Security expert gives overview of efforts in Middle East

Mikaela Cannizzo

According to national security expert Colin Kahl, previous attempts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to influence regime changes and send ground troops into the Middle East have been unsuccessful.

Kahl, national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, spoke to an audience on campus Thursday afternoon as part of an event hosted by the Clements Center for National Security and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law. He discussed the grand strategy of the Obama administration, which he identified as a worldview in which the United States should use diplomacy to advance its own interests. Kahl said recent terrorist attacks in Paris are evidence that the US needs to do more to disrupt Islamic State efforts. 

“What gives us the optimism that an enormous expression of US military power to include the expenditure of trillions of dollars can solve this region?” Kahl asked. “The notion that we can just sprinkle leadership dust over the Middle East and back it with military force and transform this region is ahistorical.”  

While Kahl said using these types of military forces to combat terrorist groups in past instances of Iraq, Lebanon and Libya have been ineffective, he said he believes the current situation in Syria is also a disaster despite using neither military regime change nor ground troops in the country.

 Catherine Cousar, a global policy graduate student, said she believes better strategies are needed for the future in order to make a difference in the Middle East.

“I think we probably need more preventive stuff like education programs, better health programs and more preemptive aid to different struggling regions,” Cousar said. “I’m not surprised military intervention doesn’t have the desired outcome because it matches a lot of human history.”

Kahl said the Obama administration focuses on the logistics of when and how to use force. He said force is used in the face of imminent threats and believes Obama will use force when it is necessary for protection, but the administration regards force as a last resort rather than a first choice.

Jacqueline Chandler, program manager at the Clements Center, said Kahl’s academic and political expertise help him explain topics such as security and international relationships to students. 

“I think he’s a good bridge between the academic community and the policy world,” Chandler said. “He’s just a really great resource for students at UT and around the country because of that.”