Avoiding Past Mistakes

merlin_135095445_1802a7bf-9599-4801-8878-9c5ae17b18f8-blog427

America’s heart is usually the right place when it goes to war, but sometimes we don’t think it through. A recent article by Joe Meacham helped me understand why. Here’s how he began:

The passage, from a book read three decades back, came to mind not long ago. A tweet-driven tumult was, as usual, roiling Washington. Surly and defiant, President Trump was ensconced in the White House, lashing out like King Lear with a cellphone. The issue of the hour was our policy toward a defiant North Korea, and the president had chosen that moment to boast that his nuclear button was bigger than Kim Jong-un’s — hardly an Achesonian diplomatic strategy.

Which doubtless would have pleased, rather than troubled, Trump, who, like Miranda in “The Tempest,” looks upon each day as a “brave new world” that offers him fresh opportunities to star in a global drama of his own direction. Shifting between cable news and my own Twitter feed, I recalled the historian Barbara W. Tuchman’s observation in her 1984 book “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.” “Wooden-headedness” in statecraft, which she defined as “assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs,” has clearly become a prevailing factor in our politics. As Tuchman wrote, wooden-headedness was best captured in a remark about Philip II of Spain: “No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.”

Why did the Trojans allow the Greek horse within the gates? How did the Renaissance papacy so badly misjudge the moment, accelerating the Protestant Reformation? What could the British ruling class have done differently to keep the American colonies within London’s reach? Who, if anyone, could have prevented Washington’s tragic misadventure in Vietnam? These were Tuchman’s topics, and now, in our own time, we are forced to ponder the why, the how, the what and the who about America in the Age of Trump. “A prince, says Machiavelli,” Tuchman wrote, “ought always to be a great asker and a patient hearer of truth about those things of which he has inquired, and he should be angry if he finds that anyone has scruples about telling him the truth. What government needs is great askers.” To put it mildly, though, the Trump White House seems more “Shark Tank” than Brain Trust.

Tuchman’s literary legacy is various and important. She wrote well about many things, including the coming of World War I (“The Guns of August,” a favorite of John F. Kennedy’s, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963), the Black Plague (“A Distant Mirror”), the Far East (“Stilwell and the American Experience in China”) and the American Revolution (“The First Salute”). There is something notable, though, about “The March of Folly,” a collection of sketches about mature countries getting things woefully wrong.

You can read the full review here

Last Man Standing

01mag-cover-type-master1050

I count myself as one of the many admirers of Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. This regard dates back to well before his current job, going back to his service as a Marine Corps Officer.

Much appropriate good has been said about general Mattis, but it wasn’t until I read Robert Worth’s New York Times Magazine piece about General Mattis that I fully appreciated all of the great qualities he brings to the job. Here is how the article begins:

One morning in mid-November, while answering routine press questions about aircraft carriers off the Korean Peninsula and de-confliction zones in Syria, Jim Mattis quietly hinted at something far more important. The United States would not be withdrawing its forces from Syria after the anticipated defeat of ISIS, as President Trump had been promising since his inauguration. Instead, the defense secretary suggested that American forces not only would remain but could even expand their role. “We’re going to make sure we set the conditions for a diplomatic solution,” Mattis said. “You need to do something about this mess now. Not just, you know, fight the military part of it and then say, ‘Good luck on the rest of it.’ ”

In a quieter time, Mattis’s comments might have made headlines: Here was a potential shift in America’s tortured efforts to manage the Middle East, and one that was bound to ignite conflict with Turkey, a NATO member and ally. In late December, Mattis offered more details at another briefing, saying that America was moving from a purely offensive role in Syria to a “stabilizing” one. He spoke of sending more diplomats and contractors, reopening schools, bolstering public health — a plan that would grow to include deploying new border forces and promoting economic renewal, all with a view toward helping Syrians topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Although the number of United States boots on the ground would remain small, for now, the goals were ambitious and a little gauzy, and sounded an awful lot like the “nation building” that Trump had so often derided during his presidential campaign.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

National Defense Strategy

Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy

Last month, I reported on our capstone national security document The National Security Strategy of The United States of America. That strategy is a dramatic departure from the previous National Security Strategy, which had a more generalized focus of “security, prosperity and international order.” Today’s National Security Strategy is more muscular and more focused on compelling threats of peer competitors such as China and Russia.

This month, the focus will be on the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military Competitive Edge. This report focuses on the defense-related aspects of, and flows naturally from, the National Security Strategy. This report makes a number of important points, among them:

  • Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.
  • China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.
  • This increasingly complex security environment is defined by rapid technological change, challenges from adversaries in every operating domain, and the impact on current readiness from the longest continuous stretch of armed conflict in our Nation’s history. In this environment, there can be no complacency—we must make difficult choices and prioritize what is most important to field a lethal, resilient, and rapidly adapting Joint Force. America’s military has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield.
  • This unclassified synopsis of the classified 2018 National Defense Strategy articulates our strategy to compete, deter, and win in this environment. The reemergence of long-term strategic competition, rapid dispersion of technologies, and new concepts of warfare and competition that span the entire spectrum of conflict require a Joint Force structured to match this reality.
  • A more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force, combined with a robust constellation of allies and partners, will sustain American influence and ensure favorable balances of power that safeguard the free and open international order. Collectively, our force posture, alliance and partnership architecture, and Department modernization will provide the capabilities and agility required to prevail in conflict and preserve peace through strength.

You can read the full National Defense Strategy here

National Security Threats

earth_and_moon_from_space-wallpaper-800x600

Earlier this month, I posted the first two high points of the National Security Strategy of The United States of America, our highest national security document. The final pillar is to, “Preserve Peace through Strength. This pillar contains a number of components:

  • First, preserving peace through strength involves renewing military capabilities through modernization of existing systems, seeking new capabilities, eliminating bureaucratic impediments to innovation, and embracing commercial off-the-shelf solutions.
  • Second, increasing military capacity by increasing the size of the Joint Force.
  • Third, Improving readiness with a renewed focus on training, logistics, and maintenance.
  • Fourth, renew space and cyberspace capabilities.

This strategy is a dramatic departure from the previous National Security Strategy, which had a more generalized focus of “security, prosperity and international order.” Now, our National Security Strategy is more muscular and more focused on compelling threats of peer competitors such as China and Russia.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here

China Power

merlin_107001671_f0f2e50b-7c0c-4c73-b182-db369f12d6c7-master675

For most of the post-World War II era, Americans have worried about the ideology of those who opposed us. It was “Communist ideology” that we feared. After the Soviet Union imploded and China – a Communist country – began to rise, it was easy, and even natural, to assume that America is now facing a new “Communist ideology” that must be dealt with.

That is why I found Edward Wong’s piece, “A Chinese Empire Reborn,” so valuable. The author reveals that we must understand that China isn’t about ideology, it’s about power. He says:

From trade to the internet, from higher education to Hollywood, China is shaping the world in ways that people have only begun to grasp. Yet the emerging imperium is more a result of the Communist Party’s exercise of hard power, including economic coercion, than the product of a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas or contemporary culture.

Of the global powers that dominated the 19th century, China alone is a rejuvenated empire. The Communist Party commands a vast territory that the ethnic-Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty cobbled together through war and diplomacy. And the dominion could grow: China is using its military to test potential control of disputed borderlands from the South China Sea to the Himalayas, while firing up nationalism at home. Once again, states around the world pay homage to the court, as in 2015 during a huge military parade.

For decades, the United States was a global beacon for those who embraced certain values — the rule of law, free speech, clean government and human rights. Even if policy often fell short of those stated ideals, American “soft power” remained as potent as its armed forces. In the post-Soviet era, political figures and scholars regarded that American way of amassing power through attraction as a central element of forging a modern empire.

China’s rise is a blunt counterpoint. From 2009 onward, Chinese power in domestic and international realms has become synonymous with brute strength, bribery and browbeating — and the Communist Party’s empire is getting stronger.

At home, the party has imprisoned rights lawyers, strangled the internet, compelled companies and universities to install party cells, and planned for a potentially Orwellian “social credit” system. Abroad, it is building military installations on disputed Pacific reefs and infiltrating cybernetworks. It pushes the “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative across Eurasia, which will have benefits for other nations but will also allow China to pressure them to do business with Chinese state-owned enterprises, as it has done in recent years throughout Asia and Africa.

Chinese citizens and the world would benefit if China turns out to be an empire whose power is based as much on ideas, values and culture as on military and economic might. It was more enlightened under its most glorious dynasties. But for now, the Communist Party embraces hard power and coercion, and this could well be what replaces the fading liberal hegemony of the United States on the global stage. It will not lead to a grand vision of world order. Instead, before us looms a void.

Want to read more.

Security Threats

NSS_BookLayout_FIN_121917 indd

Last week, I posted the first pillar in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.”

The second pillar is to: Promote American Prosperity. This pillar calls for the United States to: “Lead in Research, Technology, Invention, and Innovation,” in order to maintain a competitive advantage in emerging technologies such as data science, encryption, autonomous technologies, gene editing, new materials, nanotechnology, advanced computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.

This pillar goes on to note that in order to attract and maintain an innovative and inventive advantage, scientists from government, academia, and industry should be encouraged to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery.

This pillar continues by stressing the importance of promoting and protecting the “U.S. National Security Innovation Base (the American network of knowledge, capabilities, and people – including academia, national laboratories, and the private sector)” by guarding against the theft of intellectual property allows competitors unfair access to innovative and free societies.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

National Security Threats

earth-from-space

Last month, I posted some of the high points of the National Security of The United States of America, our highest national security document.

Our National Security Strategy rests on a number of pillars. I’ll detail them in this blog posts, as well as in other posts in the ensuing weeks:

Pillar I is to: “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life”

This pillar begins by noting the need to emphasize the need to defend against weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It notes that as more countries pursue WMDs and increase their technology and capabilities, the threat of rogue nations and non-state actors using them will increase, as unstable security environments persist.

A key part of this pillar is the need to keep America safe in the cyber era, noting, in particular, “Today, cyberspace offers state and none-state actors the ability to wage campaigns against the American political, economic, and security interests.” The strategy calls for increasing the security of the critical infrastructure and hardening it against both cyber and electromagnetic attacks, and incorporating a multilayered approach to security.

We will discuss the remaining pillars of the National Security Strategy in blog posts in the weeks to come.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Security Threats

NSS_BookLayout_FIN_121917 indd

Last week, I posted the first pillar in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.”

The second pillar is to: Promote American Prosperity. This pillar calls for the United States to: “Lead in Research, Technology, Invention, and Innovation,” in order to maintain a competitive advantage in emerging technologies such as data science, encryption, autonomous technologies, gene editing, new materials, nanotechnology, advanced computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.

This pillar goes on to note that in order to attract and maintain an innovative and inventive advantage, scientists from government, academia, and industry should be encouraged to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery.

This pillar continues by stressing the importance of promoting and protecting the “U.S. National Security Innovation Base (the American network of knowledge, capabilities, and people – including academia, national laboratories, and the private sector)” by guarding against the theft of intellectual property allows competitors unfair access to innovative and free societies.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Security Threats

NSS_BookLayout_FIN_121917 indd

Last week, I re-introduced our National Security Strategy with the first half of the president’s transmittal letter. Here is the rest of the letter, detailing the threats to America’s security and prosperity

We are rallying the world against the rogue regime in North Korea and confronting the danger posed by the dictatorship in Iran, which those determined to pursue a f lawed nuclear deal had neglected. We have renewed our friendships in the Middle East and partnered with regional leaders to help drive out terrorists and extremists, cut off their financing, and discredit their wicked ideology. We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed. America’s allies are now contributing more to our common defense, strengthening even our strongest alliances. We have also continued to make clear that the United States will no longer tolerate economic aggression or unfair trading practices.

At home, we have restored confidence in America’s purpose. We have recommitted ourselves to our founding principles and to the values that have made our families, communities, and society so successful. Jobs are coming back and our economy is growing. We are making historic investments in the United States military. We are enforcing our borders, building trade relationships based on fairness and reciprocity, and defending America’s sovereignty without apology.

The whole world is lifted by America’s renewal and the reemergence of American leadership. After one year, the world knows that America is prosperous, America is secure, and America is strong. We will bring about the better future we seek for our people and the world, by confronting the challenges and dangers posed by those who seek to destabilize the world and threaten America’s people and interests.

My Administration’s National Security Strategy lays out a strategic vision for protecting the American people and preserving our way of life, promoting our prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world. We will pursue this beautiful vision—a world of strong, sovereign, and independent nations, each with its own cultures and dreams, thriving side-by-side in prosperity, freedom, and peace—throughout the upcoming year.

In pursuit of that future, we will look at the world with clear eyes and fresh thinking. We will promote a balance of power that favors the United States, our allies, and our partners. We will never lose sight of our values and their capacity to inspire, uplift, and renew.

Most of all, we will serve the American people and uphold their right to a government that prioritizes their security, their prosperity, and their interests. This National Security Strategy puts America First.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here

Threats to Our Security and Prosperity

earth from space

Over the past few weeks I’ve posted some of the high points of the National Security of The United States of America.

This is our highest national security document that addresses the threats to our security and prosperity, and what our nations is doing to confront these challenges.

It is useful to read the president’s introductory letter transmitting this strategy to understand this lengthy document. In many ways it serves as an executive summary:

“The American people elected me to make America great again. I promised that my Administration would put the safety, interests, and well-being of our citizens first. I pledged that we would revitalize the American economy, rebuild our military, defend our borders, protect our sovereignty, and advance our values.”

“During my first year in office, you have witnessed my America First foreign policy in action. We are prioritizing the interests of our citizens and protecting our sovereign rights as a nation. America is leading again on the world stage. We are not hiding from the challenges we face. We are confronting them head-on and pursuing opportunities to promote the security and prosperity of all Americans.”

“The United States faces an extraordinarily dangerous world, filled with a wide range of threats that have intensified in recent years. When I came into office, rogue regimes were developing nuclear weapons and missiles to threaten the entire planet. Radical Islamist terror groups were flourishing. Terrorists had taken control of vast swaths of the Middle East. Rival powers were aggressively undermining American interests around the globe. At home, porous borders and unenforced immigration laws had created a host of vulnerabilities. Criminal cartels were bringing drugs and danger into our communities. Unfair trade practices had weakened our economy and exported our jobs overseas. Unfair burden-sharing with our allies and inadequate investment in our own defense had invited danger from those who wish us harm. Too many Americans had lost trust in our government, faith in our future, and confidence in our values.”

“Nearly one year later, although serious challenges remain, we are charting a new and very different course.”

In the next National Security Blog I’ll outline some of those threats

You can read the full National Security Strategy here