Rebalancing national security policy after Afghanistan and Iraq.

Author:McNamara, Thomas E.


Let me start with a historical observation. In the last 500 years every major war has ended with combatant powers reassessing their interests, relationships, and power. The objectives were new strategies to guide policy in the post-war world. Not all reassessments, however, produce coherent, consistent strategies.

After the Revolutionary War and despite their serious differences, the founders established a successful strategy based on U.S. interests, relationships, and power. Quincy Adams and Monroe reassessed after the War of 1812 and set a wise strategy that, with adjustments, lasted 80 years. Our record since is spotty.

Since 1898 we have fought five major conflicts, and emerged from two with viable strategies--after the Spanish- American War and WW II. After two other wars--WW I, and the Cold War--we failed to produce a viable strategy. The fifth, the Post-9/11 Wars, are ending now, and we face the challenge of another assessment. The good news is: we can redress the post-Cold War lapse.

The bad news is: we seem ill-prepared for the task. This is best illustrated by recent Congressional action. I wonder how many in this audience noticed in February 2011 that the House Appropriations Committee decided that foreign policy is not national security. It proclaimed that Defense, Veteran Affairs, and Homeland Security constituted the "national security budget." Then, it cut the foreign affairs budget, claiming it did not cut the national security budget. That decision still stands.


International affairs since 1993 have disillusioned and shocked Americans. We ended the Cold War stronger, more admired, confident and optimistic about the future--with good reason. Some over-optimistic authors saw an "end of history." That illusion was exposed by history and political events; it was simply a new chapter. In the Mideast, the ex-Soviet Union, and South and East Asia, old conflicts continued. In the Balkans, Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda new outbreaks occurred. Optimism was emphatically shattered by 9/11 and the Post-9/11 Wars. The "Unipolar World" was so brief, it was rechristened the "Unipolar Moment." Both were mirages.

We must face the situation and agree with those two profound, strategic thinkers, Walt Kelly and Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Our illusions caused the disillusionment. Our naivete and ignorance caused the shocks. Unfortunately, all three causes are still pervasive.

After Bush 41's good post-Cold War start, an election slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," diverted national attention inward. That was a good, necessary focus. But, we forgot an equally necessary focus--international strategy. Hence, we prospered internally, but were tentative and inconsistent internationally. Over-involved in Somalia, we departed ignominiously. We hesitated in strategically important Yugoslavia, and watched the Rwandan genocide. In Haiti we got it right.

We were not alone. Our European allies, older and supposedly wiser than we, did likewise. Feeling quite secure, they turned inward, obsessed over the EU, and dismantled their militaries. Without a strategy, they badly fumbled the Balkan and Caucasus crises in their own backyard. We both made mistakes, and paid for them. Power ebbed away. After 9/11 a "pendulum swing" caused us to be overconfident and...

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