Generals don't talk like diplomats. Generals tend to be frank and practical. Sometimes a brief "military-to-military" exchange is more productive than an extended presidential summit. Hopefully, this was the case last week when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Gen. Mashal al-Zaben, Jordan's top military officer.
Al-Zaben reportedly had a long wish list for Dempsey: U.S. surveillance aircraft to help secure its border with Syria; help in coping with mass refugees from Syria; help with containing the cross-border chemical weapons threat, and much, much more.
Helping Amman ought to be a priority for Washington. Here's why.
To date, White House efforts to ease the Syrian crisis appear to led by the "CNN Effect" — in which, rather than act where they can do the most good, nations feel compelled to "do something" about the problem depicted on their TV screens.
The administration so far has followed the rest of the world, fixating on the battles raging from Damascus to Aleppo. Yet the White House has no good options for influencing these events.
Consequently, it has adopted a faux foreign policy: pretending to do something, while keeping actual involvement to a minimum. It asks Moscow to help marshal a peace conference, knowing that the Kremlin's sole interest is keeping strongman Assad in power. It makes a half-hearted attempt to find and supply "good" rebels who won't turn Syria into an al Qaeda sanctuary.
What the U.S. should have done from the outset is concentrate its efforts on Turkey, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan -- countries that could make a serious difference in safeguarding American interests in the region.
Working bilaterally with these nations, we could:
* Coordinate efforts to cripple the pipelines moving foreign fighters, funds, and weapons to al Qaeda in Syria (AQ in Syria's success is giving the global Islamist insurgency a second life in the Middle East.),
* Help build a "firebreak" to keep the Sunni-Shia proxy war in Syria from spreading into a broader regional conflict, and
* Lessen the opportunity for other unstable hot spots — like Egypt — to spill over into other countries.
All these outcomes would be good for the region and good for the U.S.
Starting with Jordan would certainly make sense. This small country is in the center of the storm, already hosting more than a half million Syrian refugees. And it has been a valuable in battling transnational terrorism, sharing intelligence, and fostering regional cooperation.
The country is also a model of political and economic reforms for the region. It consistently scores well above the regional average in Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal annual Index of Economic Freedom.
And Jordan will have a key role to play when the time is right to open final status talks for an Israeli-Palestinians accord.
Helping countries like Jordan should be a priority for Washington, and it offers an opportunity to conduct foreign policy the way it should be conducted -- according to a responsible, strong and focused strategy that sails easily between the straw man options usually presented: either "stay at home and lead from behind" or "invade countries right and left."
Of course, taking this measured course would require stopping the current "hollowing out" of the U.S. military. As Jordan's laundry list of needs demonstrates, even without the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a strong demand for U.S. military presence and assistance.
And these uses for military force are truly cost effective. Paying for engagement now can avert the much higher costs of war later.
-James Jay Carafano, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Examiner.