Three Ghosts Who Haunt Modern Strategy

Three Ghosts Who Haunt Modern Strategy

John Arquilla

SWJ Note: This piece was originally posted at the Global ECCO site.

I see dead strategists.

Let me help you see them, too. For just a moment, avert your gaze from the latest Islamic State attacks and atrocities. Instead, concentrate along with me on catching a glimpse of the three ghosts who haunt the halls of the US Pentagon and the central military administrations of most developed nations—the three ghosts who drive policy in costly, counterproductive directions and keep much of the world in a permanent state of chaos.

The most senior specter is that of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), whose brilliant early campaigns gave way, as his power grew, to a series of increasingly bloody slugging matches between massive armies, epitomized by the carnage of Borodino, the most Pyrrhic of his victories.1 British strategist Basil Liddell Hart observed that Napoleon had "pinned his faith to mass" and had even inspired the influential Prussian philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz, to become "the Mahdi of Mass," as Liddell Hart dubbed him.2 US General Colin Powell's eponymous doctrine of "overwhelming force"—still regnant in most strategic circles—reflects the enduring power of the ghost of Napoleon and is responsible for the trillions of dollars wasted in Afghanistan and Iraq over more than a dozen years. The Mahdi of Mass and his heirs are all but irrelevant in the face of today's reality of terrorism and insurgency.

In the United States, the ghost of Napoleon has haunted leaders of both major political parties until they have agreed to lavish trillions more dollars on the Pentagon in the coming years—despite simultaneous stern demands on both sides for more fiscal austerity. The remedy to failures in the field, as Napoleon's spirit still whispers more than 200 years after the disaster of the Russian Campaign and his undoing at Waterloo, is to add more of everything. Not one to accept a call to negotiate peace even after leaving hundreds of thousands of his troops dead across Russia, the French emperor had raised yet another massive army—and quickly lost it in the great "Battle of the Nations" at Leipzig.3 Napoleon's first abdication followed six months after this disaster.

The second spirit hovering over strategic affairs today is that of US Army Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (1879–1936), an early apostle of modern air power. Almost a century ago, in the decades between the two world wars, then-Colonel Mitchell held that swift offensive strikes from the sky could bring enemies to heel without the need for land or naval action. Like so many evangelists, Mitchell suffered for his beliefs, including a court martial conviction for insubordination. But within a few short years, his ideas had captured the imagination of senior military and political leaders around the world.

As a result of Billy Mitchell's crusade, air power has been used repeatedly over the last 75 years with the explicit aim of "bombing to win," in the words of University of Chicago professor Robert Pape.4 The current war against ISIS is highly dependent on aerial bombing, and the Saudis have applied Billy Mitchell's formula to their air campaign in Yemen. Almost all such efforts have failed—including the counter-ISIS air war and the Saudi bomber offensive against Yemen's insurgent Houthis—but the ghost of Billy Mitchell still hovers over headquarters planners, cockpit and drone pilots, and the high councils of all too many nations, luring them on, siren-like.

The third apparition haunting global strategy and policy is that of Osama bin Laden (1957–2011). The man who started history's first great war between nations and networks is only five years dead, yet it is already clear that he is—in an ominously Dickensian sense—the ghost of conflicts to come. His demise seems only to have scattered the seeds of networked insurgency and terrorism—old and new—across the globe: from a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan to al Qaeda "franchises" everywhere; from the quickly metastasizing ISIS splinter group in Syria and Iraq to Boko Haram in Nigeria; from Jemaah Islamiya and the Abu Sayyaf group in Southeast Asia to Hizb ut-Tahrir around the globe. The list goes on and on, with countless small cells—such as those that spawned recent attacks in Paris and Brussels—operating throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

Aside from having set the course for globally networked terrorism, Osama bin Laden has, with his death, done much to keep counterterrorist strategy firmly misdirected. For if Napoleon's ghost encourages an over-reliance on sheer force, and Billy Mitchell's spirit wails "No boots on the ground!" Osama bin Laden's spectral presence deceives many around the world into thinking that the assassination of terrorist leaders can bring their organizations to the verge of strategic defeat, as former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was wont to say.5

Nothing could be further from the truth. The so-called Global War on Terror has morphed into terror's war on the world. And the ghost of bin Laden no doubt smiles a chilling smile at the notion that counterterrorist efforts to defeat networks can succeed by taking out their "leaders," such as Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS oilman killed last year in an American special operations raid in eastern Syria, and ISIS's number two man, Mustafa al-Qaduli, who was killed this past March.6 The greatest strength of networks lies, after all, in their members' ability to pursue a common goal without much (if any) central control. Failure to appreciate this is the first step on the path to defeat—at ruinous cost.

In sum, Napoleon's haunting presence keeps alive the doomed, darkening strategic dreams of victory by sheer force of numbers. Billy Mitchell's spirit still conjures up enchanting images of the potential to conduct successful campaigns with clinical detachment and from a safe distance. These ghosts of wars past and present cripple our efforts to cope with the realities imposed by bin Laden's prescient vision of conflicts to come.

All three ghosts must find their rest if there is to be any chance of forestalling an age of perpetual warfare in which global defense policies are tethered to strategies that prove ever more costly and ever less effective. But what is needed to end the haunting is not a Jennifer Love Hewitt–like "ghost whisperer." 7 Instead of whispers, a loud, lively discourse among the living must unfold. The ravening Napoleonic appetite for more, toujours more, must be quelled. Mitchell's keening call for precision bombing from afar must be heard as the siren's song that it is. And finally, the obsession over taking out enemy "leaders" like bin Laden should simply be eliminated from strategic planning.

Once free from all this haunting, global counterterrorism efforts may finally focus on the two true lessons of warfare in our time: (1) Small, internationally-networked teams on the ground can greatly improve the effectiveness of air power; and (2) a shift in focus from eliminating leaders to illuminating network nodes and cells—and then striking them at many points at the most opportune moment—will have truly lasting effects.

Perhaps, if shifts of this sort are made, I'll stop seeing dead strategists. ²

About the Author:

Dr. John Arquilla is a professor and chair of the Department of Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School.

This is a work of the US federal government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Foreign copyrights may apply.

End Notes

  1. The Battle of Borodino (7 September 1812), immortalized by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, was the only large-scale pitched battle between the imperial Russian army and the invading Grande Armée of France as Napoleon drove for Moscow. See "Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Borodino," About.com, 11 March 2015: http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/napoleonicwars/p/Napoleonic-Wars-Bat...
  2. Christopher Bassford, Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), Chapter 15: "J.F.C. Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart": http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Bassford/CIE/Chapter15.htm
  3. The Battle of the Nations (16–19 October 1813), also called the Battle of Leipzig, was the last battle of massed armies in the Napoleonic Wars, before Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo. See Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Battle of Leipzig": http://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Leipzig
  4. Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996).
  5. See, for example, C. Dixon Osburn, "Post-War Counterterrorism," Huffington Post, 16 October 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/c-dixon-osburn/postwar-counterterrorism_b_...
  6. See Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, "ISIS Official Killed in US Raid in Syria, Pentagon Says," New York Times, 16 May 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/world/middleeast/abu-sayyaf-isis-comma... ; Lucy Westcott, "ISIS Deputy Abdul Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli Killed by U.S. Troops", Newsweek, 25 March 2016.
  7. Jennifer Love Hewitt is an American actor, director, and producer who starred in the CBS television series The Ghost Whisperer from 2005–2010. See "The Ghost Whisperer," IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460644/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_9
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Comments

The statement (presumably from Senior Officers) declaring in Afghanistan that: “If we kill enough of them, they will give up” brings back memories of a once similar made statement of strategy – so to speak. General Westmoreland expressed the same belief about driving the NVA out of South Vietnam by killing enough of them using the superior fire power of American weaponry and the mobility provided by our helicopters, etc.

Wiser council from other Generals noted otherwise, but they were ignored. Generals Ridgeway and George Decker when both were CoS Army, advised against our military involvement in Vietnam. Ridgway noted (among other facts) that battling Nationalism places us on the wrong side of history and Decker advised President Kennedy, when asked, that we would lose. When advised of President Johnson’s / SecDef McNamara’s strategy for an Air War Campaign against the North to assist Westmoreland -- by carrying out limited bombing efforts to pressure the North to withdraw, then CNO MacDonald (?) and CoS Air Force Lemay advised both McNamara and President Johnson that Air War strategy would not succeed.

Even General Taylor, after becoming Ambassador to South Vietnam, saw the light. He originally obtained his wish of our greater military involvement in Vietnam to effectively test his theory of Flexible Response, but then (too late) realized we could not kill our way to victory in a so-called Third World land where the population was in large numbers simply opposed to Western occupation and de facto rule – even through locals supporting the intervening forces, which were viewed disparagingly.

If our current generation of Generals and Flags Officers again believe we can militarily intervene into a foreign land, specifically one functioning economically at the lower end of the scale with a population whose culture is substantially different than those of Western Nations, and succeed in imposing our will on that population by killing more of them (or through any other means), then it appears we have either forgotten about or failed to learn anything from the strategic debacle we suffered in Vietnam.

This article illustrates our lack of strategy in our wars. My Afghanistan experience was kill the Taliban. And if we kill enough of them they will give up.

I remember a ROTC history class where we talked about body counts in Vietnam. And the instructor quoting Ho Chi Minh saying "We will kill one of theirs and they will kill ten of ours, and they will tire of it before we do".

I believe that we need to combat this enemy on multiple fronts military, financial, social and cultural.

More importantly, prior to our invasion of Afghanistan, were the Taliban our enemy?

Yes they knowingly allowed AQ to have a camp there; and post 9/11 refused to give up a guest upon the demands of the enemy of that guest. But in the context of Afghan culture, does that make the Taliban our enemy?

Once we invaded they became the core of the resistance insurgency against our armed foreign presence. Does that make them our enemy?

Once we opted to stay and help form and protect a government for Afghans, but of our liking, ran elections and helped craft the nature of the government on terms counter to the culture of Afghanistan, they became the core of the revolutionary insurgency against that perceived illegitimate government formed of those who sought power through collaboration with a foreign occupier. Does that make them our enemy?

Good strategy begins with understanding the problem and knowing what type of conflict one is getting into (and when it changes into a new type of conflict altogether ). To simply debate tactical approaches to a conflict one does not understand, and a policy position with no feasible, acceptable or suitable solution is not strategy, that is delusion.

So if my culture accepts knocking people on the head and taking their wallets, does that make me not a criminal? Certainly it's useful -- even essential -- to understand the Taliban's motivation and mindset in playing host to AQ as they carried out attacks against the U.S., but cultural context buys them no space. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then the friend of my enemy is just as much of a stinker and fair game.

Having decided on an end state based on replacing the Taliban and their culture with a more palatable (to U.S. tastes) government and culture, then yes, they were certainly our enemy. Whether that objective was ill-considered or not, the flaws in our strategy were based around the two delusions we've held onto consistently since the Second World War: first, that when our enemy is "defeated" -- that is, bested in armed combat -- that they'll stop fighting, and second, that oppressed people the world over welcome U.S. liberation and will cheerfully put aside old animosities when this happens. (I'm beginning to sound like Bill C., but I maintain this is a cultural delusion, rather than organized strategy.)

Our problem is not our force structure, our material, or our tactics -- we readily adapt those to the situation at hand. Our problem is that over two world wars, we forgot why we wage war. Clauswitz nailed it pretty closely: countries/groups/cultures go to war as a shortcut to gaining tangible objectives through negotiation or diplomacy. Instead, we go to war to "win", as if war were a sporting event. We'd have been far better off in Afghanistan if we'd bombed the AQ infrastructure to rubble, and then left, with the warning that we'd be back if they didn't keep terrorists out.

Given that our post-Cold War grand strategy was and is organized, oriented and ordered around the following goals and objectives, to wit:

a. To transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. And:

b. To incorporate these transformed states and societies more into the global economy.

Then, obviously, given these enduring strategic objectives, the Taliban (an entity that was, and still is, determined to prevent the accomplishment of both "a" and "b" above) (1) was our enemy long before we invaded Afghanistan, (2) was our enemy once we invaded Afghanistan and (3) was our enemy when and while we have been in Afghanistan attempting to install a government, and other capabilities, designed to help us achieve our such grand strategic objectives outlined at "a" and "b" above.

Given this understanding, then one cannot say, I believe, re: Afghanistan and indeed elsewhere post-the Old Cold War, that we "did not know the type of conflict that we were getting into."

What we can say, however, re: our knowledge of this actually worldwide (described by S.P. Huntington as "the West v. the Rest") conflict/contest -- that we both knowingly and willingly entered into -- was:

a. Just how very little our exceptionally strange and unusual way of life, way of governance, etc. would help us achieve our such strategic objectives. And, indeed,

b. Just how very much our such exceptionally strange and unusual way of life, way of governance, etc., would cause the Rest of the World (both great nations and small and both state and non-state actors) to, much as they had done when similarly threatened by equally alien and profane communism in the Old Cold War (remember the Soviet/Afghan War?), (1) resist such unwanted transformation and incorporation and (2) take up arms in this very cause.

In this specific regard (see my "a" and "b" immediately above), let us agree that we did not, in fact, understand "the type of conflict that we were getting into."

To wit: a contest within which our so-called "soft power" -- much like that of the Soviets/the communists before us -- would prove to be more of a liability than an asset.

Bottom Line: As per our new understanding -- as to the true limits of and the real problems with our so-called "soft power," expect to see the U.S./the West proceed -- re: its grand and enduring political objectives outlined at the top of my offering here -- more along "hard power" lines.

To wit: more along the lines associated with "political warfare," and "unconventional warfare" employed in the service of same, as is commonly seen in a "Cold War."

(Thus, and accordingly, to see that the "ghost" that "haunts modern strategy" today is, indeed, George Kennan -- as COL Maxwell, I believe, has suggested earlier?)

Excellent points, Bob.

I always like it when you paraphrase Clausewitz as in this:

"Good strategy begins with understanding the problem and knowing what type of conflict one is getting into (and when it changes into a new type of conflict altogether )."

:-)

I took a trial practice course from a brilliant Philadelphia trial attorney, and he talked about the three levels of knowledge, and the necessity to strive for the third level. The way he worked a courtroom was pure genius, and it really stuck with me.

Level one, one knows the facts.

Level two, one can work with the facts.

Level three, one can use the facts to deduce new facts.

Doctrine tends to trap the military in level one and two; as does a promotion system that values rote memorization and action over creativity and risk taking. But level three should always be the goal, even when it makes many uncomfortable. If Clausewitz or Thucydides had stayed at level two we would have never heard of them.

Duplicate

Part of me wants to disagree with Dr. Arquilla. Surely he can easily verify that his "two true lessons for warfare in our time" are being implemented with haste -- which is to say that his ghosts are not actually POSSESSING the policymakers in question. From threat finance analysis to human terrain mapping, these techniques are being built into decision support systems for military leaders, and the motivation for using these tools is to get beyond the three ghosts.

But then I think, Perhaps Dr. Arquilla's remarks do in fact refer to what is actually happening rather than to contemporary folklore about how decisions are made. Perhaps the promising developments recounted, for example, in "Counterterrorism and Threat Finance Analysis during Wartime" ((http://www.thewashingtonbookreview.com/br/how-to-fight-terrorist-financi...)) are merely making tiny ripples rather than measurable impacts on top-level decision processes. If so, these three ghosts might to blame. Maybe Dr. Arquilla is correct.

But I'm hesitant to simply agree one way or the other. It's a provocative article that deserves counterpoint.

Edited and added to a little bit:

In the imperial/asymmetric/long-war model I provide in my comment below, one sees the great nations seeking, via "transformation" and/or via other means, to gain greater access to and greater utilization of the human and other resources of certain lesser states, societies and/or regions.

And, in these such wars, one often sees these great nations taking care not to fall into the "political attrition" trap that will be set for them by their much weaker opponents, to wit: those entities within said lesser states and societies who do not wish to be so invaded, accosted, "transformed," exploited, etc.

In this "great nations avoiding the political attrition strategy/trap of one's enemies" light, the primary thing that the great nations must do is to (a) avoid increasing their forces on the ground (this being what one's much weaker opponents, re: their "political attrition" trap/strategy, depend upon) and to (b) achieve one's objectives via other, more long-term and more politically-sustainable ways and means.

This being the case, then might we say, and re: the "Three Ghosts," that while:

a. The Napoleon/Powell approach (more of everything; overwhelming force) may, indeed, be a "No Go." (Why? Because these such approaches play directly into the enemies' "political attrition" trap/hand/strategy.),

b. The Billy Mitchell approach (air power) and the Osama Bin Laden approach (targeted assassination of leaders); these such approaches may, indeed, have merit/make the grade. (Why? Because these politically-sustainable means/measures allow the great nations to [a] avoid the political attrition trap/strategy of their much weaker opponents and allows that the great nations might [b] stay on and fight on indefinitely. Thus, over time, to attrite their much weaker opponents' willingness and ability to fight.)

(Note: In this "avoid the political attrition trap/strategy of one's much weaker opponent and thus stay on and fight on indefinitely" light, to see a so-called "endless war" -- but thus not a lost or abandoned one as in Vietnam -- as a good thing and not a bad thing. Yes?)

Since John's article refers to air power I will add this link, which arrived today from the blog Defence-in-Depth. It is a short wider-ranging historical comment by Professor Jeremy Black: https://defenceindepth.co/2016/05/11/air-power-strength-and-weaknesses/

Honest I did look for a Forum thread that fitted, there was none and as he swiftly exits enjoy.

Nothing / no method, in any environment, works successfully or well (i.e. produces successful results) if it is misapplied or inadequately applied.

If we continue to fight wars of our choosing on the other sides terms then we are doomed to continued strategic failures. Those strategic failures -- be they in Vietnam, Somalia, Lebanon 1980, Iraq post-2003, Afghanistan (to be admitted soon by the honest) are not being caused by the strategic views or prescriptions of Napoleon, Mitchell, or anyone else from the past.

Those strategic failures are being caused by the political and military leaders in our nation dragging this country in conflicts where we elect to fight / conduct operations following the other side's rule book. We have put ourselves into positions where we elect to engage in costly protracted conflicts the outcome of which, even if successful, will provide the U.S. nothing of strategic value; and we conduct operations in a manner that nullifies the military power we have at our disposal - in order to nonsensically preclude collateral damage.

It is patently absurd to believe that the military forces of a foreign occupying power can ever win the hearts and mind of the forcefully occupied. That belief defies logic, certainly in this century and the one just ended almost two decades ago.

We have at our disposal substantial military resources, but we have written the script such that we inadequately apply those resources and we have defined in that script an unachievable outcome. So we fail repeatedly at the strategical level of war. That failure is self imposed, it is not being brought upon us by our attempting to apply the military strategies of anyone from the past such as Napoleon or Billy Mitchell.

It is not America's business which nation, sect, or group rules which country, or controls which part of which country, or which of two competing nationalities or groups control which part of which land -- unless the result can produce an outcome that will keep the U.S. from accessing a (temporary or permanently) needed source of resources required to cost effectively sustain our life style, cold-hearted as that may sound.

Whether ISIS, the Sunnis, or the Shiites control parts of the Iraqi desert is in of itself not meaningful to this country. In fact, the longer Iran and Hezbollah are involved in that meat grinder the better off will be the world. It matters not which nation or people control all or part of the Ukraine -- we will neither gain nor suffer from the outcome of that struggle. It matters not to this country whether Israelis or Palestinians control which part of their contested areas. If the people of Gaza are dumb enough to be ruled by Hamas and suffer from their policies, than so be it. It is not our problem. Chinese control (and it is coming) of the South China Sea will have zero negative impact on our political, economic or cultural well being.

On the other hand, in ca 1990 when the advances of the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein moved into, occupied, and threatened significant parts of the world's oil supply on which the U.S. and other nations (then) depended -- America's military reaction was correctly structured and applied, the strategic aims were at the correct level, the costs to this nation were reimbursed by those lands that would economically benefit from the restoration of their oil business, etc.

This (the 1990 / 1991 Gulf War) was the proper strategic and operational model for American military interventions abroad, as was our initial military operations in Afghanistan. The latter would have been a successful model had this nation been wise enough to have withdrawn its forces from most of the area (perhaps sans that controlled / peopled by those of the Northern Alliance) after our punishing Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Again, our Nation's strategics failures are not being produced by our attempt to employ the military strategies employed or advocated by Napoleon or Billy Mitchell -- or by their supposedly not being applicable to the alleged current military environment. Our Nation's strategic failures are resulting from our failing to define proper strategic goals, from our occupying one foreign land area after another, and from our attempting to use our military (as heavily armed police forces) to force the local populations of those occupied lands to live in a cultural and political manner we of the West deem fitting for them. That is the reason for our strategic failures. The Ghosts that haunt us are of our own current era making.

"Modern strategy," one might suggest and from the perspective of the more-powerful nations such as the U.S./the West today; this must be understood in terms of a long, asymmetric war, one in which:

a. Much more powerful nations are fighting a "limited war for limited ends," to wit: for the transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. This, so that these much more powerful nations might gain greater access to and greater utilization of the human and other resources (a) contained within these "outlying" regions but (b) significantly denied for optimum use by the more powerful nations due to, shall we say, "cultural differences."

b. For the more powerful nation's much weaker opponent(s), however, and exactly due to the context offered at "a" immediately above, they are fighting a "total war for total ends." To wit: a war for the very survival of their preferred way of life, their preferred way of governance and for the values, attitudes and beliefs associated with same.

(The marginalization, elimination and replacement of these limiting/denying "cultural differences" is the grand political objective of the more powerful nations yesterday and today and, this, re: their commercial and/or other interests. These "cultural differences" barriers -- to greater access to and utilization of the human and other resources of "outlying" states and societies -- these were dealt with by the more powerful nations, significantly in the "old days," by such things as "colonization." Today, however, "transformation" is considered the only proper/politically correct way to handle these such matters.)

So now the stage for the "long war" has been properly set.

The strategy of the much weaker entities, fighting a "total war for total ends" (for example, for the preservation of their unique cultural identity/differences) is to (a) cause their much stronger opponents to increase their forces on the ground and to, thus, (b) be able to successfully wage a war of political attrition against these much more powerful opponents.

The strategy of the much more powerful nations (fighting only a "limited war for limited ends") is to (a) not fall into the "increase one's forces on the ground"/"political attrition" trap that has been set for them by their much weaker opponents and to (b) via other ways and other means, achieve the ability to fight on indefinitely and, thereby, wear down their opponents and attrite their willingness, and their ability, to defend their preferred way of life, their preferred way of governance, etc.

It is in the "modern strategic context" offered above, I suggest, that we must evaluate and weigh such things as the "Three Ghosts Who Haunt Modern Strategy." (And, indeed, all such ideas/suggestions/approaches?)

John! Always brilliant, and doubly so today! Well said!

(Though I will differ on his conclusion that infers better tactics to defeat the threat will bring the stability we seek. These threats are symptoms of the rising expectations of populations and the lagging ability of governance to accept that these voices cannot be ignored, and to keep pace once they decide to act. The popular adage that it "takes a network to defeat a network" is without basis. One must take the energy out of the systems these networks emerge to feed upon, and they will fade of their own accord.)

Are the Saudis using air power the main problem in the Mid East? I read this article more than once and can't understand its focus on peripheral points in lieu of the main issues which is our desire to placate the Saudis, remove Assad, keep Iran in a box one day while courting it another then back to the box, continue as Israel's hawkish parties main protector, and altogether put more emphasis on the mideast than is warranted for American interests.

What is missing in this article? If you can't even say it, speak forthrightly, what is the use?

The only ghosts that haunt American strategy are the Washington Consensus and its death grip on the bureaucratic institutions that essentially run American foreign policy for vested interests.

We expanded NATO although Europe is now wealthy.
We removed Saddam based on evidence that wasn't evidence.
We are the great supporters of Saudi Arabia and the allies of Saudi Arabia are supporters of terror, and can be nothing else in practice.

The mideast is simply not that important in grand strategic terms for the US and our attention has only made things worse. The only people who care are those whose budgets are expanded by a mideast focus.

Very nice. With these three ghosts comes not only a lack of strategy, but a lack of vision. What should the Middle East look like 10-20 years from now? Can we envision Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan forces as a reliable partner in countering crises in the future? Perhaps outside the Middle East? Does stability = success or will representative governments be required? Without being able to provide a vision for success, I don't think we will shake these ghosts anytime soon.