Outgoing Defense Secretary Gates has counseled his successors to never again contemplate getting involved in a major land war on the Asian landmass. The president promises that there will be no "boots on the ground" in Libya. But does this mean that the alternate is disengagement?
Writing in World Politics Review, I make the following observations:
... the nomination of CIA Director Leon Panetta to replace Robert Gates as secretary of defense and the selection of current Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus to succeed Panetta as America's chief spymaster is intriguing: It suggests an effort to split the difference between the "old" and "new" Obama Doctrines by focusing on covert, paramilitary capabilities as a "third way" between strategic restraint and intervention. Americans are troubled that diplomatic engagement does not seem to be working, thereby feeding into a narrative of U.S. weakness. But at the same time, they don't want to pay the costs, in blood and treasure, of "boots on the ground" in trouble spots around the world. Drones, trainers and covert operatives, however, don't seem to qualify as boot-wearers. The New York Times' Mark Mazetti and Eric Schmitt argue that the reshuffling in the Obama national security team is "the latest evidence of a significant shift over the past decade in how the United States fights its battles -- the blurring of lines between soldiers and spies in secret American missions abroad."
So I expect to see the development of a new, intermediate category: "sneakers on the ground"--operatives, spotters, trainers, and advisers--some military, some civilian paramilitary--to create a capacity for intervention but without crossing the political third rail that is the deployment of "combat forces."