Former NATO Commander On The 'Greatest Single Foreign Policy Mistake'
In part two of our conversation with former NATO commander Wesley Clark, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson asks what we should do about the ongoing conflict in Syria, lessons we can learn from World War II, and why military solutions abroad won’t work without political goals.
- The First Part of Here & Now’s Conversation with Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark: Former NATO Commander Wesley Clark On Foreign Policy Today
Interview Highlights: Retired General Wesley Clark
On whether the United States should have sent ground troops to Syria
“You know, until you have the political objective and know how to get there politically, you shouldn’t put military force in there. In World War II, we responded because we were attacked and we formulated the political objective of unconditional surrender because, in World War I, we didn’t occupy Germany and 20 years later, war began again. This time, there would be no armistice. It was unconditional surrender.
“When we ran the operation I ran in Kosovo, we already had designed, before the first bomb fell, we knew the subsequent political activities. How NATO would deploy its occupational forces on the ground, what the rules of the occupation would be, what sectors the British and French and Americans would occupy. All that was laid out, and so we did the politics before we did the military.
“When we went into Iraq, we failed to do that, and the operation fundamentally failed. We failed to think things through. Who’s going to collect the garbage? Who’s going to provide local police protection? Who’s going to make the utilities work? We got rid of all of that, we had to start from zero. We had a society wracked by civil war and penetrated by terrorism. It’s been the greatest single foreign policy mistake, certainly in my lifetime and probably in the history of the United States.
“So, no, President Obama should not have repeated that mistake in Syria. He did the right thing by not putting U.S. forces in there because there is no agreement on what the political objective is. If we went into Syria today, took six months, built up a force of 200,000 troops, we could sweep through Syria in a few days. We would be chasing people that we can’t speak the language of and can’t identify. We wouldn’t know friend from foe. We still don’t speak Arabic, we don’t want to stay there, it’s not our country. As soon as we’d get there, one neighbor would say about another, ‘He stole my bicycle, he poisoned my well, he owes me.’ Who is going to do the local police function? We can’t do that function.
“There has to be a government there. And if you say ‘Well, let’s just elect a government,’ then you’ve got the same stresses today. You’ve got the Iranians pulling in one direction, the Saudis in a second direction, the Turks in a third. And when people don’t get their way at the ballot box in that part of the world, what they do is they provide weapons and ammunition and training and bombs start to go off. We’ve seen that movie, we don’t want to do it again.”
What can be done about Syria short of sending troops in?
“I think what you do is: you work to contain ISIS as were doing, you strengthen those elements in Iraq that can work with us, you work with your allies diplomatically in the region to do more, you’ve got to encourage the Europeans to take control of their borders and deal with the migrant crisis.
“One of the things about democracy and allies is that they’ve got to be respected as they solve their own internal problems. So Europe has to work this. As Europe does work this and I’m confident they will, the E.U. is not going to fail, it’s not going to come apart and it will come to terms with the challenge of this migration.
“It will then have to rely more and more on Turkey and it will bring more and more cohesive policies to bear that will eventually provide a framework for stabilizing, outside of Syria, the region. And then, you’ve got to work Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and get greater harmony of how they see the future of the region. Until that’s accomplished, you’ve got conflict in the region and it could go on for decades. This is about diplomacy first, before we try to solve it by putting forces in.”
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