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Richard Fontaine | February 4, 2020


More event photos can be found on the AGS Facebook page.

AGS event summary by Reiss Becker:

On February 4th, 2020 the CEO of the Center for New American Security, Richard Fontaine, spoke with Professor Simon Miles about the efficacy of war. Fontaine referenced his recent piece in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Nonintervention Delusion” where he made the case that American withdrawal from many of our commitments abroad would have dramatically negative follow-on effects. In particular, he asserted that hastily leaving Afghanistan and Iraq could have a destabilizing impact. Despite this, he noted that politicians from across the political spectrum have advocated reduced foreign involvement.

To explain that phenomenon, Fontaine said various partisans propose withdrawal for a variety of reasons. Democrats typically want to invest more at home and view intervention abroad as a distraction from the pressing domestic agenda. Republicans echo that sentiment somewhat, but also want to reorient our strategic focus towards a confrontation with China. In response to these inclinations, Fontaine argued that the U.S. can juggle multiple balls at once. The U.S. can invest at home, confront China and fight lower-order interventions all at once. He maintained that, even if we want to shift our foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, the problems of terrorism and Middle Eastern instability will persist and must be dealt with.

Fontaine also elaborated on how the U.S. needs to have a “staying” strategy when we intervene abroad, not just an “exit” strategy. He thinks interventions like the Obama administration’s incursion in Libya were poorly planned because the administration had no strategy for maintaining order in a post-Gaddafi landscape. Fontaine followed those comments by stating that “regime change” should be a policy of last resort.

Refuting the notion that many public policy figures in Washington are hawkish, Fontaine elaborated on how many members of the military and foreign policy establishment have family serving in the military and thus completely understand the stakes involved in a military intervention. Fontaine pointed to his former employer, Senator John McCain, whose son was a Marine in Iraq, as a sterling example of that reality.

Fontaine did not mince words on the failure of leading government officials in the lead up to the Iraq war. Describing the Bush Administration’s justification for the war as a “catastrophic intelligence failure,” he contended that the government must intensely scrutinize the veracity of its own claims, especially in an era of endless, open-source internet information. He concluded the talk by holding up the foreign policy approach of the Reagan administration as his ideal, stating that Reagan smartly took a tough public posture against the USSR while still sending out diplomatic feelers to reach rapprochement.