National security: terrorism and violent regime change.

Author:McNamara, Thomas E.

"National Security: Terrorism and Violent Regime Change" Keynote Address, 2013 DACOR Annual Conference, September 27, 2013

Americans have gone through many foreign affairs pendulum swings in the past quartercentury. Following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, the USSR collapse and the Gulf War blitzkrieg in 1991, we euphorically anticipated an uninterrupted continuation of the American Century into the new one. Pundits and professors proclaimed the natural superiority of democracy and free markets, and some foresaw "the end of history" with a long, flat, broad, superhighway ahead for the sole superpower.

The pendulum swung quickly. Disillusionment struck, as we hit multiple potholes and speed bumps on the highway. We faced new events demanding new thinking, new policies. The Gulf War was an early indication that major turmoil and violence, while less dangerous than the threat of nuclear annihilation, presented unexpected challenges. In the Balkans, Caucasus, Caribbean, Somalia, Central Africa, and elsewhere, the decade was peppered with the buckshot of small- and medium-gauge conflicts into which we were drawn willy-nilly. With few exceptions, we were hesitant, ill-prepared, and incapable of fundamentally changing outcomes.

Yet, by comparison with the decade that followed, the 1990s look like a model of stability. After 9/11 the pendulum swung towards bravado and uncritical certainty about our capabilities and policies. 12 years of war have made most Americans weary, confused, and uncertain. The Arab Spring aroused hopes, but produced turmoil and violence. We face crises with doubts and divisions, but no good solutions. Syria is the latest, not the last, where we find ourselves hesitant and divided.

I recently wrote about our post-Cold War national strategy vacuum and its negative consequences. For the first time, the end of a major foreign war, albeit "cold" war, we did not analyze, debate and decide a national strategy. The 1898-1904 debate of Roosevelt's New Nationalism; the 1918-21 debate of Wilson's New Diplomacy; or the 1946-52 debate of Containment had no parallel after 1991. An extraordinary lapse, given the profound revolution in global relationships, as one superpower disappeared and the world map was transformed. We naively expected a "peace dividend" and believed a "unipolar" world would follow our lead.

There was one important 1995 assessment (not a strategy) that analyzed our ability to sustain "simultaneously" two Major Regional Contingencies (MRCs). Its conclusions, later ignored, stated that we could not "simultaneously" mount and sustain two MRCs. The best we...

To continue reading