Recent polls showing disproportionate active duty military support for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson versus that among the overall population may represent more than simple dissatisfaction with this year’s regrettable major party candidates. Signs increasingly point to a U.S. military that is broadly dissatisfied with the direction of the country, along with its politicians’ decisions on foreign policy.
A recent Military Times poll found that a majority of U.S. troops now oppose further efforts at “nation building” in the Middle East and North Africa. The same poll found that majorities of troops believe the U.S. should be less involved with foreign aid and “stability operations.” Perhaps surprisingly, the largest majority in the poll (81%) was that in favor of a greater military focus on cyber security.
But it goes beyond just the rank and file. Even before recent setbacks for this month’s agreement on U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria, which would potentially involve an expansion of the American mission to begin targeting al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group fighting in Syria, a rift was reportedly growing between top military commanders and John Kerry’s State Department.
“This could be massive mission creep,” Josh Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, reportedly said of the deal, the details of which were not made public. “The military is pissed off because they’re being asked to do two jobs now. They were asked to do one job, which is kill ISIS. Now John Kerry is asking them to do another job, which is cooperate with Russia and kill al Nusra.”
Following a U.S. airstrike on Syrian government forces last weekend, however, and what the U.S. claims was a Russian airstrike on a humanitarian aid convoy, as DefenseOne put it, “The Intelligence Picture Over Iraq and Syria Has Gotten Much Cloudier.” Even before this round of complications, though, differences of opinion between Secretary of State Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter were evident. As the New York Times put it: “For Mr. Kerry, the search for a reduction in violence in Syria, and ultimately a political agreement that will ease Mr. (Bashar) Assad out of office, is a matter of legacy and reputation.”
The Times article continues:
His first major project as secretary of state, reviving Middle East peace talks, collapsed before his first year in office was complete. His next major effort, the Iran nuclear deal, was far more successful, and he ultimately found a way to persuade the Iranians to ship most of their nuclear material out of the country and dismantle key facilities.
But the Syria deal, as Mr. Kerry himself conceded at the State Department on Monday, is far more complex, in part because there are so many other players, beyond Washington and Moscow, with stakes in the outcome. In private, he has conceded to aides and friends that he believes it will not work. But he has said he is determined to try, so that he and Mr. Obama do not leave office having failed to alleviate a civil war that has taken roughly half a million lives.
Meanwhile, despite his reported reservations about working with the Russians, Defense Secretary Carter is apparently committed to maintaining an American presence, not only in Syria but across the Middle East, and not only until ISIS is defeated, but for “a while” afterwards.
And as the chaos engulfing Syria grows more complex and solutions to the country’s problems remain elusive as ever, the ramifications of misguided U.S. policy across the Middle East and North Africa are again evident this week, as a parade of punditry seems to perfectly capture the shortsightedness of the political class. Writing on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations, Steven A. Cook informs us that “Libya has failed.” Yemen, meanwhile, “Has Become the Graveyard of the Obama Doctrine,” while Sune Engel Rasmussen of Foreign Policy, regarding Afghanistan, asks the question “How did Obama’s ‘good war’ go so wrong?“
To be fair, Afghanistan is one of those areas where President Obama can legitimately put a significant portion of the blame on his predecessor, George W. Bush. Putting party politics aside, however, to the average American soldier it probably makes little difference. After 15 years of fighting wars that can’t be won and attempting, for the sake of far-off politicians’ images and careers, to spread “democracy” at gunpoint, it is completely understandable that the majority serving in America’s military would be deeply dissatisfied with the foreign policy status quo.
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