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Our Wars of Choice Harm our Interests

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls for a  doctrine of restoration that "would help the U.S. shore up the economic foundations of its power." He is basically urging more limited foreign policy engagements, which would mean that the US should act more like the European countries.

Haas wants to reduce wars of choice, like the war in Libya. He also blames Obama for turning the war of necessity in Afghanistan into a war of choice, because of targeting the Taliban rather than Al Qaeda. I understand the logic, but wasn't President Bush going after the Taliban as well?

But under a doctrine of restoration, there would be fewer wars of choice-armed interventions when either the interests at stake are less than vital or when there are alternative policies that appear viable. Recent wars of choice include Vietnam, the second Iraq war and the current Libyan intervention. There would, however, continue to be wars of necessity, which involve vital interests when no alternatives to using military force exist. Modern wars of necessity include the first Iraq war and Afghanistan after 9/11. Interestingly, Afghanistan evolved into a costly war of choice early in 2009 when the Obama Administration sharply increased force levels and elected to target the Taliban and not just al-Qaeda.

The adoption of a doctrine of restoration would lead to the rapid drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. U.S. interests do not warrant an investment of $2 billion a week even if efforts succeed, which is unlikely given the weakness of Afghanistan's central government and the existence of a Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan.

An interesting additional argument against wars of choice is the message that the Libya war sends to Iran, North Korea and other rogue regimes who contemplate getting nuclear weapons: "An unnoted consequence of the NATO military effort to topple the Gaddafi regime may be any hope of eventual denuclearization of North Korea or Iran," writes Banning Garrett, director of the Atlantic Council's Strategic Foresight Project:

Libya poses a clear lesson for Kim Jong-il: Gaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction, and look at the result. The U.S. and its allies have attacked Libya anyway - and now Libya has no deterrent. So what would be the credibility - in the eyes of Kim, the Korean Workers Party, and the Korean People's Army - of U.S. security guarantees in return for denuclearization? North Korea could give up its weapons and then be even more vulnerable to attack should the U.S. and its allies decide that it was "misbehaving," perhaps by ruthlessly suppressing a popular uprising.

Endnote: The Wall Street Journal: "Report Finds Vast Waste in U.S. War Contracts: Panel Says $34 Billion Was Misspent In Iraq, Afghanistan in 10-Year Period" Money that is much needed in America's poor areas in these economically difficult times. Germany and other European countries probably wasted a lot of money as well, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. DW World: "The German military is more expensive and less efficient than its major NATO allies such as the United Kingdom and France, says the European Defense Agency."

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