By Michael Cipriano
A lack of a comprehensive and strategic approach in national security policy will doom the United States for failure in the Middle East, three retired military officers told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Former generals James Mattis and John Keane and former admiral William Fallon slammed the White House for not laying out a set of short–term and long-term objectives for dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other countries in the region.
“I think in this case we have to get to a very detailed level of understanding,” said Mattis, a former commander of United States Central Command. “What is the political objective we are out to accomplish? Frankly, I don’t know what it is right now.”
“The international order built on the state system is not self-sustaining. It demands tending by an America that leads wisely, standing unapologetically for the freedoms each of us in this room have enjoyed,” Mattis added.
Keane, who served as the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2003, urged for the United States to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan. He warned that pulling out the troops too early would squander all the gains that have been made over the past 13 years.
The general alluded to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, which resulted in the reemergence of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. ISIS, he noted, launched a conventional attack in Iraq in 2014, taking control of the cities of Fallujah and Mosul, along with several other towns and villages.
“All we accomplished in Afghanistan will be at risk, as it was in Iraq, if the troops are pulled out not based on the conditions on the ground,” Keane said. “How can we not learn the obvious and painful lesson from Iraq?”
What’s more, Keane described the growth of Al Qaeda as “fourfold” over the past five years. He pointed to a map, which showed a large presence of the group in northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.
Keane criticized the government for its failure to confront radical Islam as a threatening movement, and attributed its growth to the United States’ focus on disengaging from the Middle East.
The general said he believes this reduced engagement has stemmed from the fear of being “paralyzed” by adverse consequences in the region after fighting two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“U.S. policymakers choose to ignore the very harsh realities of radical Islam.” Keane said.
“Moreover, as we sit here this morning in the face of radical Islam, U.S. policymakers refuse to accurately name the movement as radical Islam. We further choose not to define it, nor explain its ideology,” he added.
The committee also asked the officers a series of questions about Iran. Fallon, a former commander of United States Central Command, told the committee that economic sanctions are having a “pretty notable impact” working against the country, and are an effective short-term plan.
But Fallon added that the United States must develop a more comprehensive plan to deal with Iran. A single solution, he said, is not going to solve all of the problems with Iran, including its quest to obtain a nuclear weapon.
“Let’s decide what we want for the long-term,” Fallon said. “Can we accept Iran playing some kind of role in the region? If so, how do we get from where we are today to there?”
Keane concurred, arguing that the long-term goal of any alliance against Iran should be a regime change, or at least a collapse of the existing government framework.
“Is there any doubt that Iran is on the march and is systematically moving toward their regional, hegemonic objective?” Keane asked. “Iran has been on a 20-year journey to acquire nuclear weapons, simply because they know it guarantees preservation of the regime and makes them, along with their partners, the dominant power in the region.”
None of these strategies are possible, however, with the current spending caps in place. Known as sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that took place in 2013 remain in law. The result, the officers said, is a military too small and a lack of necessary resources to confront the dangerous national security challenges to the United States.
All three officers called for a repeal of sequestration, and Keane called it “irresponsible” and “downright reckless.”
Mattis added that sequestration is costing military readiness and long-term capability, while “sapping our troops’ morale.”
“Without predictability in budget matters, no strategy can be implemented by your military leaders,” Mattis said.