The Foxhole: Jacob Heilbrunn on America’s will power for war

With the commencement of American and allied Arab air strikes inside Syria, the United States again finds itself embroiled in a Mideast war – despite the initial reluctance of President Obama and his aides to embrace that terminology.

The length of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has left not just those voices that are typically antiwar but most Americans wary of another open-ended military engagement. Yet the commander-in-chief has already warned that destruction of the terrorist army known as ISIS will not be accomplished before the end of his second term, some two years from now.

To combat the threat from ISIS – which is both conventional, in the group’s stunning seizure of cities, and asymmetric, with its terrorist tactics and YouTube savvy – America and its allies are undertaking a mission that is both familiar in many respects and altogether new. Are we, as a society, up to the task?

Jacob Heilbrunn, editor-in-chief of the center-right journal "The National Interest," a publication of the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank, cautions against expectations of victory as the nation once collectively defined that objective.

"As [Henry] Kissinger noted [in a recent interview in "The London Spectator"], we’ve lost, essentially, four of the last five wars we’ve been in since 1945," Heilbrunn said in a recent visit to "The Foxhole." "The American public does not seem to have a will power for sustained conflict that we confront in these Third World areas. We’re not fighting the World War II – the classic military battles anymore."

Author of "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons" (Doubleday, 2008), a critical study of the foreign policy hawks who came to dominate U.S. foreign policy after 9/11, Heilbrunn is equally measured when asked if the United States has yet shown that it can win an asymmetric war.

"I am very wary of using the word ‘win.’ We do have overwhelming military dominance – in the entire world, not just in the Middle East," Heilbrunn told "But it does seem like the most you can try to do is to cauterize the problem, that using a blow torch, as we did in Iraq, has rebounded in our faces. I do think that the origins – the ultimate origins of all of this – was our invasion of Iraq, and our lack of planning for an aftermath."

Watch the full interview with Jacob Heilbrunn on "The Foxhole" in the video above.