America’s Forgotten Wars

You don’t hear much about it in the media, but American forces are waging several conflicts around the world these days. As Washington obsesses over soap operas and scandals, the actual work of maintaining global order continues under the radar. The result is a national security discourse that looks like a mullet: business at the front, party in the back. Our lead package this issue is an attempt to redress the balance, giving U.S. interventions the serious scrutiny they deserve. Think of it as a journey back to the front. We asked top experts on six key conflicts to sketch where things are, where they are going, and what the United States should do next—and we’re delighted to bring you their answers. Kosh Sadat and Stan McChrystal explain why pursuing some form of the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan continues to be the least bad option there, even though nobody is particularly happy with the results to date. Emma Sky and Robert Ford bring their wealth of experience to bear on the post-ISIS landscape in Iraq and Syria, respectively, with Sky advising Washington to focus on local politics and institution building while Ford suggests curtailing most engagement beyond refugee assistance. Ivo Daalder tackles the new eastern front, arguing that given Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the Middle East, and elsewhere, the United States and its nato allies should focus on preventing miscalculations and unintended escalation. And Lisa Monaco and Susan Hennessey explore the more amorphous realms of terrorism and cyberwarfare, respectively, arguing that international cooperation, restored deterrence, and calibrated pushback can help contain these complex and enduring threats. U.S. foreign policy is apparently taking a gap year. Inexperienced, understaffed, and lacking a coherent grand strategy, the Trump administration has generally reacted to global events rather than driven them, engaging the world episodically and idiosyncratically. Some issues, however—like the ones covered here—are simply too important to be pushed to a back burner or delegated to staff wearing uniforms. Eventually, attention must be paid.

—Gideon Rose, Editor