In AD 122 the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall across the width of the island that we now know as the United Kingdom. Running roughly along the lines of the current division between England and Scotland what is now known as Hadrian’s Wall became recognized as the northern limit of the Roman Empire. What lay below would be incorporated into Roman Europe. What lay above would be abandoned to the barbarian Scots.
As an American of Scottish descent, I have no doubt on many occasions cited this fact to my children as proof of the unconquerable nature of the Scottish people. Even the greatest military force of the ancient world, the Roman legions, could not subdue the Scots. The Romans were forced to abandon any hope of conquering Scotland and its inhabitants.
The truth is, of course, a bit more complicated. The Romans were not really defeated. They simply made the judgment that there was nothing of sufficient value in the wilds of Scotland to justify the cost of subjugating its inhabitants. Hadrian knew he had finite resources and needed to make clear headed decisions about where and when to use them. He ordered the building of a wall and left the Scots to fend for themselves.
We would do well to remember the lessons of Hadrian’s’ Wall today. For decades now we have opted to commit resources abroad more because we could than because we should. Our nation and our economy are the worse for it.
President Trump’s new national security strategy goes a long way toward shifting us back to a more pragmatic foreign policy, one centered on America’s national interest and the need to maintain our economic strength. Still, it will be the implementation of this policy that will be the challenge. That implementation will require us to keep our focus on at least three key factors.
First, we need not always intervene. It is not our job to be the world’s policeman. The world is a messy place. All across vast regions nation states are coming unglued and famine, poverty, and war are widespread. However painful it may be to see this, in many of these cases the answer is that we should not allow ourselves to be dragged in.
Second, force is not always the answer. Even when we identify areas of the world where we do need to bring our power to bear, that power need not always be expressed in terms of military force or violence. We have vast reserves of political and economic power as well as tanks, aircraft carriers and armored divisions. There are many occasions when it is far more appropriate for us to allow sanctions, economic pressure, and diplomatic negotiations to do the job than it is to start planning for the deployment of troops.
Finally, and perhaps in light of recent history most importantly, even when we determine that some form of force is required, we should not allow ourselves to fall into the habit of assuming that such force must always be wielded in the same form that conventional military thinkers typically choose. We have spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan alone since 9/11 with no end in sight to that conflict. We are rapidly disappearing down the same rabbit hole in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 6,000 U.S. troops are already deployed, and large new drone bases are either already in operation or under construction.
The U.S. military is very good at building bases, moving troops, and sustaining the logistics of large-scale foreign operations. Just because they can do that does not mean we should always choose that option. The fact that we have the world’s best hammer does not mean every problem is a nail.
The single most successful “military” campaign of the last twenty years was the attack on Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. In a matter of months, a relative handful of CIA officers and Special Forces personnel, working with U.S. air power and native forces crushed the Taliban, drove Al Qaeda from the country, and accomplished all of our national objectives. Had we placed a ruler in Kabul who would do our bidding, provided him enough support to maintain his seat and gone home, Afghanistan today would be a poor, tribal nation ruled largely by warlords, but it would be unlikely to be a launching pad for attacks on the United States.
The decision to turn Afghanistan into a conventional war and to attempt to engage in open-ended nation building was a ruinous one. It inflamed the local population against us, and it has cost us dearly in blood and treasure.
We have the best commandos, aircraft, and munitions on the globe. Sometimes, however, the answer is not to use them. Sometimes the answer is a handful of intelligence officers, the strategic application of financial support and a more nuanced approach with limited objectives defined purely by what is in our national interest.
Hadrian understood the need to be prudent in the application of military power. So must we.
Charles "Sam" Faddis is a Veteran, retired CIA operations officer, Senior Partner with Artemis, LLC and published author. With degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Law School, he is a contributor to sofrep.com, Newsmax, and The Hill among others. He regularly appears on many networks and radio programs as a national security and counter-terrorism expert. Sam is the author of "Beyond Repair: The Decline And Fall Of The CIA" and "Willful Neglect: The Dangerous Illusion Of Homeland Security." To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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