From Syria to China, US leaders don’t know what America is for

(From National Interest)

The United States suffers from a severe case of strategic confusion, manifest in the country seeing enemies where none exist and showing an inability to concentrate action where they do exist. Given the immensity of American power relative to the rest of the world, this malady has a tendency to wreak havoc and generate tension in areas of American involvement. And the confusion seems so thoroughly embedded in the country’s collective psyche that prospects for any reversal remain dim. That bodes ill for America and for the world.


Consider US actions, and their consequences, of the last 15 years. Following the seminal events of September 11, 2001, when the country was attacked by that tightly wound Islamist knot of anti-Western fervor known as Al Qaeda, the United States toppled the Afghan regime that had succored Al Qaeda and dislodged the Islamist force from the habitat from which it sought to menace the West. This was necessary and entirely appropriate.

But then US invaded Iraq, ruled by a secular tyrant who had nothing to do with the kind of Islamist radicalism that was the true enemy. This generated multiple consequences of immense difficulty. It unleashed sectarian fears and passions in the country that for years destroyed prospects for stability—and led to the deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and an estimated 174,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians. It enflamed the region in ways that spawned a new Al Qaeda force in Iraq where previously none had existed, or could exist. It upended a centuries-long balance of power between Sunni-dominated Iraq and Shiite Iran, thus creating new challenges of stability and new difficulties in the U.S.-Iran relationship. Perhaps worst of all, the Iraq invasion and its chaotic aftermath have sapped America’s appetite for confronting the true enemy in the Middle East. Read More

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