Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Authorizing the Use of Force

This was a big week for national security wonks.  In less than a week, the Obama White House issued a new national security strategy—it’s first since 2010, speculation swirled over whether the United States should provide lethal assistance to Ukraine, and then the administration released the language it sent to Congress for a new authorization to use military force against ISIL.

Through it all, I found an unsettling disconnect between the rhetoric of the administration and the reality of the world around us.

In a speech to the Brookings Institution last week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice described the security challenges to the United States and asserted that none of them are existential.  As a result, Dr. Rice argued, the United States can afford to play a long-game, exercise strategic patience, and maintain the course we’re on.  Such an approach presumes that long-term indicators are all favorable for the United States and its interests.  A simple scan of the headlines undermines that view.

Islamic extremism is ripping apart large swaths of the Middle East.  Despite months of U.S. and coalition airstrikes, ISIL continues to hold vast areas in both Iraq and Syria even while their barbarism reaches new lows with recent accounts of mass executions, children being forced into sex slavery, and wanton disregard for human values and life.

Of course, ISIL emerged from the fragments of a fractured Syria after the United States called for the overthrow of Bashar al Assad.  In Libya, where the United States provided military support to topple a secular strongman in the form of Muammar Gaddafi, conflict rages with Islamists threatening another long civil war.  And in Ukraine, where the United States certainly called for regime change last year, a civil war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists has editorial pages again talking about the Russian nuclear arsenal.

It pains me to write this: I’m not sure what long-term indicators the Obama administration is looking at, but the record of the last six years appears to show a world more uncertain and in peril than before this president took office.  That’s not to say it’s all Barack Obama’s fault, but it is worth questioning the course were on when the president’s advisors assert we should stay on it.

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