Bring back the Powell Doctrine

By Ray Starmann

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The results of the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan and the failed and half-hearted air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq are perhaps nearly crystal clear examples of why the Powell Doctrine should once again become a staple of US military and foreign policy.

In order for US military action to commence, the Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions must be answered affirmatively.

  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Like the closely related “Weinberger doctrine” (named for Reagan-era Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger), these guidelines were designed to ensure that the United States did not stumble into pointless wars whose costs far outweighed the benefits.

It is a vision of U.S. strategy that does not shrink from using force, but only if vital national security interests are at stake. If they are, then the United States should defend those interests by taking the gloves off and doing whatever it takes.

In an April 1, 2009 interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, Colin Powell stated that the Powell Doctrine denotes the exhausting of all “political, economic, and diplomatic means”, which, only if those means prove to be futile, should a nation resort to military force.

Powell has expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.

Much of the Powell Doctrine coincides with the maxims of Carl von Clausewitz‘s On War.

The Powell Doctrine is really a legacy of our conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, where the limited use of force resulted in one stalemate in Korea and the nation losing the Vietnam War.

With the current ongoing foreign policy debacle in Syria and Iraq in the war with ISIS, let’s examine how the Powell Doctrine applies to this current conflict.

  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened? Yes, Iraq and Syria are national security interests to the United States.
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective? As of now, no, but clearly the objective would be to destroy ISIS.
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed? The risks and costs could be fully and frankly analyzed and prove to be doable.
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted? With ISIS there probably is no means of conducting non-violent policy.
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement? An exit strategy would be created with the design and implementation of a fast, violent, overwhelming military operation.
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered? The use of overwhelming force would stabilize the region. The lack of force as seen has caused widespread chaos across the Middle East and Europe.
  7. Is the action supported by the American people? The American people would support a decisive war to destroy ISIS.
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support? Yes, we would have significant support from Middle East nations and NATO. Apparently, the Russians want to end ISIS’s reign of terror as well, although that is the subject for a different article.

Clearly, the consequences of not using the Powell Doctrine can be seen across the world. Chaos reigns in the Middle East and Europe. The US has lost the respect of allies and foes alike. Subsequently, a power vacuum has developed in the Middle East as a result of our lack of decisive diplomatic and military action.

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