Power Vacuums and Power Politics

Francis Migliore, Maroon-News Staff

It seems as though the Day of Reckoning is upon us. I am of course referring to the start of the primaries and caucuses that will eventually produce two nominees for president. Candidates are either relishing their victory in Iowa or frantically scrambling around New Hampshire trying to secure last-minute support.

National security and foreign policy are playing a prominent role in this election. The new president, whoever he or she may be, will have to address the situation in the Middle East. Every single candidate knows that as they make campaign promises about how they will destroy ISIS, they do so with the specter of the Iraq War in the minds of the American people. Fundamentally, each candidate is faced with a dilemma: they must appear eager to destroy our enemies to show they can be trusted as Commander-in-Chief, but not so eager that they look as though they’ll engage in the military adventurism that Americans are tired of.

The range of “solutions” to America’s Middle East problem run the range from the pseudo-practical to the absurd. Secretary Clinton says she wants a no-fly zone imposed on parts of Syria and more airstrikes against ISIS. Senator Rubio advocates for the removal of Bashar Al-Assad and soldiers on the ground. Senator Cruz wants to carpet bomb ISIS (but also not carpet bomb them) and see if “sand can glow in the dark,” whatever that ominous outcome that implies.

The problem with all of these bold plans is they only address the symptom of America’s problems with the Middle East. The root of the problem is not ISIS, it’s the power vacuum that allowed them to rise in the first place. ISIS came to be because we deposed the murderous and bloodthirsty tyrant who used to run Iraq. Coincidentally, the Arab Spring weakened Bashar Al-Assad, also a tyrant, to the point that ISIS now holds most of eastern Syria.

President Obama has called for Assad’s removal; some candidates for President agree with Obama that Assad needs to go. Everyone agrees that ISIS must be destroyed. The question that we all must answer as we go to the voting booth is “And then what?” Once ISIS is gone, there will almost certainly be some other terrorist group to take their place, although perhaps not one so sophisticated.

Whether or not Assad is removed from power is almost irrelevant at this point; half of Syria is displaced and his army has sustained massive losses. That means he’ll likely be unable to reassert the control necessary to keep terrorists and criminals under control in the future, and that supposes that he remains in power long enough to see the end of the Syrian Civil War.

All this brings me back to the presidential candidates vying for our votes. There has to be some sort of end game for American policy in the Middle East that extends beyond destroying our enemies du jour. Our recent history in Iraq suggests multilateral coalitions and billions of dollars may not be the best tools for creating stability. Therefore we have to consider the final question: How do our candidates plan to not only destroy our enemies, but also prevent similar enemies from rising in the future? It’s okay if we as individual Americans can’t answer that question, but our potential presidents should be able to. It’s when they can’t or won’t that we have a problem.