This is how we do it: U.S. Special Forces training Iraqi fighters, December 2016
MOHAMMED SALEM / REUTERS

Since the end of World War II, U.S. administrations of both parties have relied on a time-honored foreign policy tool: training and equipping foreign militaries. Seeking to stabilize fragile states, the United States has adopted this approach in nearly every region of the world over the last 70 years. Today, Washington is working with the militaries of more than 100 countries and running large programs to train and equip armed forces in such hot spots as Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Pakistan.

The logic behind this approach is simple. Fragile states jeopardize U.S. interests, but large-scale interventions are costly and unpopular. By outsourcing regional security in places where U.S. interests are not immediately threatened, Washington can promote stability without shouldering most of the burden itself. And heading off threats before they metastasize means that the United States can keep its eye on more sophisticated rivals such as China and Russia. 

Among U.S. policymakers, this approach enjoys widespread popularity. Writing in this magazine in 2010, for example, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called weak states “the main security challenge of our time” and made the case for dealing with them by “helping other countries defend themselves or, if necessary, fight

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