Discussion on circumstances for armed force

The Alexander Hamilton Society sponsored a debate on American military intervention on November 16. The debate featured Colonel Peter Mansoor, who served as the executive officer for General David Petraeus from 2007 to 2008 and is a professor of military history at the Ohio State University, and Professor Patrick Regan, a professor of political science and peace studies at Notre Dame.

While Colonel Mansoor argued the United States should engage in some types of military intervention in order to achieve strategic goals, Professor Regan argued the United States should avoid all forms of military intervention because, on average, military intervention is unsuccessful.

Colonel Mansoor detailed the three types of intervention he believes the United States engages in: preventive wars, punitive expeditions, and stability operations.

According to Colonel Mansoor, a preventive war is preemptively attacking an enemy out of fear. Colonel Mansoor is in not in favor of most preventive wars. He said, “The United States should not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Although Colonel Mansoor is against preventive war, such as striking North Korea before they engage militarily, he believes the United States should engage in some punitive expeditions and stability operations.

Punitive expeditions strike back against nations that have harmed the United States; or, in Colonel Mansoor’s words: “Do what Americans want: go in there and punish the enemy.” He spoke of the campaign to destroy ISIS as a successful punitive expedition, saying, “The United States has limited ISIS to a very small sliver of territory with a relatively low cost in terms of blood and treasure.”

Stability operations are routine deployments that attempt to stabilize chaotic situations. The United States has these operations in 150 countries, such as in the Baltic states, South Korea, and Kuwait. Colonel Mansoor praised stability operations, saying, “For a fairly small commitment you can overcome difficult internal situations.”

While Colonel Mansoor observed, “US military intervention can be a force for peace in the world,” Professor Regan argued the United States should never engage in military intervention. This is because, statistically speaking, a majority of the military operations by the United States have been unsuccessful. Professor Regan pointed out heavy fatalities, financial burdens, and exacerbation of problems as likely outcomes of military intervention, saying, “If it doesn’t work, why do it?”

Professor Regan compared war to a lottery because both have a small chance of winning, but still require input. He said, “The United States should do a lottery chance calculation with regard to military intervention to determine if intervention is worth the risk.”

When a student asked Professor Regan if there is such a thing as a good war, he responded, “There are always alternatives to war.” As an example, he said the United States could have avoided the War in Afghanistan by negotiating with Osama bin Laden, who had published four demands to meet if he were to quit his fight. Professor Regan said, “This means there was space to negotiate with even the likes of Osama bin Laden.”

Colonel Mansoor objected to negotiating with Osama bin Laden. He said Osama bin Laden’s four demands were, “Force the United States out of the Middle East, destroy the existing governments in the Arab world and reestablish the caliphate, destroy Israel, and take the war to the rest of the world.” Colonel Mansoor said, “I don’t see a lot of common ground here.”

Professor Regan was especially dissuaded to military intervention by his impression that many military operations solve political narratives, but do not find solutions to underlying problems. He believes, for instance, that the Iraq War was a political response by the Bush Administration. Instead of politically expedient maneuvers, Professor Regan is in favor of solving the root of a problem, such as tackling the “Palestinian problem” in order to overcome the issues in the War in Afghanistan.

In contrast, Colonel Mansoor asserted that solving the “Palestinian problem” would not resolve the conflict in Afghanistan and that it is not detrimental for military intervention to have political motivations. He said, “Military intervention is an extension of political discourse; it’s just doing it with bombs and bullets instead of words.”

Professor Regan considered military intervention on average and as a whole. He said, “We should treat war as a cost-benefit analysis on the premise of what happens on average… on average, war is unsuccessful.” In contrast, Colonel Mansoor considered some types of military intervention as beneficial and some types as not beneficial. He said, “The question is whether a war is necessary or unnecessary.”

This debate brought to light many insights on US military intervention through the exploration of differing opinions.

Ellie Gardey is a freshman political science major living in Lewis Hall. She has a love for country music and sushi. Contact Ellie at egardey@nd.edu.