With the Iraq war officially ‘over’ and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent announcement that the U.S. will end combat missions in Afghanistan in 2013, the question some are already asking is: Where will the U.S. go to war next?
The desirable answer would be ‘nowhere,’ but with tension mounting in Syria and Iran, the real answer may be less hopeful.
As I argued in my last PolicyMic article, going to war doesn’t mean what it used to. If war means full-scale invasion a la Iraq or Afghanistan with boots on the ground, then short of a major international crisis, it is unlikely America will be going to war anytime soon. A military response to the government violence in Syria would likely mirror the one seen in Libya, characterized primarily by the use of air power, possibly with small contingents of Special Forces or intelligence assets used on the ground to help organize and support anti-government forces. So far, no one is talking about a full-bore invasion of Syria, much less a serious military strike against the Bashar al-Assad regime. If the regime begins to fracture the way the Gaddafi regime did, with a large number of defections, then it is possible we could see another Libyan-style NATO intervention.
The same can be said for a military response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Talk of attacking Iran consists mostly of using air strikes to cripple the nation’s nuclear facilities and naval assets to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, though there is some discussion about the need for regime change, which would require more than just air power. Even if the U.S. were to pursue regime change in Iran, it is not likely to be achieved through invasion.
Less likely scenarios warranting wide-scale American military commitment are the always tense Korean Peninsula, Chinese military aggression against Taiwan (or another regional ally), or a war between India and Pakistan. Again, all of these are possible, though unlikely, circumstances that would warrant a considerable response from the U.S. military.
If, however, ‘going to war’ means the use of military assets for a protracted period of time, then the possibilities grow exponentially. The use of drones are changing the face of traditional deployments, allowing the U.S. government to strike at targets in Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen without (officially) putting any boots on the ground or committing a large number of assets. They are, essentially, game changers. Granted, they are often used in these countries with tacit support from the governments rather than against the governments themselves. Where they, or the rest of the U.S. military, will strike next is anyone’s guess.
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