There was a time when that phrase was thought to be an oxymoron. But, Michael Harris writes, on the subject of the Middle East, the soldiers have it right, starting with former NATO commander, retired Major General David Fraser:
As reported by Murray Brewster of Canadian Press, Fraser said if he had to do it all over again, he would have left the Taliban government in power and simply concentrated on hunting down al Qaida. Fraser, it seems, had seen the ruinous consequences of “regime change” up close and personal. All it accomplished in Afghanistan was the creation of a “30 to 40 year problem” across that country and the entire Middle East.
That was the heart of the matter. Afghanistan wasn’t the only place where deposing a government actually “compounded” the problem — at least according to the former NATO commander. It also happened in Iraq, where toppling Saddam Hussein and disbanding the Iraqi Army ushered in a period of dangerous instability in the region.
The same thing happened in Libya, where the regime of Moammar Gadhafi was bombed out of existence by unchallenged NATO airpower. The power vacuum created by toppling Gadhafi has been filled by a zoo of warring militias and the country remains ungovernable to this day. How bad is it? The U.S. has had to return to this failed state in the middle of the Iraq/Syrian war to bomb ISIS, which is now a player on the ground in Libya.
In Washington, the Joint Chiefs were telling Barack Obama the same thing. Seymour Hersh has reported that:
The Chiefs made the point that toppling al-Assad would create a power vacuum that ultimately would be exploited by groups like ISIS. They also argued against providing arms to so-called “moderate” rebels to overthrow al-Assad and his Damascus government. The moderates were already in bed with the more extreme groups who are being armed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
According to Hersh, the White House ignored the Joint Chiefs of Staff — with a remarkable result. The Department of Defense started to undermine administration policy by sharing intelligence with foreign military liaison services — Russia, Germany and Israel — knowing that it would be leaked to the al-Assad government.
That's where things get very thorny. As a general principle, though, those who have fought in wars know more about it than those who haven't. And those who haven't would be wise to listen to those who have.