A Strategy To What End?

August 11, 2014

During Barack Obama’s presidency, we have been fed our medicine: victory in the war on terror, allowing allies to take the lead, and improving America’s image abroad. But has it worked?

The general public and national security professionals alike have been assured that the 2010 National Security Strategy and the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review are what the United States needs to reclaim our dominance in the world, to the extent “dominance” is still in vogue. Yet, where have these plans gotten us and more importantly, have we truly been good stewards of our constitutional mandate? The newly released National Defense Panel’s (NDP) findings give us a glimpse and it is ugly.

As it turns out, the threats from state and non-state actors are worse than ever! Far from the tide of terror receding, we face a greater threat from terrorism than we did on that crystal-clear day in September, thirteen years ago. We are rapidly pulling out of Afghanistan with little confidence in its ability to withstand a reversion to a perma-failed state. Meanwhile in Iraq where we succeeded in name only, the Islamic State is routing the inept Maliki government with the Kurdish Regional Government standing alone, unsteadily, in their path. This, of course, occurs on top of the Russian and Chinese overt military actions on their periphery; critical zones such as Ukraine and the Nine Dash Line that abut American zones of interest and influence. These are hard, indisputable actions that trump “smart power” policy actions that are typically offered up and then easily explained away by those in public office.

These global events would be serious enough if we had an adequate force structure and were making key technology investments towards new operational concepts that the report repeatedly calls for. Yet, future force structure investment has flattened and is weakening in critical areas such as Global Strike, Space, Directed Energy and Strategic Lift; all critical areas that our allies depend on. This is partially explained by the damaging effects of sequestration that has dragged funding targets below the 2012 Department of Defense budget proposed by former Secretary Robert Gates. What is inexplicable is the lack of innovative thinking directed towards improving existing operational concepts such as stabilization missions as well as new operational concepts aimed at countering emerging threats that are diffusing out of the old Cold War, bipolar world.

What the NDP makes clear is the risk envelope, which military commanders must always accept, has reached exceedingly high levels, thus jeopardizing national security. In sum, the concerns raised by Panel members such as Senator Jim Talent threaten to cripple American military supremacy or, at the very least, remove the veneer that then instigates challenges from those seeking to test our resolve.


Stephen Rodriguez has nearly thirteen years of operational experience from Afghanistan to Colombia in strategic planning, corporate strategy, and business development. He is a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York Fellow at the National Review Institute, and Chairman of the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Leadership Council.