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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

The Mindless Militarism of Max Boot

In the wake of the Paris attacks, prominent neoconservative Max Boot has breathlessly called for the United States to unilaterally support Sunni autonomy in Iraq and deploy 20,000 U.S. troops against ISIS.

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There’s so much hysterical nonsense spewing forth from the neocon/Republican echo chamber in the wake of the Paris massacres that it’s very difficult to know where to begin to focus one’s attention.

On why Christians from Syria should be given preference for gaining asylum in the U.S., for example, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) asserted that “in the United States and Western Europe, Christian refugees have not become terrorists…” Which is a pretty remarkable statement given the history of Cuban Christians, such as Orlando Bosch or Luis Posada Carriles, who were granted refugee status in the United States and promptly turned their considerable talents to terrorism, including blowing up a civilian airliner in mid-flight.

And then there was this bizarre passage by neocon—or should I say neo-imperialist—Niall Ferguson in the “Notable & Quotable” column excerpted in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal from a Sunday Times op-ed about European decadence and its similarity to early fifth-century Rome:

It is doubtless true to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent. But it is also true that the majority hold views not easily reconciled with the principles of our liberal democracies, including our novel notions about sexual equality and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities. And it is thus remarkably easy for a violent minority to acquire their weapons and prepare their assaults on civilization within these avowedly peace-loving communities.

Huh?

But I think Max Boot, who clearly sees the current moment as particularly propitious for pushing his chronically militaristic agenda, deserves special attention, if only because of his reputed close ties to COIN master Gen. David Petraeus and his status as a “foreign policy adviser” to neo-con favorite Marco Rubio. There’s no need to go into the details of his recommendations for eliminating the Islamic State (ISIS or IS). He laid them out quite clearly in “How to Fight a Real War on ISIS’’ published in Commentary magazine’s “Contentions” blog on Sunday. I must say he makes it all seem so simple, almost casual. (“We will probably need at least 20,000 personnel and they will need much more permissive rules of engagement that will allow them to go outside of their bases in order to call in air strikes and more effectively mentor indigenous forces fighting ISIS.”)

On Tuesday, Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at CFR, repeated those recommendations in yet another post entitled “Doubling Down on a Failed Strategy.” I read the article while I was getting a late afternoon snack, and two passages really jumped out at me, again just because of the sheer casualness with which the supposedly serious “defense intellectual” and “military historian” threw them out. Here’s the first one:

There is some indication now that the bombing is intensifying a bit, with the U.S. finally hitting ISIS fuel trucks that had been off-limits until now for fear of collateral damage. But even now the truck drivers are receiving advance notice to leave their vehicles ahead of the bombing for fear they will get hurt. This is hardly the action of a superpower fighting a war of survival. [Emphasis added]

Now, I guess this is what he means by “more permissive rules of engagement.” But what really got my attention was his definition of the war against IS as one of “survival.” Has any serious person suggested that IS poses an existential threat to the United States or Western Europe? Does David Petraeus or Marco Rubio think that? Talk about hysteria.

But then he follows this up with the following passage regarding how those 20,000 troops can avoid becoming a “permanent occupation” of the kind that Obama warned against during his press conference at the G-20 summit this weekend.

Obama made no reference to the need to create a new Anbar Awakening by offering Sunnis autonomy within a federal Iraqi structure—something that the U.S. can effectively guarantee even without Baghdad’s cooperation. The U.S. can simply train and arm Sunni rebel fighters and then announced, as it announced in the case of the Kurdish Regional Government in 1991, that the U.S. would protect Sunni autonomy in the future.[Emphasis added]

Wow, it is so simple. I’m sure that the Shia-led government in Baghdad would never challenge a unilateral action like that. And it certainly won’t be necessary for U.S. warplanes to patrol the newly autonomous region as they did over Kurdistan for more than 10 years after the first Gulf War. And if Baghdad or its well-armed Shia militia allies did object to such an arrangement, I suppose a simple declaration by Washington would persuade them to back off. (Is this what Petraeus or Rubio thinks?)

So there you have it: 20,000 troops, more airstrikes less discriminately carried out, some good arming and training of local forces a la Surge, and unilateral U.S. declarations as to how Iraq (and maybe Syria, too) should be effectively partitioned backed up by unilateral (military) guarantees, and we’ll have nothing to worry about anymore. CFR should be proud.

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Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


Joe Lieberman, the neoconservative Democrat from Connecticut who retired from the Senate in 2013, co-chairs a foreign policy project at the American Enterprise Institute.


The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney has emerged as the most visible advocate of hardline security policies in the Cheney family.


Former attorney general Edwin Meese, regarded as one of President Ronald Reagan’s closest advisers despite persistent allegations of influence peddling and bribery during his tenure, has been a consummate campaigner on behalf of rightist U.S. foreign and domestic policies. He currently serves as a distinguished visiting fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.


The Heritage Foundation, a mainstay of the right-wing advocacy community, has long pressured the United States to adopt militaristic U.S. foreign policies


David Addington, who helped author the “torture memos” and other controversial legal documents while serving as an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, left the right-wing Heritage Foundation to become VP and general counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business, a business lobby.


Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), a stalwart advocate of Pentagon spending now based at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, says he would have voted for the Iraq War even if he had known the Bush administration’s claims about WMDs were false.


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