EXCLUSIVE Interview: What Would Reagan Do? 'Destroy the Islamists'
Breitbart News spoke with Colonel Bing West, former US Marine and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under president Ronald Reagan, about the threats we face as a nation today. West is the author of multiple books, including The Village, which has been on the Marine Corps Required Reading List for decades. His latest book is titled: One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon At War
Breitbart News: Is the current US strategy implemented by the Obama administration sufficient in containing the Islamic State?
West: No. We have no strategy toward the Islamists. Not in regard to the air, and not regarding anything else. We are drifting.
Breitbart News: Is the Islamic State the chief threat to US national security interests today?
West: We have four threats. The foremost threat is the fecklessness of our commander-in chief, who has allowed the other threats to fester and become worse. The second threat is Russia, with its arrogance upsetting the balance in eastern Europe. The Middle East is now driven by the Islamist Sunni barbarian threat in the Islamic State. This is coupled with the Shiite Iranian intention of becoming a threshold nuclear state. Lastly, China wants to push us out of at least half of the Pacific. We have an array of threats, as all presidents do. It is up to president Obama to manage these threats, and he is not managing any of them well.
Breitbart News: Does the Islamic State pose a greater threat than Al Qaeda in its prime?
West: Yes. We drove Al Qaeda into the wilds of Pakistan where it gradually lost influence. Not completely, but to a large extent. We are doing nothing about containing this new Al Qaeda-type threat, which is strongest in the heart of the Middle East. The Islamic State is a major problem only because we are tolerating it.
Breitbart News: How can US forces, including clandestine services, affect change against the Islamic State?
West: The geo-military strategy is obvious: use our air to prevent the Islamists from moving across a desert in strength. Any vehicle is a target for us and we can easily discriminate between the Islamists and civilians. Allow Baghdad and southern Iraq, the Shiite area, to consolidate as a state. Recognize that the Baghdad government and its tattered forces will not retake the northern part of Iraq, heavily populated by Sunnis. To push out the Islamists; our CIA and special forces must work quietly and undercover with the Sunni tribes in the north, and help them to push out the Islamists. In 2006, we did exactly that, but it was thrown away when the Obama administration left Iraq. We can do it again, but it will likely take another five years.
Breitbart News: Can the US make enough progress in containing the advances of the Islamic State with just air strikes?
West: Utilizing a systematic air campaign, meaning 50 or so armed sorties and 20 strikes a day, absolutely, American air can contain the Islamists.
Breitbart News: Should the appointment of new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi be seen as a welcoming sign to US interests, as President Obama has suggested?
West: Any Prime Minister has to be better than Maliki, but it’s going to require very hard bargaining with the new PM to agree to reasonable terms.
Breitbart News: What would your former boss (President Reagan) do differently in dealing with the threats we face today?
West: President Reagan, God bless him, would smile genially, turn to our military and say: “Destroy the Islamists”’.
He would say to Mr. Putin: “We are going to export our energy and your nation is going to suffer enormously over the next ten years because of your aggression.”
He would tell the Chinese: “Our Navy goes wherever it pleases on the high-seas in order to ensure that the rules of the road for international behavior are met by all nations, including China. We will wave at you as we sail by.”
He would say to Iran: “You theocrats have oppressed your people too long. I am going to continue to apply sanctions until you satisfy the international community that you cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Breitbart News: How do we stop Iran’s continuing success with their influence operations in the Middle East and the rest of the world?
West: We cannot stop Iran, we must contain Iran. The critical issue is whether President Obama, for reasons of perceptions of his legacy, will reach an unsatisfactory agreement. If Iran is allowed to retain 15 to 20 thousand centrifuges, then stability in the Middle East will definitely be threatened over the next decade.
Breitbart News: Is it within our national interests to help facilitate the creation of a sovereign Kurdistan?
West: I’d be careful about going that far right now. A better way of approaching it is to help the Kurds ensure their own security. They are our friends. Let time and geopolitics take its own course, which will eventually mean a sovereign Kurdistan. Don’t push it. Just let it happen.
Breitbart News: How should the United States approach its alliance with the state of Israel?
West: A two-state solution: Palestine and Israel, with Israel assured of its security, is the only solution. While everyone knows that, nobody has been able to get there. Obviously, there is strong discord between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But you can put that to the side because the relationship between our two countries and between our congress and Israel is so strong that it overcomes personal antagonisms. We should leave it to the Palestinians and Israelis to determine their future.
Breitbart News: Has the Obama Administration’s discord with the military hurt our nation’s ability to fight its enemies?
West: Our senior military are kept at arms length by the White House staff, which has accumulated too much power and does not understand geopolitics and the role of the military. Our senior military command is frustrated that their legitimate concerns and their legitimate experiences are not being heard in a proper manner inside the White House. The problem with this new shift is that the White House is where the prism is always domestic politics rather than the security of our nation at-large.
Breitbart News: Given your seminal book, The Village, what are the lessons of Vietnam that can be applied to Afghanistan and Iraq?
West: I was an advisor in Vietnam in a village. We defeated the guerrillas by force of arms. Regrettably, our most senior generals in Iraq and Afghanistan changed the military mission from defeating the enemy to nation building. That is an impossibility. The lesson from Vietnam is that from the start of Iraq and Afghanistan, we should have built up their indigenous military forces; focused them on defeating their enemy, and then withdrawn most of our forces; not staying to build nations. That’s not the business of the United States military.