In what is arguably the best line from The Godfather movies, Michael Corleone complains bitterly “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” He was attempting yet again to make the Corleone family legit, planning to exit the rackets with all their accompanying violence and mayhem. But a struggle for power between members of his family and a rival Mafia gang denied him his dream. He may have been through with a life of crime but, to paraphrase Leon Trotsky, crime was not through with him.
President Barack Obama at present must be feeling a bit like the Godfather. He had pretty well ended President Bush’s wars. The President successfully managed the withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from Iraq in 2011. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is trending downward with all but a small residual presence to be retained in that country post-December 2014 and then only if a new Status of Forces Agreement is signed. For more than four years he avoided becoming involved in the Syrian civil war. Having engineered the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the President nonetheless avoided letting the collapse of order in that country draw U.S forces into another stability operation.
In fact, the President was well on his way to getting the United States out of the business of boots on the ground. Most U.S. military forces have been withdrawn from Western Europe; only two small light infantry brigades remain on the Continent. The new Defense Strategy and the latest Quadrennial Defense Review both declared emphatically that the United States would neither plan for nor retain the capabilities necessary for the conduct of a large-scale, protracted stability operation.
Now the United States is being dragged back into precisely those regions and the conflicts that the President thought he had exited successfully. Events in small and faraway places such as Donetsk and Mosul matter to U.S. security. After every war for the past century, the United States has sought to go home and tend to its domestic concerns. And each and every time, it has been pulled back into messy and violent local fights.
The lesson of The Godfather saga is that you cannot escape your fate. It is this country’s fate to be the pillar of the Free World’s security and the engine that will drive the coalitions being created to oppose the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Russian aggression. Even though the interests of our allies and friends in the Middle East and Europe are more directly threatened by ISIL and Russian aggression than are ours, only the United States has the military power, political credibility and economic strength to conduct multiple military campaigns simultaneously. The U.S. possesses the capacity and capabilities necessary to take on ISIL and at the same time deploy air, sea and land forces to Europe in order to deter Moscow. As the U.S. military has repeatedly demonstrated over the past two decades, it alone can conduct full spectrum operations anywhere in the world. Our allies may have soldiers, airplanes and ships but they lack the experience, organization and critical enablers necessary to conduct true joint and coalition operations.
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