“It feels so weird to not intervene in the Middle East. I know we’re trying to avoid getting sucked in, but it’s hard to say no.” These were the words my colleague uttered during a wargame to inform the development of the National Defense Strategy. He supported a shift toward competition with China and Russia and he knew that repeated operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility would detract from that aim. Nevertheless, eschewing engagement in Mideast crises caused a visceral reaction: “It’s like a toxic relationship — I know it’s bad for me and I know I should say no, but I almost can’t help myself.”
This same cognitive dissonance exists throughout the Pentagon and the broader foreign policy establishment. As evidence, look no further than the desire of some in the national security apparatus to engage in a war of choice with Iran. In light of this, the National Defense Strategy Commission report and an article from earlier this summer by Rick Berger and Mackenzie Eaglen argue that the inability of the Department of Defense to extricate itself physically or mentally from past commitments like the wars in the Middle East is crippling to the National Defense Strategy’s focus on competition with China and Russia.
Read the full article in War on the Rocks.
More from CNAS
CommentaryHow to Make the U.S. Military Weak Again
No-first-use, or the idea that the United States should not use nuclear weapons unless first attacked with them, has gained traction everywhere from the House Armed Services C...
By Brent Peabody
PodcastFriday Roundtable Podcast: Sep. 13, 2019
On this Roundtable episode of the Defense & Aerospace Report Podcast, our guests include Bob Hale, former Pentagon comptroller and senior fellow at the Center for a New Americ...
By Robert F. Hale
VideoTrump's cancelled peace talks with the Taliban
Christopher D. Kolenda is a retired US army colonel, and a veteran of the Afghan war. He also played a key role in facilitating peace talks with the Taliban. He tells Deutsche...
By Christopher D. Kolenda
CommentaryTwo Cheers for Esper’s Plan to Reassert Civilian Control of the Pentagon
The longest-ever gap in civilian leadership atop the Department of Defense came to an end on July 23, when Mark Esper was sworn in as secretary of defense. His presence in the...
By Loren DeJonge Schulman, Alice Hunt Friend & Mara Karlin