A Response to Mr. Eric Andersen
by Frank Dowse
In a recent SD Rostra guest column by Jacquie Atkinson entitled, “Marine Corps Combat Veteran Jacquie Atkinson Calls Out the Iran Deal for a Fraud,” a rapidly heated debate ensued, where some critical and clear factions within the current “right” arenas often manifest when discussing foreign policy or security affairs. Mr. Eric Andersen, a frequent columnist and commenter on Rostra, and I began a back and forth of supporting our ostensive positons of what we both thought is America’s role in international affairs; his being a more classic Libertarian view (albeit my interpretation), while mine is more of the International Realist variety.
He very adroitly asked if I would respond to some fundamental questions regarding the political philosophies behind a comment I made concerning “leaving hearth and home” and addressing perceived “freedoms” and “threats.” Andersen asked, “Would you share which freedom that was and from whom was the threat coming? If you can support your political philosophy with a transcendent principle (natural law, Bible or founding documents) that you are attempting to conserve you score extra points. At least with me.”
Here is my response:
The current environment
We are in a new epoch for international security affairs; that of rapid and expeditious global transit, space-based, intercontinental, and theatre-based strategic weapons systems, cyber warfare, emerging strategic competitors and adversaries, and international Islamic terror aimed at the West and enabled by state-of-the-art technology and distributed by ubiquitous and instantaneous social media. The Westphalian nation state-based security constructs that 17th-18th-19th century regional and world powers operated is no longer applicable in the strictest sense; asymmetric actors and innovative methodologies create new threats, with new operating parameters, where the “front lines” or “national borders” as understood in the days of our Founding, no longer stringently apply. These transnational threats (ISIS, AQ, Hezbollah) and hybrid warfare tactics and actions operating under international law and skirting acknowledged triggers for full economic or military response (as seen by Russia in Ukraine or China in the S. China Sea) now, more than ever, force US policy thinkers and planners to create effective, resource constrained, and equally innovative ways to thwart and curtail these increasingly dangerous threats (to internationally agreed upon norms and standards as underscored in UN Charter, Geneva and Vienna Conventions and dozens of regional and multilateral security and economic arrangements, treaties, and contracts ; i.e. NATO, OAS, SEATO, WTO, NAFTA, ICAO, OSCE, and others). It is imperative for nation-states concerned with and capable of ensuring international trade, regional and geo-political stability, and diplomatic equilibrium for civil societies set conditions, enter into limited and beneficial arrangements, and support constructs that best support and prepare nations operating in the sphere of internationally agreed upon, lawful, and recognized norms.
The United States is one such nation. Unlike, say Denmark, or Cuba, the US is often sought for and possesses the capability, trust of its allies, and recognized ethical will to ensure international commerce and regional political stability is achieved (or at least kept in a state of mutually acceptable equilibrium) . This is done through extensive diplomatic, economic, military and intelligence arrangements that the US, and the participating parties, enter into freely and willingly. These arrangements and approaches often are derived from various Doctrines-Monroe, Truman, etc, and are based on the international conditions, ethics and morals of our founding principles and ideals (Ideally, Judeo-Christian understanding of defense as described in Just War Theory, promoting freedom and justice, and defending those principles when and where ideally and politically viable).
While there are various schools of international security philosophy, they tend to bin either into two major camps- School of Realism and the School of Idealism; the former concentrating on the world as it is (Realpolitik) and the latter on how a particular party or parties would like the conditions to be and then work to achieve it (collective security, multilateral constructs, and preventative defense)
The US has embraced a relatively (compared to 18th century France or 20th century Finland) healthy amalgamation of both, careening into one or the other more deeply over its 240 year history. Civilian control of military forces is at the heart of our founding as defined in the Constitution.
“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States” – U.S. Constitution – Article 2 Section 2
This unique and vital construct, along with the role of the US Congress, is designed to act as a check and balance for our employment of forces and the curtailing of unilateral pursuits of diplomatically disadvantageous, reckless, or politically driven agendas. This includes when, where, how, and to what extent US forces may be deployed in support of US national security and defense obligations, arrangements and objectives. The US has not always upheld the strictest ideals in the employment of those forces; Dresden, Gulf of Tonkin, Bay of Pigs, Iraq invasion are all examples where many experts and citizens would agree/disagree did not meet the intent or the majority of the precepts for Just War Theory (JWT) or stated US principles of security and defense. However, the US and its senior civilian and military leadership strives to train, prepare and collectively default to adhering to international law, maintaining obligations and treaties, and promoting US action under the US Constitution and JWT. (BTW-The US has grossly violated JWT- Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Dresden bombings were all violations of JWT. Some point to civilian deaths in Iraq as a clear violation; however, it has been inconclusive to precisely by which hands these deaths were caused given the propensity for insurgent and terror forces in Iraq to kill civilians en mass and create false and deceptive narratives to blame coalition forces)
However, no nation in the modern era is more committed to minimize non-combatant civilian causalities than the US. It is the exception rather than the rule for American strategic planners to think, act and promote ideals contrary to its stated ones. This is in direct opposition to those US detractors, such as Russia, China, DPRK, or Iran (and now ISIS) where they, by stated policy and operational doctrine, intent and action, strive and execute diplomatic, military, economic, and intelligence operations and actions precisely to circumvent constraints and to conduct security operations in direct contrast to JWT, international law and universally recognized norms. The US has committed acts in this vane, but is not prone, designed or guided in this approach. i.e. Cambodian Bombings raids, Iran-Contra, Libya all were areas where US planners knowinglybroke the spirit or the letter of the law.
With this as a primer and background to Mr. Andersen’s original question, I deployed in many incidences where I, like thousands of US military, diplomatic, and intelligence personnel, left hearth and home to address threats and to ensure American freedoms. In one particular incident, I was deployed in the late 1990s in response to the imminent possibility of the US embassy in Eritrea needing to be evacuated during the ongoing civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
In that situation, I was assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) as the KC-130 Detachment Commander. The Marine KC-130 aircraft was ideally suited to be operated in less-than-permissive and rugged environments for this type of mission; immediate insertion of US security forces to secure the embassy and extraction of lots of US embassy and support personnel utilizing an un-improved airstrip, nearby road, or barren field. The MEUs are deployed globally to react and respond to crises. Because of the austere and remote location of Eritrea and the US embassy there, we needed to pre-position at the Kenyan military base in Mombasa, Kenya. We have had a long standing mil-mil contact relationship with the Government of Kenya, and had participated in numerous training exercises and mutual security arrangements in the intelligence and diplomatic realms for decades. Geo-strategically, Kenya was ideally situated and equally concerned for ensuring international shipping lanes along the East African coast, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden were free and clear of increasing Somali pirate activity (the movie, Captain Phillips, captures this threat well).
With a completely failed state in Somalia, and the potential for increased instability and war in both Eritrea and Ethiopia, the US, along with several nations including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Oman, and the Gulf States along with Western Allies such as Britain, The Netherlands, Germany, and even Japan were in agreement that increased chaos and instability on the East African coast and threats to the shipping lanes were a clear and present danger to global energy supplies, commerce, freedom of navigation, and the potential for more failed states to metastasize into Jihadist terror breeding grounds.
This was particularly important to the US and other Western nations as terror networks supporting Al Qaeda and Al Shabbab were using these areas of instability and chaos to train, equip, and support terror cells and as launching points for extended transnational terror operations. These operations were witnessed throughout the region targeting US and her supporters; in Saudi Arabia at Khobar Towers, the bombings of the US embassies in Dar es salam, and Nairobi, the Cole bombing in Yemen, and numerous operational probes and intelligence gathering operations by Jihadist Terror elements across East Africa (Including our own compound in Kenya). These were Islamic Terror cells and they were invariably led, manned, supported, and equipped by Arab, Eurasian, or South Asian terror members; not African. I state this because many believe “if the US wasn’t there, then they would leave us alone.”
This was the beginnings of operations for the greater Islamic Caliphate, where Arab interlopers were using the instability and chaos in Africa through means and methods of terror to promote and advance their political and terror-based aims against US and other perceived western or western sympathizing nations. The infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident a few years prior is now widely believed to have been an AQ planned and led operation in the guise of Somalia warlord conflicts. If you remember, Somalia was in the midst of a famine where hundreds of thousands of Africans had died of starvation and the US as part of an international UN sponsored mission was supporting with US military personnel to ensure the distribution of much needed food supplies.
While it may not be immediately apparent why I, or any of the thousands of personnel on the MEU or on coalition naval vessels patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea were addressing a “threat” or securing our “freedoms,” a cursory analysis warrants precisely that; our freedoms include with whom, how, and in what context we exercise our ability to conduct commerce. The computer you are reading this on may have components that transited that area; the oil you used in your car to get to your place of employment may very well have come through there; the very car you drive probably transited that Gulf or nearby area, or a similar regional nexus where the freedom of maritime vessels and commerce are paramount for a thriving, modern, free, and global economy (Straits of Hormuz, Malacca Straits, the Bosporus, or South China Sea).
It also constitutes how we choose to live and to monitor, react to, and if necessary, thwart encroaching threats and vulnerabilities to our freedom, i.e. PRC forces in Africa may not seem a restriction of our freedoms, but if PRC influence curtails our access to certain ports or lanes of navigation where friction and potential military outbreaks may occur, then those freedoms are curtailed and marginalized in the forms of restriction in movement, commerce, and diplomatic and economic advancement for free and prosperous societies. If PRC military forces were to deploy to Mexico, it constitutes a clear and present threat given the proximity and distance to the US Homeland. Yet, they may not be violating international law, or projecting any intent other than exercising with Mexican forces, security planners across the philosophical security spectrum would conclude the move, given our histories and political constructs, as provocative. The Mexicans would not seriously entertain that scenario precisely because we would apply severe economic and diplomatic pressure to compel Mexico not to consider that option.
Moreover, I can guarantee the personnel at the embassy in Eretria had no qualms understanding how our deployment constituted the immediate concern of their freedoms (under the Vienna Conventions and the status and conduct of diplomatic personnel as recognized by international law). Nor was it lost on them, their loved ones, and most geo-politically aware Americans that in order to do that, we must identify, develop, maintain, and when necessary enhance security relationships, Status of Forces Agreements, and mil-to-mil contact programs that require regular deployments to exercise these constructs, while ensuring logistics and bases of supply, fuel, and housing. This does not happen instantaneously, nor in a vacuum. Nowhere has this been better captured than the recent movie, 13 Hours, depicting the attack on the US Annex in Benghazi, Libya.
You cannot surge trust!
While to some uninformed Americans, having overseas bases and persistent military deployments may seem either excessive or unnecessary, we must cultivate relationships and maintain them in order to ensure we are not scrambling to find a lily pad to land on when Americans, their interests, or those of our close and trusted allies are threatened; this includes the securing of their freedoms as well to ultimately ensure ours at home. More importantly, and to address an earlier commented concern; these relationships build lasting constructs and arrangements that actually decrease the likelihood of greater American causalities precisely because we come in invited and are not forced or drawn to violate another’s sovereign territory, or be forced to deploy larger forces to create a secure environment in inhospitable, non-permissive, and often hostile environments where the Islamic Terror elements thrive and control.
Finally, we simply cannot embrace policies that would advocate for a recession of US presence and influence, especially where ISIS, AQ or other Jihadist terror networks thrive and prosper. It is no longer debatable whether these terror elements will come to the Homeland; they are already here.
The snake that bites you tomorrow is already in your yard today.
Paris, London and Madrid Metros, and most recently San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, Boston Marathon, and Times Square are all examples of this. This is true regarding our imperative means to seek, find, and when necessary, finish these killers before they reach a point, either geographically or operationally, where they would constitute an imminent threat to the Homeland. In order to do that, we must have the assets, locations, and partners to affect action at a place and time and in the conditions of our choosing; not those of the enemy. This is addressed in JWT and it applies today. These actions are often short of war, and prudent to ensure we are not caught flat-footed or ill-prepared to dangers overseas aimed at the Homeland. Alternatives include one-to-one diplomacy, international pressure, economic sanctions, blockades, quarantines, covert actions, and small-scale raids and actions that do not trigger full scale war but address the threat at hand (the Bin Laden raid is a recent example).
It is not necessary to employ all such methods before going to war. It is incumbent upon our civilian leadership and their military advisors, however, to reveal them to be impractical or ineffective. We may be in agreement that this is where Iraq went awry. We rapidly met military objectives, but did not properly define and capture the political end state. While we made significant corrections over time to try to assuage the conditions on the ground, the lack of a clear, achievable, and certain victory led to an unsustainable political outcome and erosion of public support.
I do not advocate violence as a first resort. It fact, I abhor it. However, I understand its place in the modern world and advocate its implementation when confronted with unjust, evil, or even diabolical forces (ISIS in the minds of many Christian observers is diabolical). When applying whether, when, how, and to what extent the US should commit forces or pre-position forces, or establish international partner relationships to meet an emerging or existing threat, I personally attempt to balance any decision or support of that decision with US historical precedence and commitments, our constitutional obligations, and that of the Old and New Testaments — I do not seek or relish in violence. However, I cannot idly endure evil.
This is the Christian security conundrum.
The Old Testament acknowledges that there is “a time to kill.” (Eccles. 3:3) At times in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to defend their nation by force. Yet it was always with the acknowledgement that peace is the goal to strive for. The Psalmist admits, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps. 133:1) As a Christian, peace is the goal; and as an American Christian, when it cannot be achieved without force, then force must be used. St Augustine agrees.
Similarly, the New Testament sets peace as the overriding precept; but acknowledges the valid use of force. John the Baptist acknowledges the Roman soldiers, whose job it was to govern the Pax Romana, or “Peace of Rome,” could keep their jobs (Luke 3:14) and by the Apostle Paul’s remark that a nation “does not bear the sword in vain” but is “God’s servant for your good.” (Rom. 13:4)
I hope this sheds a greater light on my and the position of millions of God-fearing Americans that are not “advocating violence, tyranny, and denying the rights of people that did nothing to us,” blindly following goose stepping Neo-Cons resulting in the needless deaths of America’s brave men and women. We do have an exceptional and special role in the world; it does not mean we are “better” or “superior” or “commanded” to lead or possess a preeminent role in international affairs; it is because we are capable, willing, trusted, and guided by principles (namely the Bible, and our own Constitution) that place us in a unique, vital and precious role to ensure our freedoms and those of billions of others, while giving those that would threaten and curtail those freedoms a moment of pause.
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Frank Dowse is a retired Marine Officer. He was the USMC Commandant’s Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, receiving an MA in International Security Affairs. These are his observations based on over 30 years involved in counter-terror, intelligence, and defense operational planning, implementation and execution as an active-duty officer and DoD civilian official.