure.