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U.S. Needs to Reject Binary War Strategy of Victory or Defeat

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December 10, 2018: Members of the Iraqi security forces parade in the streets of the Iraqi city of Mosul, during celebrations marking the first anniversary of the country's victory over the Islamic State. (Photo: Zaid Al-Obeidi / AFP / Getty Images)
December 10, 2018: Members of the Iraqi security forces parade in the streets of the Iraqi city of Mosul, during celebrations marking the first anniversary of the country’s victory over the Islamic State. (Photo: Zaid Al-Obeidi / AFP / Getty Images)

If there is one motto you should have for the New Year, it’s that as a country we need to reject the binary war strategy that pushes the needle either to a hard victory or defeat. This is something that recent U.S. presidents seem to love to do, including President Trump’s recent declaration that ISIS has been defeated. Modern warfare is an entirely different beast and clear victories are an illusion.

Speaking of orientation, the dust may be settling after the winter holidays and the news only weeks ago of a U.S. Syria withdrawal may feel like it’s part part of the post winter haze we’re coming out of, but we need to step out of it quickly and reassess where we’re at:

  • Secretary of Defense General James Mattis has resigned from office.
  • The U.S. is withdrawing from the Syrian conflict.
  • There is presently a prolonged government shutdown over a border wall funding issue.
  • President Trump’s closest and consistent policy adviser on war and peace, Stephen Miller, believes there is no existential threat from ISIS, and that our greatest foreign threat comes from south of the border, hence the need for a wall.

You can watch the December 20th, 2018, Stephen Miller interview with lead CNN political anchor Wolf Blitzer below. The exchange broke down into resembling more of a hostage negotiation crisis than a policy interview with a senior White House adviser.

 

 

With the musical chairs the Trump administration has become, adviser Stephen Miller has remained a steadfast player worth watching more closely. The rhetoric we hear in the interview is guiding the national conversation in the new year, and that includes the notion the U.S. has defeated ISIS and now can divert attention and resources elsewhere.

Yes, the border is one point of weakness especially for foreign terror groups like Hezbollah. But no, we have not defeated ISIS. Binary war strategies like this are no strategies at all. They’re based on false premises and lead to failed policies. The question is where do we go from here. As things nose dive in 2019 into a deeper quagmire of competing information and complicated delineations, there’s one key mantra that can help us get through the year:

Reject the binary war strategy.

Question every time you hear the solution resorting to a binary war strategy (that something is either all completely one thing or another). This includes the fantasy that we have or can totally win wars that historically have been unwinnable and have only grown more complicated over the years.

Instead, in all areas we need to look at how we can scale and pivot our strategies in order to provide an enduring presence to support our allies and partners, who are mutually invested in our goals.

 

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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.