Foreign Policy

Military-Intellectual Complex Looks Forward to More War in 2020

The Council on Foreign Relations survey of foreign policy experts finds "more threats...likely to require a U.S. military response in 2020 than ever before."


The foreign policy experts have seen the shadow of American empire, and so more war is on the way. Welcome to Groundhog Day: Endless War Edition.

In an annual survey conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), foreign policy experts are asked to rank 30 potential conflicts that could could require American military action in the new year. This year, the brave men and women of the foreign policy establishment say only two of those 30 conflicts have a "low likelihood" of occurring.

"Perhaps as an indication of rising concern about the state of the world, respondents rated more threats as likely to require a U.S. military response for 2020 than in any other Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) from the last eleven years," explained Paul B. Stares, director of the CFR's Center for Preventative Action.

Indeed, protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad during the final hours of 2019, protesting American airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia group operating in what's left of Iraq. In response, President Donald Trump deployed 750 additional American troops to Baghdad and is reportedly considering sending another 4,000 troops to the Middle East.

All of this could be a prelude to war with Iran. Both Trump and his former national security advisor, John Bolton, have pinned all of the blame for this week's Baghdad protests on Iran, though there are plenty of reasons for Iraqis to be angry with America's continued presence in their country.

The potential for conflict with Iran stands out in the CFR survey as well. "Only one conflict was ranked as having a high impact on the United States: an armed confrontation between Iran and the United States or one of its allies," the think tank reports.

Alongside the potential war with Iran, the group lists 12 other conflicts that are "identified as top priorities for the United States next year." Calling them "top priorities" kind of gives away the game, no?

Those other "top priorities" include a major terrorist attack on the United States or a close ally, a crisis on the Korean peninsula, a maritime conflict with China in the South China Sea, and increased Russian aggression into Ukraine.

Also on the list: "Increasing political instability in Iraq exacerbated by underlying sectarian tensions and worsening economic conditions." Keep in mind, this is from a survey published by the "Center for Preventative Action." If only there was something the U.S. could have done to prevent Iraq's collapse into turmoil, the special forces of American foreign policy-making tell us.

Recall, too, that the CFR's Middle East director in 2002 backed what she said was a "strategically sound" plan to invade Iraq in the first place.

Still, 2020 does look like it could be a particularly fraught year for America's foreign policy. Iraq is still a mess. The most realistic outcome in Afghanistan is that Washington will eventually turn the country over to the Taliban—the group we've spent 19 years fighting. And despite two decades of failed interventions, there will always be esteemed people calling for America to shed more blood and treasure over conflicts that have little to do with keeping Americans safe. The CFR survey certainly makes that clear.

The wild card in all this is Donald Trump. Though he has so far avoided outright war with Iran, the president has also failed to follow through on his ruminations about ending America's long-term engagements in the Middle East and bringing the troops home. As he gears up to run for re-election, it's not difficult to imagine the foreign policy establishment whispering in his ear that foreign wars can be good for his domestic political prospects.

Believing them would be a mistake. Trump got elected in 2016 in part by running against America's bipartisan foreign policy consensus—voters picked him over both a Bush and a Clinton, after all. And if his re-election campaign is going to tout "Promises Kept," he probably can't afford to launch a new war.

For that matter, the country can't afford it either. We're $23 trillion in debt.

But money spent and lives lost don't seem to matter to foreign policy experts in Washington. When you're paid to hawk hammers, everything is a potential nail.

NEXT: Politician Denounces Drunk Driving a Week Before Getting a DUI

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94 responses to “Military-Intellectual Complex Looks Forward to More War in 2020

  1. Can’t win a war unless you first define what winning means.

    1. That’d take all the fun out of it.

    2. For the establishment and the MIC, going to war is the real win.

      1. Think of all the jobs that would be lost if we left Afghanistan! Munitions don’t make themselves!

        1. It’s not just munitions and military equipment. Think about the logistics involved with supply chain operations for basic sundries and food. At the beginning of the Iraq war I remember reading that Halliburton was charging $45 to supply a six-pack of coke to to the war zone. None of the middlemen in that supply-chain think of themselves as part of the MIC, but I guarantee that they have someone on K street to keep the gravy train rolling.

      2. We’re winning off the field, just like the Redskins!

    3. Once you start a few dozen wars, the winning definition of winning will likely win one of them.

    4. Can’t win a war unless you first define what winning means.

      To the contrary – you can win every war if you wait until afterward to define winning. It’s like getting to scratch off the lottery ticket before deciding whether or not you want to buy it, which is exactly why Congress no longer declares wars any more.

    5. You can’t win a war unless you define who your enemies are !!

    6. That’s part of the strategy. You also can’t lose!

    7. We just killed Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds force, in an airstrike near Baghdad.
      Huge move.
      Good response to the embassy attack

      1. There was no attack on the embassy. It was a demonstration that had gone over the top. The demonstrators were no armed. US media plays is otherwise as a reason to send in more troops. The fact is when one person got killed in the demonstration in Hong Kong, it was a sensation…in was on the national news ever day. In fact the demonstrations were headline, day after day, before that one fatality. However, at the same time, Iraqi demonstrators demonstrating against a corrupt US puppet regime, were being shot and killed by the hundreds. That was never shown on National TV. Why? Because we control Iraq. The demonstrations were against a corrupt puppet government we set up (as they all are). The truth is Iraq is unraveling and while the pres announces more troops are leaving Afghanistan, they are not coming home, they are simply being shifted to a hotter area, Iraq. The US has been on a constant war footing since the end of the second world war. Like Britain, who was at war every single day, somewhere in her empire for 200 years, the US, in its empire building will find itself in the same situation. But the bankers and globalists really do not care…they are making a lot of money out of the misery and death of others.

    8. The end of the Cold War in 1990 presented a serious problem for the American empire. The threat of communism could no longer justify massive wartime military budgets and a worldwide system of military bases. It could no longer justify American military intervention to protect corporate interests whenever a nation’s political establishment threatened change. The easy profits from military contracts decreased as peace spread throughout the world. The solution was an extensive propaganda campaign to replace the threat of communism with the threat of terrorism. The next step is war with Iran:

    9. It’s the Military/Industrial/Security/Bankster Complex.
      M/I/S/B Complex

    10. This is an unreasonable editorial position for something called “Reason Magazine.” Don’t you folks understand how irrational and intractable the situation in the Middle East has become? First, we’re not “at war.” And we’re not “occupying” Iraq or Afghanistan in the sense that the Germans “occupied” France. No matter how confusing and intractable the problems of the ME are, it remains of vital importance to our national security. Do any of you believe we can just pick up and leave completely without serious consequences? It would be better if we did have a war with Iran. Although costly, we might actually solve many of the ME’s problems by taking them out of the picture, saving us a great deal of “blood and treasure” in the future. At the very least, we should build a large base in Iraq and maintain a large and potent military presence, over the objections of the Iraqi government if necessary. We should then drive Iranian forces and proxies back to within its own borders, blockade all trafficking in weapons by air or sea, and truly isolate the Iranian leaders in their own territory. This endless war nonsense and isolationist philosophy, an artifact of your libertarian leanings I presume, has got to be jettisoned.

  2. I wonder how Trump will answer when he’s asked about his failure to extricate us from the Middle East during his 2020 reelection campaign.

      1. Who knew extricating us from the Middle East could be so difficult?

    1. Probably the same way Obama answered about the closing of Gitmo; by having Roberts swear him in for a second term.

      1. Haha, yeah. Yeah.


  3. Indeed, protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad during the final hours of 2019, protesting American airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia group operating in what’s left of Iraq. In response, President Donald Trump deployed 750 additional American troops to Baghdad and is reportedly considering sending another 4,000 troops to the Middle East.

    All of this could be a prelude to war with Iran. Both Trump and his former national security advisor, John Bolton, have pinned all of the blame for this week’s Baghdad protests on Iran, though there are plenty of reasons for Iraqis to be angry with America’s continued presence in their country.

    Poor Boehm. He cannot articulate the huge difference between Trump and other Presidents who got us into new Endless Wars.

    Even in the USA, only peaceful assembly is protected. Arson and attempted murder is not a lawful means to protest.

    If Iran backed an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq, that is casus belli. The US Embassy in Baghdad is considered US territory, as all embassies are considered sovereign property of the nation who has the embassy.

    Trump sent 750 troops to Baghdad but the rest went to Kuwait and other countries that are allowing additional US troops to be deployed. Since Boehm is a moron, the rest of us understand that 750 US troops were sent to protect the US Embassy and additional troops are now stationed closer in case the situation deteriorates for trapped US Marines, US Army troops, and any remaining US Civilians.

    Thank you Trump for not letting Iran backed thugs storm the US Embassy and murder Americans and then blame it on some Muhammed video.

    1. Poor Hitler. He should have had a cheerleader like you.

      1. He should apply for Goebbels’ job.

      2. This could be your dumbest response of all time.

      3. You really have no idea how stupid that sounds do you? I am not sure what is sadder, that you said it or that you think it is clever.

        1. Or that someone seconded the motion.

        2. I think what’s sad is that you’ve resorted to defending an imbecile like LC just because he’s on your team, John.

          1. I’ve hit the trifecta when I get all three to pop up at once for a single comment.

            1. Stupid comments will always get called out, probably why it happens to you often. You think you are baiting people, but you’re just being dumb. So original with the Hitler comparison.

              1. “Stupid comments will always get called out”
                Bullshit. When was the last time YOU called out LC??? What you really meant was: “Comments from someone not on my team will always get called out”.

                1. Poor eric. He wants to troll and have other real people back him up. He is sick of using sock trolls to back up his trolling.

                  1. Holy mackerel! lc actually replied directly to a comment instead of the parent!

                2. When was the last time he attempted to call an opponent hitler?

                  1. When was the last time he attempted to call an opponent hitler?

                    Just guessing, but based on my familiarity with his general tendencies, I’m going to say “Earlier today?”

          2. I hope not.

          3. It isnt defending LC, it is pointing out a dumb argument. Weird you cant separate the two.

          4. Poor eric and Alphabet troll.

            These sock trolls just hate when people rag on reason Propagandists.

            I wonder why sock trolls would care when people point out how shitty reason staff are?

    2. I highly doubt the people in foreign lands occupied by American soldiers could possibly give a flying fuck about who’s in the White House.

      1. You may have missed the news, but the US isn’t really occupying Iraq anymore aside from the agreements in place with the Iraqi government. They can ask for a formal withdrawal at any time.

        Or have we gone to the point where any single American in a foreign country is now considered occupation?

        1. “Or have we gone to the point where any single American in a foreign country is now considered occupation?”

          Last I checked there’s a difference between a tourist and a soldier. Maybe I’m wrong.

          1. There are soldiers at most, possibly all, US embassies, in countries which are friendly or unfriendly to the US. Also the US has bases in Germany and other countries.

            So unless you believe the US is occupying every country we have an embassy in or Germany, then the mere existent of soldiers doesn’t automatically equate to occupation.

            1. Pedant.

              1. Yes… it is pedantic to know what words mean. You and abc were meant for each other.

                1. sarcasmic doesnt know that US Military soldiers protect US Embassies.

                  He should go back to being a drunk. he knows his way around a bottle.

            2. Which is a shorter way of saying “you know what I meant quit being a dick.”

              1. Why not use correct terminology or be clearer on your argument instead. Your statement holds no weight and is incorrect.

                1. Yet you knew exactly what I meant.

                  1. It is funny how many people will correct others, thus showing the lack of necessity for the correction.

                    1. Again, words have meaning no matter how bad your education is. The words he chose made his statement completely wrong.

                  2. I knew what you were attempting to say in your sophomoric attempts at insight, it doesnt mean your statement was any less wrong.

          2. Last I checked occupation had a definition.

            1. Last I heard, occupation meant Japanese pussy.

        2. They can ask for a formal withdrawal at any time.


          They can ask all they want. The US isn’t leaving any time soon regardless.

          1. Based on what? Obama was fully willing to withdrawal of not for the SOF.

      2. I highly doubt the people in foreign lands occupied by American soldiers could possibly give a flying fuck about who’s in the White House.

        Okay, now square this with your claims that terrorism is all about blowback.

        1. I never said it was “all about blowback.” I’ve only said that blowback actually exists in response to you denying that it could possibly exist. After all, our military kills people with the best of intentions, so blowback is impossible. It cannot exist. Because INTENTIONS!

        2. What does blowback have to do with which party or individual is in office at the time? People whose families have been killed by US military strikes (or whatever) don’t care whether it was Bush or Obama in office at the time or that Trump is in office now. Why the hell would it? They’re “pissed off and they’re not going to take it anymore.”

    3. We should evacuate our people and get the hell out. We don’t need their oil and they don’t need our Democracy.

      1. “We should evacuate our people and get the hell out.”

        President has announced this multiple times, but seems to have difficulty in getting the military to follow orders.

    4. “Trump sent 750 troops to Baghdad but the rest went to Kuwait and other countries that are allowing additional US troops to be deployed.”

      Seems like an empty gesture. The action that precipitated the demonstrations, the US killing of some 30 Iraqi militia members, was a lot more substantive. Has Trump taken responsibility for the attack? Or did the military bypass Trump and attack on its own initiative? It’s hard to see why Trump, who campaigned on a platform of ending conflict, would want to escalate.

      1. 30 Iraqi Millitia members huh…. or…

        The U.S. military carried out the strikes on Sunday against the Kataib Hezbollah militia group in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said.

        Maybe you mispelled Kataib Hezbollah?

        1. ” officials said”

          Exactly. I’m skeptical about what ‘officials say,’ particularly in a military context.

          1. Yeah, you’re pretty dumb too. Even iraq and iran stated it was the Hezbollah linked militia. But you do you.

            1. I was questioning the claim that this militia attacked the US in the first place. The media believe it and so do you, apparently.

              1. Pretty sure they admitted it on Arabic sites.

                Are you at least conceding that the group wasnt an Iraqi militia? Does this mean you admit you were completely wrong?

                1. “Are you at least conceding that the group wasnt an Iraqi militia?”

                  Not sure what group you are referring to. The group that was targeted was a militia, in Iraq, and Iraqis were killed. That’s why the Iraqi government condemned the attack, that’s why there were protests in Baghdad.

                  “Pretty sure they admitted it on Arabic sites. ”

                  What makes you so sure? Because it conforms to what the Pentagon and Reuters are telling you? I’m more skeptical than you are.

                  1. I’d respond to fill you in on some things, but you’re far too committed to the stupid routine

                    1. “I’d respond to fill you in on some things”

                      If I want to hear the latest FOX talking points, I’ll get it from the source.

                    2. And it’s over
                      Straight to the crutch

    5. You’re a complete moron. And you fit right in with those setting our policy in that area.

      The Prime Minister of Iraq resigned about a month ago. The President of Iraq resigned about a week ago. Both in response to protests within Iraq that are anti-pretty much everything post-2003 – anti-corruption, anti-sectarian, anti-American, anti-Iran, anti-every existing political party. Protests that have resulted in about 500 dead and tens of thousands of injured with more participants than people who voted in the 2018 elections. Factions of that protest have burned two different Iranian consulates three times over the last couple months.

      There is in fact no Iraqi government now. If a new Iraqi government is formed – which could take months – they are going to be far more anti-American simply as a way of demonstrating that they are pro-Iraqi. And the US deciding now to get into the middle of what may well now be the beginning of an Iraqi civil war is the height of fucking stupid. We are not trusted – not trustworthy – have our own agenda – and are so obviously being manipulated into responding exactly the way the Iranians want us to respond.

      1. It was different when Obama got the USA in the middle of the Iraqi Civil war.

  4. all the MIC in the world won’t work w/o people. stop signing up to be a pawn.

  5. Did boehm really call the embassy attackers protestors?

    1. Dallas Morning Snooze did also.

    2. Yes he did. He has to. He would be kicked out of his social circle and see his career ruined if he told the truth.

    3. There were some good people on both sides.

      1. Garbage in garbage out. This article not supported by the reality. Shocking.

  6. Being that it is what it is, not what we wish it is, or what it coulda been/shoulda been, how do we define “success” and how do we extricate ourselves without the parties involved learning exactly the wrong lesson?

    1. “how do we extricate ourselves without the parties involved learning exactly the wrong lesson?”

      This is the key question.
      Pulling out, if seen as retreat, will invite further aggression.
      It’s a dilemma

      1. A double lemma.

  7. If you’re going to call yourself “Reason”, I expect just that.
    But the clickbait article title IS NOT justified by the body itself, where I ask, “WHERE are the war mongers who ‘look forward’ to more war???”
    The title is disingenuous, plain and simple. It flat out implies welcome anticipation of war by the military “intellectual complex”, or community if you will, then fails to justify such an accusation.
    AND you attached the “military” to it by name, so I’m inclined to believe that there is more of an anti-military bent to the article than there is ‘reason’.
    Hell, if I want indoctrination, I’ll read CNN.
    This article is a slap in the face to those who serve admirably.

  8. The world has never really liked America but it has always been respected ….begrudgingly ! As long as America,by its own choice,acted as the word’s police force it was understood that there was stability in the world that could be relied on.Any other threats such as The Soviet Union,now Russia,China and many smaller irritants knew they could only push so far !Today,with Americas hesitance to remain involved in world affairs,they are,in military terms,being probed for weaknesses.Russia with Ukraine….China and the South China Sea,the many including India testing the waters for a new world trading currency.They are testing America’s resolve and if that resolve is not there then the flood gates of decades of resentment will burst…Maybe the old adage of an “ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure” should be remembered !!

    1. I hate it when someone makes sense!
      The DNC.

  9. Foreign relations is one clue that a dominant theme in human behavior is hypocrisy.

  10. What motivates this “foreign policy establishment”?

    Are they an interest group of individuals who benefit in various mostly pecuniary ways but hide that behind a rationalization they’ve thrown up to get disinterested parties on their side? You know, like someone close on their mother’s side of the family (so whose name they don’t share) gets rich from arms sales, and they get lots of goodies that way?

    Are they sadists? Do they get a thrill from people’s getting maimed, killed, and tortured, and to they see the USA and other countries in their “establishment” as the best vehicles by which to cause pain and suffering, and thereby bring themselves joy?

    Do they have reasons to think their way of doing things, and the things they want to do, will make the world better, and that we would agree if only we read their Foreign Affairs articles to start, and preferably had their whole background in Social Studies?

    Or are they just nuts who’ve gravitated together because in unity they seem less insane? And this just happens to be the kind of nuttiness they share, no rhyme or reason to it?

    Or are they quite reasonable, and we‘re the ones with the unreasonable perspective?

    1. Take a handful from each group, and stir.

  11. Nicely done, Eric Boehm. Good attention-grabbing headline, even though the subheadline is contradicted only a few sentences into the article. And using the term “Military-Intellectual Complex” and indicating that it “Looks Forward” to more war is creeping into fake news territory. Isn’t that the type of misleading news Reason usually rails against?

    The list of threats was assembled independent of the experts asked to assess and rank the threats. The experts were asked to rank 30 threats, regardless of how many they themselves considered imminent or likely. A group within the Council on Foreign Relations “harnessed various social media platforms to solicit suggestions about possible conflicts to include in the survey.” (Sounds fancy!) And speaking of those experts, the survey was sent to more than 6,000 “U.S. government officials, foreign policy experts, and academics” of whom about 500 completed the survey. That is a weak response rate of about 8.3%, where the response bias is likely already tilted toward alarmism.

    The bulk of the comments are predictably about the “Military-Industrial Complex” and military war machines and defense budgets, even though the CFR has no affiliation with the U.S. Government. It was a think tank exercise called Preventive Priorities Survey. Implying bloodlust in our government and military leaders is akin to saying oncologists can’t wait to see more people die from cancer, or saying someone who drives a truck for Exxon “Looks Forward” to environmental catastrophe.

    I expect more Reasonableness from

  12. Didn’t see anything in the referenced reports that said the Military-Intellectual Complex “Looks Forward” to more war in 2020. Boehm is making up headlines. The 2020 report looks pretty much like the 2019, 2018, 2017 reports…..

  13. I wonder how long it will take Reason to whip up an article on the escalation of taking out Suleimani, in which it undoubtedly expresses CNN’s confusion and declares imminent war

  14. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
    — Sun Tzu

  15. I love Sun Tzu!
    He also said “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare”

    1. Trudat!

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