The Two Parties in Washington (and I Don't Mean the Republicans and the Democrats)

Cross-posted with

Let's consider the two parties in Washington. I'm not referring to the Republican and Democratic ones, but our capital's war parties (there being no peace party, of course). They might be labeled the More War Party and the Much (or Much, Much) More War Party. Headed by President Obama, the first is distinctly a minority grouping. In a capital city in which, post-Paris, war seems to be the order of the day, it's the party of relative restraint, as the president has clearly grasped the obvious: for the last 14 years, the more wholeheartedly the U.S. has gone into any situation in the Greater Middle East, militarily speaking, the worse it has turned out.

Having promised to get us out of two wars and being essentially assured of leaving us in at least three (and various other conflicts on the side), he insists that a new invasion or even a large-scale infusion of American troops, aka "boots on the ground," in Syria or Iraq is a no-go for him. The code word he uses for his version of more war -- since less war is simply not an option on that "table" in Washington where all options are evidently kept -- is "intensification." Once upon a time, it might have been called "escalation" or "mission creep." The president has pledged to merely "intensify" the war he's launched, however reluctantly, in Syria and the one he's re-launched in Iraq. This seems to mean more of exactly what he's already ordered into the fray: more air power, more special forces boots more or less on the ground in Syria, more special ops raiders sent into Iraq, and perhaps more military advisers ever nearer to the action in that country as well. This is as close as you're likely to get in present-day America, at least in official circles, to an antiwar position.

In the Much (or Much, Much) More War party, Republicans and Democrats alike are explicitly or implicitly criticizing the president for his "weak" policies and for "leading from behind" against the Islamic State. They propose solutions ranging from instituting "no-fly zones" in northern Syria to truly intensifying U.S. air strikes, to sending in local forces backed and led by American special operators (à la Afghanistan 2001), to sending in far more American troops, to simply putting masses of American boots on the ground and storming the Islamic State's capital, Raqqa. After fourteen years in which so many similar "solutions" have been tried and in the end failed miserably in the Greater Middle East or North Africa, all of it, as if brand new, is once again on that table in Washington.

Aside from long-shots Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul, any candidate likely to enter the Oval Office in January 2017 will be committed to some version of much-more war, including obviously Donald Trump, Marco ("clash of civilizations") Rubio, and Hillary Clinton, who recently gave a hawkish speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on her version of war policy against the Islamic State. Given that stark reality, this is a perfect moment to explore what much-more war (call it, in fact, "World War IV") might actually mean and how it might play out in our world - and in his latest piece, "Beyond ISIS," Andrew Bacevich is the perfect person to do it.