The Spectacle Blog

The Future of Foreign Policy?

By on 10.20.11 | 4:17PM

When I'm not writing and blogging for the American Spectator, or nerding out as a doctoral student, I work with the Foreign Policy Association as an analyst focused on the Middle East and political Islam. I was recently made aware that our organization conducted a major survey of more than 20,000 highly-educated and involved Americans who work in foreign policy. They were asked to provide policy prescriptions to national security challenges amidst a gloomy global economy and suggest techniques that have proven to be successful, and more cost effective.

The poll, which has been run since 1955, is sent to the White House, the Departments of State and Defense, members of Congress and the media. 

Suffice to say, the Foreign Policy Association's National Opinion Ballot confirmed an attitude that's prevalent in the foreign policy community. Key findings suggest that some defense budget cuts are necessary, global financial regulatory regimes are welcome and opposition to military adventurism is robust.  

Perhaps most importantly, disillusionment with the huge costs and uncertain outcomes of major ground wars and extended nation-building projects has affirmed a new emphasis on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare. In line with an Obama administration embrace of drone warfare and small-scale lightning raids (like the one that killed OBL back in May) polled respondents appear to have favor such tactics as the future in the fight against international terror.

These results are indicative of a 49 percent plurality that supports the reduction of the defense budget. But simply cutting back totals isn't sufficient -- 71 percent of respondents answered "in favor of a combination of counterinsurgency capability [COIN] and traditionalist military strategy."

While I think the poll provides a valuable aggregate of foreign policy knowledge, I think we can also improve our understanding of foreign policy imperatives by examining the experience of a post-Gaddafi Libya.

From that perspective, I'd add that the importance of American airpower cannot be ignored or denied. The Transitional Nation Council (TNC) forces in Libya would not have achieved their victory on the ground without NATO air superiority in the skies. Looking back on the operation, one must agree that NATO airpower was a necessary condition for a free Libya. Granted, airpower was not sufficient, in and of itself, but it more than demonstrates that our boots need not touch the ground to help us help others. Granted, American pilots flew only a handful of sorties, but given the evolving shape of humanitarian intervention and international military assistance, our superiority remains an unquestionable advantage. That we weren't needed to conduct the majority of missions over Libya leads to my next point...

Libya is instructive as a multilateral coordination of Western powers. While we may have "led from behind," as suggested by my colleague, John Guardiano, the Obama administration has provided a template for improving U.S. global leadership, based on multilateral cooperation. Still, I'd add my voice to the criticism of the mission -- frankly, I'd prefer American troops to focus on defending American citizens, as opposed to a distant Arab backwater with no national security implication for the U.S., but when choosing sides in a civil war for humanitarian purposes it's always best to get the job done...and ASAP. However, Libya reinforced the importance of executing clear objectives, and an international community that is prepared to share in the burdens and risks of military intervention based on moral imperative.

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