Current Military Operations and the Concept of Forever Wars

Available Downloads

Kathleen Hicks: Hi, I'm Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President and Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This is Defense 2020, a CSIS podcast examining critical defense issues in the United States' 2020 election cycle. We bring in defense experts from across the political spectrum to survey the debates over the U.S. military's strategy, missions, and funding.

Kathleen Hicks: This podcast is made possible by contributions from BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the Thales Group.

Kathleen Hicks: In this episode of Defense 2020, I'll be speaking with three experts about current military operations and the concept of “Forever Wars”. My colleague Seth Jones, the Harold Brown Chair, Director of the Transnational Threats Project, and a Senior Advisor in the International Security Program at CSIS, Jennifer Cafarella, Research Director at the Institute for the Study of War, and Colin Kahl, Co-Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

Kathleen Hicks: Well, thanks to everyone for joining me. It's been a very eventful beginning to 2020, and what a great topic to begin the year on given all that's happened. We want to talk today about this area of current military operations and the concept of “Forever Wars". Our last podcast was on authorization for the use of military force and the parameters that we think about in the United States around use of force. Today we're really going to dig into where the U.S. has forces deployed and is using forces.

Kathleen Hicks: So we have forces all over the world, but there is an incredibly deep interest in what U.S. forces in particular are doing in the Middle East. Maybe Jenny, if I can start with you, why you think that is? Why is there so much interest in what's happening in the Middle East, and what are the most important things Americans should be thinking about?

Jennifer Cafarella: Sure. So I'd start by saying the Middle East remains one of the most dynamic theaters of conflict in the world. I think that's one of the key reasons not only why the U.S. has been involved in the Middle East, but also what continues to draw our focus back to this region even when the U.S. tries to pivot to other priorities.

Jennifer Cafarella: The U.S. has significant interests in the region, including preventing further attacks from groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, to enabling the security of our regional allies and partners, such as the state of Israel, but also creating conditions in which this region hopefully someday can be peaceful and prosperous and can actually stand up more on its own without the kind of American military contributions that thus far have made on the whole a very positive impact on the region, but certainly with significant ground left to cover.

Jennifer Cafarella: I think one of the key things going into 2020 that's on the minds of many Americans is how can the U.S. actually achieve our interests in the region in a way that is sustainable, but that also leads to an enduring outcome so that we don't continue to repeat this cycle of making a contribution, but then stumbling along the way, either in the execution of that campaign or in the consolidation of those gains. I would argue that that has continued to sort of befuddle us, how to do that sustainably, and that's one of the reasons why there is such a vociferous debate right now with the U.S. pursuing multiple missions.

Jennifer Cafarella: What are we doing in Syria? It's ISIS, but not just counter-ISIS. In Iraq, obviously, we have a collision of the counter-ISIS campaign and the regional strategy against Iran.

Jennifer Cafarella: This is very tough stuff. It's a very complicated region. So I think as we continue to move forward, it's important not to get deterred by that complexity, because we do have key interests, but yet at the same time hold our leaders accountable for developing a coherent strategy and executing it amidst all of that complexity.

Kathleen Hicks: Seth, [I’d] love your take on the same. We've got about 5,000 troops right now in Iraq, and at their peak we've had 13,000 roughly in Afghanistan, a little under a thousand in Syria. How should, again, Americans be thinking about this overall region and what we're trying to accomplish there?

Seth Jones: Well, I think the reason that the Middle East continues to, or at least one reason the Middle East continues to have so much focus by the media and the American public is because of the violence that has occurred. The U.S. has forces in a lot of countries, including in Korea, in Japan, in Germany, but what we see in the Middle East now is active combat.

Seth Jones: If you expand the Middle East to include Afghanistan, we've got, as you said, 13,000 forces continuing in really what is the largest combat mission that the U.S. forces are in. U.S. soldiers continue to be killed in Afghanistan this month. The U.S. has conducted strikes against Iranian facilities. The Iranians have conducted attacks against Saudi critical infrastructure. There's been tension in the Persian Gulf more broadly targeting ships. Obviously the Middle East in and of itself is also an important route for trade, including oil.

Seth Jones: So I think when you bring those, the level of combat, with the importance of the global economy, including oil, you get this confluence of war and trade that has created, and the terrorism issue as well, that has created a lot of dynamic interest. While the current Administration has had every, I believe, interest in pulling forces out, I think like many previous administrations found it difficult to do in this environment.

Kathleen Hicks: Well, it's kind of a perfect segue for you, Colin. Love to talk about this broader issue, but also you've been in key positions in an Administration that did try, and, in fact, was able to pull some forces out of the Middle East. What is your thought on how this region affects us?

Colin Kahl: Yeah, it's a great question, Kath, and thanks for having me on. I mean, I'll start off by being rather provocative. I think one could argue that the Middle East is only the fourth most important region to U.S. vital national interests, with the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Western hemisphere all being more important. Yet we keep getting dragged back in to the Middle East, I think, for the reasons that Jennifer and Seth alluded to.

Colin Kahl: I think the frustrating thing that now three administrations in the post-9/11 era has confronted is it's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't part of the world. So in the Bush Administration, we invested enormous amounts of blood and treasure to try to dictate events and impose our will on the region with the interventions in Afghanistan and most especially in Iraq, and we found that enduring outcomes were elusive, even when we invested hundreds of billions of dollars. I mean, the last time we defeated ISIS when they were in the incarnation as Al Qaeda in Iraq was during the surge. That was a two year effort that bogged down 175,000 troops on the ground and cost $275 billion over two years, and it created outcomes that proved on unsustainable.

Colin Kahl: So one problem is when we try to dictate terms and invest a lot, we still don't generate the outcomes we want. I think that has produced two administrations after George W. Bush that have tried to pull back and to rebalance towards other things, whether it be Obama's desire to invest more resources in Asia or Trump's desire, or at least the Trump Administration's desire, to emphasize great power conflict and therefore more in both Asia and Europe. But I think what we found is that pulling back in recognition that we can't dictate events sometimes generates circumstances in which the events start dictating to us and jeopardizing our interest in ways that drag us back in. It's like the mob, right? Just when you think you're out, it drags you right back in.

Colin Kahl: So obviously Obama tried to extricate ourselves from Iraq, and then in the fall of 2014 we were dragged right back in because of the rise of ISIS. I think Donald Trump would very much like to extricate us from the Middle East, but in trying to impose our will on the Iranians, it turns out the Iranians can punch back, and in doing so create conditions that drag us back into the region. So a president who campaigned on pulling us out of the Middle East has sent something on the order of 20,000 additional troops to the Middle East to protect the Gulf, to protect Saudi Arabia, to reinforce our position in Iraq largely because events have spiraled in a way that are at odds with U.S. interests, I would argue, largely because of U.S. policy.

Colin Kahl: So I think we keep getting dragged back into the Middle East because we can neither impose our will at tremendous cost, nor can we escape it as we try to retrench.

Kathleen Hicks: Would you say we're sort of doomed to have to grapple with the Middle East? I mean, how would you characterize where U.S. policy makers ought to have their heads?

Colin Kahl: Yeah. I mean, look, first of all, all of us should be humble about policy prescriptions for the Middle East, because frankly I think over the last quarter century or more, the United States has tried everything and its opposite and come up short.

Colin Kahl: So I think what that speaks to are a number of things that sound like truisms, but nevertheless should probably be repeated. One is that we have to have reasonable objectives. Our objectives can't be to remake a region. It is simply beyond our control to remake this part of the world, maybe any part of the world, but particularly this part of the world, and so we have to set reasonable objectives.

Colin Kahl: I think we have to be ruthless in terms of our priorities about what really challenges our interests in the region. Is it counterterrorism? Is it non-proliferation? Is it the free flow of oil and gas? Is it our relationship with Israel? We have to be ruthless about what those are and then we have to match resources to those objectives.

Colin Kahl: I think one of the challenges that the Trump Administration has had is that at least across the Administration, they've set quite maximalist objectives for the region at a time when the President doesn't want to put any skin in the game and wants to leave. So there's this huge mismatch between the types of things that we want to happen in Iran and elsewhere in the region with the amount of resources that we're willing to commit. As a result, this mismatches create a situation in which we're not in control, but events are creating circumstances that drag us back in.

Colin Kahl: So anyway, that would be a starting point. Matching ends, ways, and means.

Kathleen Hicks: So Seth, we're going to go kind of country by country here, because there are enough important issues we ought to be talking about to do that. So let's start on Iran, because that will be foremost on people's minds. I'd love to hear your take on where you think U.S. Iran policy is and how the recent series of actions and interactions have affected Iran policy.

Seth Jones: Yeah, that's a good question. I think when we look at the shift from the Obama to the Trump Administration, there clearly were several different steps that the Trump Administration took. The most important was without a doubt its decision to walk away from the nuclear deal, the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. In addition, there was a general focus on economic sanctions as the primary tool of U.S. policy to attempt to bring, really to coerce, Iran back to the table.

Seth Jones: As we've looked at Iranian behavior, though, I think what has struck me, and this includes the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani with a drone strike, is Iranian behavior has not significantly changed. In fact, what we have tracked is a notable expansion.

Seth Jones: So let's take the number of fighters that the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] Quds Force has trained in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the primary theaters where it's conducted training. We've seen a 50% increase in the number of fighters that the IRGC Quds Force have trained from 2016, that's when the Trump Administration wins [the 2016 U.S. presidential election] , with all the actions the Administration...

Seth Jones: Yes, that's when the Trump Administration wins. With all of the actions the Administration has taken we've seen an expansion. We've also seen the Iranians continue to provide assistance to groups like the Houthis with more sophisticated missiles including land attack, cruise, missiles, which they've shot at the Saudis from Yemeni territory. We've seen a range of other militia fighters including Hezbollah has become more integrated into the government in Lebanon. And then we've seen more recently Iran is now committed to end the limits to uranium enrichment, production, research, and expansion, which does raise the prospects, I mean we're not quite there yet, of a nuclear weapons program. So with all the changes we've seen, it's hard for me to see any major change in Iran's behavior from the “maximum pressure campaign”. In fact, I think the evidence shows quite the opposite, that they have actually expanded their activity and I would fully expect after the Qasem Soleimani killing that the Iranians will hit back hard.

Seth Jones: Their general mode of operating is not to strike back directly. They told their population they would, which I think the missiles that they hit U.S. bases in Iraq were it appears designed not to kill anybody there. As I speak to senior Israeli officials, even since that response, they are extremely concerned about responses of IRGC Quds Force and its partners in Latin America, in Africa, in other areas of the Middle East, including to a large U.S. force presence in Afghanistan. So I would expect the Iranians to continue to operate asymmetrically in the future. And I think what we've got to look at very carefully is, where are we going politically and what are our objectives? And at that, I don't see a clear way forward there.

Jennifer Cafarella: Sure. I'd start by saying I definitely agree with Colin's point. I think most people would, that the U.S. has to ruthlessly prioritize in this region. I think in some respects the Trump Administration has. They have prioritized continued counter ISIS operations, but then the “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, which is sort of the regional lens through which they seem to see the situation in Iraq and much of the situation in Syria and beyond. So they have in some ways prioritized the “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran. But the challenge in executing any set of priorities in the Middle East is that these challenges are interconnected. We cannot simply pick one problem we seek to solve and ignore the rest. This is an aspect of what has stymied us in the case of the Syrian conflict since the start of the [Syrian Civil] war.

Jennifer Cafarella: We want to pick an aspect of the problem to solve it, but we can't seem to do that in a way that at minimum mitigates the ability of those other aspects of the problem to come in and sort of mug us from behind, which in my view is part of what happened to us with Iran's regional expansion. We had prioritized the counter ISIS fight and deliberately refrained from taking actions to constrain Iran and its proxy forces during that time. And then we ended the counter ISIS campaign militarily successfully and we sort of looked up from that military fight and realized we'd already lost the political game.

Kathleen Hicks: Is it your view that our Middle East strategy is more effective today than it was on December 31st, 2019 or less effective today, Jenny?

Jennifer Cafarella: I would argue, I think that the Trump Administration has established a credible deterrence. I think that they did that. Candidly, I'm surprised that the strike on Soleimani has had that effect, at least in the short term. My concern is that there's a difference here between the effectiveness of our policy in the here and now, the immediate effects, and then the broader effect, because we were already on a trajectory to get kicked out of Iraq. The Iranians were already out competing us in Syria. I don't think that we've become more successful at those wider interests, but I do think that the Trump Administration has, at least for the time, gotten somewhat of a more credible deterrence into place and I think that's a success for which they should be commended.

Colin Kahl: Yeah, I think it's too soon to tell. I mean, nobody should shed a tear for Soleimani being dead. He had a lot of blood on his hands. But I think we're just at the beginning of this. I think that the Iranians, I think had a fairly restrained overt retaliation, but you're already hearing from IRGC officials that we should expect more behind the scenes and I think that Iran is going to shift back to what they have done historically, which is to hit us in a deniable fashion or to hit our interest in the region in a deniable fashion. So we're already seeing more rockets falling in Iraq. I think we should expect more challenges to energy infrastructure in the Gulf, trying to hit us in soft spots. So in that respect, I don't think that "deterrence" has been reestablished.

Colin Kahl: I think that our effort to compel the Iranians to change course is unlikely to succeed. And then if you're on the nuclear front, since the Soleimani strike the Iranians have said they're no longer going to abide by any of the uranium constraints under the JCPA, the Iran nuclear deal. So that situation is demonstrably worse. And while Soleimani was a bad, bad guy, he's not the sum total of the IRCC Quds Force. He's already been replaced and this isn't an organization that was hollowed out like Al Qaeda was when we started picking off their numbers threes and number twos. I don't think a decapitation strategy is going to work against the Quds Force. So I don't see any diminished capacity for Iran to threaten our interests in the region.

Seth Jones: Kath, I don't think there's been a notable change in the [Trump] Administration's approach toward the Middle East, and I think to add two points. One is, the Administration will have and will continue to have a major challenge in withdrawing from the region, which is where it's trying to go right now. And it's other major issue which is documents like the National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy highlight the importance of competition with countries like Russia, China, and to some degree Iran and North Korea. The challenge with withdrawal in the Middle East is that I think as we saw within 24 hours of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, Vladimir Putin was in the region. The Russians, because of their operations in Syria, now have power projection capabilities from bases like Tartus, the naval base, the air base at Latakia. They have a much more significant relationship with the Turks. They have sold them now surface to air missile systems.

Seth Jones: They have now a working strategic and operational level relationship with the Israelis, the Jordanians, the Iraqis to some degree, and if the U S were to continue pulling forces out of Iraq and Syria, it would also open up avenues for the Iranians. I mean, look at the U.S. base where I was recently in Al-Tanf, along the Iraqi-Syrian border. That has been widely identified as an area where the Iranians would love to move material, fighters, and money through. If you abandon a the base there you open up a southern corridor for the Iranians to move material in both directions from Lebanon through Syria into Iraq, from Iraq, Iran-Iraq into Syria and Lebanon. So the challenge here is that a withdrawal then invites some of the U.S.'s main competitors to expand their presence and interests in the region in ways that I would argue actually undermine U.S. national security interests. So that's a little bit of one of the problems.

Seth Jones: The other thing I just highlight and an area that I just don't see much interest, certainly much funding and resources devoted to, and just to briefly highlight this, by the last decade or two of the Cold War, I think successive U.S. administrations finally realized that a lot of these struggles were more than just military ones, that they were also struggles over ideas, they were ideological. And I find this is certainly true with the protest movements we've seen against Iran in Iran itself as well as in Iraq and Lebanon against Iran, the U.S. resources and tools that it has for public diplomacy have been gutted. Funding has been cut and we have almost no serious resources and steps that we can take to support these movements for greater freedom and liberalization. And I think that's one problem we have. We have a lot of military tools but not a lot of other tools.

Kathleen Hicks: Jenny and Colin and Seth, all of you have already kind of broached this issue of U.S. force presence in Iraq. And so I just want to pick up, Seth, right where you left off on this point, which is, you're making a cogent argument for why the United States needs forces in the region, why it shouldn't withdraw forces, but the Iraqis appear to be moving in a direction, I think it's fair to say, where they may not want U.S. Forces in Iraq. What do you think the prospects are for the United States maintaining the forces that you think are important in the region and how should we be thinking about the Iraqi domestic politics in that case in order to get there?

Seth Jones: Well, I think when you look pretty closely at Iraq, the domestic picture's a little bit more complicated. I think there've been key long-term U.S. allies in Kurdish areas that have pushed for continuing U.S. presence in the region. I think some of the Sunni Arab community is equally concerned about the significant Iranian presence in Iraq and there have been some concerns about what a U.S. departure would do. So I think some of the most vocal critics have generally been some of the pro-Iranian individuals in Baghdad that have pushed for a U.S. departure. So I would say the situation is not a case closed dialogue right now. I do think the U.S. has to be extremely careful though in how it moves forward, including striking targets without alerting the Iraqi government. Getting into a tit-for-tat situation with the Iranians in Iraq would certainly not be in the U.S. or Iran's long-term interest.

Seth Jones: So I think there will still be a number of constituencies in Iraq that will want a continuing U.S. presence. I think a U.S. presence, even a small one, is important for a terrorism problem that has not gone away. I mean, I would just remind individuals that, that Syrian-Iraqi border continues to be extremely porous. We're seeing at least 30,000 or more jihadists, those are members of either Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda linked groups or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, again, with a porous border. With those kinds of numbers, it's hard for me to believe that a U.S. military departure would be strongly desired. And if the U.S. were to leave, we may be back in the period we were after 2011, which is a resurgence, especially with a lot of the sectarian concerns that we see in both Syria and Iraq.

Seth Jones: So I suspect there will be still strong interest for some kind of a U.S. presence, and that what we've probably seen after the Qasem Soleimani strike is more of the emotional response.

Jennifer Cafarella: In the context of the current situation with Iran, one of my largest fears is that yes, I do think we'll see further Iranian kinetic escalation and use of proxies. I think that's dangerous and destabilizing, but we will continue to see the Iranians double down on their political agenda, which in Iraq includes the expulsion of US forces, militarily if necessary, but politically, if they can achieve it. Simply threatening sanctions on the Iraqis as the Trump Administration has, is not sufficient, is not a political strategy. It may be sufficiently scary to prevent further legislative action, or action at the executive level in Iraq, because it would destroy the Iraqi economy, but that's not a positive political outcome. So what's the positive political outcome we're pursuing?

Jennifer Cafarella: The final thing I'll say in this case, is that we have a separate but very much related issue in Iraq right now, which is the uprising of the Shia majority in the South against a corrupt and ineffective Iraqi state. We should be taking a stance on that. Now the [U.S] State Department has done some things to message that we stand with the Iraqi people and their right to protest freely. However, it is Iran's proxies that are at the head that are leading the violent crackdown in the attempt to suppress that popular uprising. And I'm very concerned that even without the context of the US/Iran confrontation in the region, that Iraq is headed towards a civil war, or perhaps worse, the reimposition of an authoritarian state in that civil war, which would undo what the US has been trying, I think rightly, to build in Iraq, to help Iraqis build for quite some time.

Kathleen Hicks: So we can't leave this podcast without talking about Afghanistan. It's the war we've been in the longest, 19 years. It's a place where there seems to be a movement on both the left and within the Trump Administration to exit. We've had both Trump Administration officials talking about reducing troop levels. I think behind the scenes, there's even discussion of complete withdrawal, or close to complete withdrawal. And certainly on the left, you see this discussion about “Forever Wars” and exit from Afghanistan seems to be at the core of this. So Jenny, how should we look back on what we have accomplished in Afghanistan, the challenges we face today and where we should go?

Jennifer Cafarella: Sure. I'll start by saying this is another problem set I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy actually, to deal with the situation in Afghanistan. I think that the US has pursued some very admirable goals, and achieved a lot of important successes. I think that's as true in Afghanistan as it is in the Middle East. Even though we have not achieved the outcome that we have desired, we have prevented significant attacks on the United States from being planned and executed from Afghanistan. That was not a given at any point in this process, that we would succeed at that. And it's testament to the incredible hard work and bravery of our Armed Forces and all of the diplomats and other Americans involved this effort to say nothing of our NATO allies. I think we should be proud of what we've accomplished in Afghanistan. And yet, I think there are many Americans that are asking a very valid question which is, how does this end?

Jennifer Cafarella: What is the plan? I commend President Trump in many regards, for coming in and trying to shake up preexisting assumptions. I think that's always a healthy thing to do. In this case though, I don't think that we are headed towards an outcome that we are likely going to be willing to accept, but I think that's the key question. What are we willing to accept?

Kathleen Hicks: And do you mean specifically when you say that in terms of a peace deal with the Taliban?

Jennifer Cafarella: I mean in terms of the outcome, are we willing to accept ISIS conducting attacks from Afghanistan? Are we willing to accept the potential that the Taliban, we reach a deal with the Taliban as sort of the mechanism, but that the outcome is that they break the deal or a civil war re-ensues and the state collapses again. I think that those are all entirely possible if not likely outcomes, of a US negotiated settlement with the Taliban, and then withdrawal.

Jennifer Cafarella: If we're willing to accept that as a nation, then perhaps that's the right call. Thus far, we haven't been willing to accept that. That's why we're still there. And I think that's a tough conversation we need to continue to have as a nation. And candidly, I wish that we had it more. I think it's good when this issue comes back into the spotlight and into the national debate, because I don't think that the American public has been adequately involved in this, and hasn't been informed enough to hold our elected leaders accountable. So I personally would like to see this debate continue.

Kathleen Hicks: So Collin, this idea “Forever Wars” has become commonplace verbiage, terminology. Do you find that it's helpful to how we think about where we need to go next on US foreign policy and security policy? How do you feel about it?

Colin Kahl: Yeah, I mean, I think it more captures a mood than it does a theoretical concept, but the mood is real. Jenny mentioned the frustration that many Americans have. Afghanistan is, now America's longest war, an 18 year old Marine or US Army soldier in Afghanistan wasn't born on 9/11 or when the war was launched. So these wars feel like they're forever. They're also forever in the sense that there's no victory celebration at the end. There's no kind of culmination to them.

Colin Kahl: I think where the term is unhelpful, is that whether it's in Afghanistan or in the Middle East, I don't think in all in or all out model is the right answer. I think all in means that we spend enormous amounts of blood and treasure trying to achieve maximum objectives we are incapable of doing, and all out gives too much control to events in the region, whether it be the collapse of government in Afghanistan, or the reassertion of groups like Al Qaeda, or the Islamic State using the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a safe haven to plot attacks against the homeland. That an all out model also leaves us exposed.

Colin Kahl: The question is, what is the de minimis number of US forces that can be present in Afghanistan to ruthlessly protect the very narrow self-interest that we have, and not seeing that area become a platform, or a safe haven for attacks against the United States? And, we struggled with this as you know, Kath, we struggled with this at the end of the Obama Administration where there was a strong desire to get down to below a thousand forces inside of Afghanistan. And yet, the Pentagon and the intelligence community kept saying, "Well, if you're going to have 500 forces, and you're really going to be able to protect them, then you need hundreds more. And if you give up this base, then you won't be able to fly drones all of the time, and you'll lose intel and these certain assets."

Colin Kahl: And, it's very easy to go from 500 to 5,000 as the interagency sits around and debates these things. But, I think we know what the answer is. The answer is that we need to move towards a de minimis counter-terrorism presence in Afghanistan and the region, and that we have to have some deal between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban that builds a bridge to that outcome. But, that looks great on a PowerPoint slide. Actually making it happen is as we know, hard, hard, hard.

Kathleen Hicks: So let me end then on this question to Seth about counterterrorism. Where are we going in terms of CT [counter-terrorism] policy, and as it relates to these major operations that we've been involved in?

Seth Jones: Well, I think we're in a period where we are looking at transitioning away from conducting a sustained counter terrorism operations on multiple continents. And, there's a notable debate about continuing to withdraw US forces from parts of Africa, from the Middle East, and as Collin just noted, at least a de minimis strategy to continue to pull out forces from Afghanistan.

Seth Jones: So, I think what we're faced with, and when you look at the special operations community more broadly, whether it's a US Special Operations Command, or in special operations in the Pentagon, they have clearly shifted towards a focus away from counter terrorism in many ways and towards what is their role in competition with states? So I think the challenge though, is there are so many other components of counter terrorism, the diplomatic engagement to try to end a range of the wars that provide opportunities for individuals, to gain sanctuary in some of these states, to some of the development programs, to information campaigns.

Seth Jones: Looks like what we're not going to do, is pull out from some of these regions, put additional resources into these non-military aspects. It looks like we're just going to simply try to move on to state-based competition. So, I think in that sense, we haven't learned 20 years after 9/11 that counter terrorism is a lot more than just military action. And why that makes me concerned, is that assuming we do withdraw a range of our military forces, we will not have addressed most of the terrorism problems, and we will have to continue to deal with them, whether we're talking about Somalia, Libya, Mali, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or even in Yemen in the foreseeable future.

Kathleen Hicks: Thanks to everybody for joining me today.

Kathleen Hicks: On behalf of CSIS, I'd like to thank our sponsors, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the Thales Group for contributing to Defense 2020. If you enjoyed this podcast, check out some of our other CSIS podcasts, including Smart Women Smart Power, The Truth of the Matter, The Asia Chessboard, and more. You can listen to them all on major streaming platforms like iTunes and Spotify. Visit to see our full catalog. And for all of CSIS’ defense related content, visit