WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2015 — The likes of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have been attempting to steer the 2016 presidential campaign away from domestic politics toward national security and foreign policy in order to demonstrate their leadership abilities. As foreign policy concerns tend to be less divisive than domestic issues, this is also a means for these campaigns to broaden their appeal.
Both candidates have called for increased pressure on the Islamic State.
Hillary Clinton has offered three strategic objectives: “one, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing arms, and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.” In doing so, she has essentially embraced the Obama approach to the war against the Islamic State, along with many of the unaddressed concerns this writer has discussed in his extensive coverage of the Islamic State threat.
That said, her tough rhetoric fails to actually specify how to deal with regional allies unwilling to overcome historic conflicts to unite against the Islamic State. To do this, she must be willing to withhold U.S. military aid, support and cooperation, i.e., disengage from the battle at the Islamic State.
At the same time, she has avoided answering key questions about the Arab Spring Revolution. She must answer how the U.S. will deal with Middle Eastern governments, especially allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that are using the Islamic State threat to continue the suppression of their own people. She must also address the same concern when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.
In pledging to defeat the Islamic State, not just contain it, Mrs. Clinton fails to confront the unpleasant reality that an enemy like the Islamic State is difficult to find, let alone destroy, yet quick to reassert itself. Political hype aside, terrorist groups will continue to re-emerge throughout the region as threats, so this current “War on Terrorism” can never actually be won.
Representing a view shared among many on the right, Jeb Bush has stated, “The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force,” which is very reminiscent of his brother George W. Bush’s use of the “shock and awe” tactic as a “strategy” in the Iraq War.
Although Jeb Bush also called for the deployment of tens of thousands of troops against IS, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of troops will likely be needed to address the threat of terrorism in Iraq and Syria. This is, of course, another reminder of George W. Bush’s ill-considered plans to invade Iraq.
Jeb Bush and others blame President Obama for the creation of the Islamic State, because he did not leave behind ground forces in Iraq. The simple truth, however, is that the Bush administration created the power vacuum and warzone needed for a group like the Islamic State to develop, while the rise of Islamic State was the consequence of corruption in the Iraqi government.
There has always been great concern that a Jeb Bush presidency would simply be a repeat of his brother’s tenure. His unwillingness to offer unfettered criticism against his brother’s record, however, prevents him from learning from George W. Bush’s mistakes. This is very obvious when it comes to his unrealistic views on the Islamic State.
Furthermore, the faulted positions of Jeb Bush highlight two major areas where Republicans as a group demonstrate a total lack of strategic insight.
First, Republicans do not seem to understand a “war on terrorism” is a long-term campaign, which means it has to be sustainable. It is not simply a war where bombs can be dropped and troops can be deployed to eradicate the enemy, declare victory and then head home. In addition, such a campaign can be successful only if local partners are willing and able. Quite frankly, Middle Eastern partners are only now barely willing to provide for their own national and regional security.
Second, the short-sightedness of the right leads them to overcommit resources to terrorism. When American forces were bogged down in Iraq, Iran used the situation to attack forces and further its nuclear ambitions. The Ukraine Crisis and the South China Sea Crisis demonstrate the global implications of the U.S. military’s failure to take a global approach. Overcommitting resources to terrorism in the Middle East will mean a failure to address Russian hostility and Chinese aggression, which are far more serious threats to the U.S. than the Islamic State.
Terrorism has always existed as a threat. It was, however, not until after the Cold War when the international community came to enjoy an era of relative peace and stability defined by global economic competition instead of violent conflicts between countries that terrorism could be considered the most serious threat to national and international security.
The 2016 presidential elections need a serious foreign policy and national security debate. In order to do that, candidates must address the shortcomings of their views on both subject areas.