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These are the problems we feel the next Secretary of Defense should address, and what we feel he should do about them.
1. Improving The Defense Acquisition Process
The only time a Secretary of Defense gets asked about defense acquisition is when something goes wrong—and when it comes to defense acquisition, there’s plenty that can go wrong. The truth is that acquiring defense materials is a highly technical process that requires a form of discipline few managers have. Because of this it is usually the case that the Secretary of Defense leaves defense acquisition up to others in the Pentagon to focus on, while he puts his attention on those things the President is most concerned with.
If smaller Defense budgets are going to be the norm going forward, the next Secretary of Defense is going to have to start focusing on the defense acquisition process, if for no other reason than to squeeze every last cent out of his budget. Our advice would be for him to take a page from Admiral Rickover’s book and focus on getting everything possible out of Defense contractors… they are making plenty of profits, they can afford to carry some of the load of a smaller DoD budget. What the next Secretary of Defense should do is ride roughshod over them, as Rickover did in his time, to force them to cut costs wherever they can, clean up for their own mistakes, and submit fewer cost overrun bills for last minute changes and altered design specs. One way the next Secretary of Defense can do this is to get their early attention by nailing to the wall any company found cheating the U.S. government, no matter how small the infraction.
Defense acquisition is an enormous undertaking. It covers the expenditure of over $150 billion annually for research and development and procurement of technology, with total contract spending exceeding $300 billion annually. On this basis the smallest of improvements in the acquisition process can make a difference that amounts to billions of dollars in savings in the cost of supplying the military with what it needs to get the job done. By this root alone, the opportunity to make progress is real. With little doubt, coming up with innovative means of lowering the cost of acquisition of military hardware and systems, not to mention operational supplies, is now a necessity. Small foreign wars aside, the next Secretary of Defense needs to put more time and effort into developing means to lower DoD acquisition costs, as it is one of the key factors that will determine how fit our future military is.
As to how to do this, we recommend that the new Secretary of Defense begin by meeting early on with defense industry leaders and setting a new tone for them. Let them know that while everyone agrees that the DoD depends heavily on industry’s ability to supply advanced technology, going forward the future is not going to be like the past. Tell them that from this point forward the DoD is going to act as though it is on a war footing, where every scrap of metal is precious to the fight, and every dollar too. This means that while the DoD will keep lines of communication open with the Industry, Defense will expect that they will be working steadily and with determination to find ways to improve their side of the defense acquisition process so that costs are lowered. As part of this, the DoD can show its determination to lower costs by supporting the Defense Innovation Initiative and Better Buying Power Act 3.0 that Congress passed. In our view, lowering acquisition costs by, in part, supporting these initiatives is essential if America’s qualitative military edge is to be maintained.
2. Addressing Budgetary Matters
Another of the problems the next Secretary of Defense will have stems from President Obama’s revolving door policy as re. the Pentagon... the one that led to 4 Secretaries of Defense having served in the past 6 years.
Specifically, the timing of Secretary Hagel’s resignation puts the new Secretary of Defense in the indefensible position of having to carry through with the President’s FY 2016 budget request, without having had any input in it. Congressional questions on the budget are likely to be tough, along the lines of that which happened in FY 2015 when Congress rejected many of the White House’s Defense Department initiatives. Considering that the FY 2016 budget will be the last to be crafted by the Obama administration, the White House will be unwilling to compromise on many of the hard choices they feel need to be made, with Congress being just as determined to force the budget to fall their way. This could put the new Secretary of Defense in the awkward position of fighting tooth and nail in favor of a budget he had nothing to do with forming, for a President soon to be leaving office. It doesn’t make for a pretty picture, considering how critical a smoothly functioning Department of Defense is to America at this time.
Consider too that while the FY 2016 budget will be tough to get passed, the new Secretary will also be responsible for developing the FY 2017 budget... which may prove even harder to get through since by then the Republicans will control Capital Hill. The FY 2017 budget being the last that the Obama administration will be putting forth, it is sure to prompt a battle. This is especially the case since many in Congress feel that the Obama administration’s efforts to budget above the Budget Control Act caps, and to make cuts and reforms that help rationalize and balance defense programs, is the wrong way of doing things. The next Secretary of Defense would do well then to take the time early on to ingratiate himself with those in Congress who will wield power once the President departs, so that at a minimum they do not see him as the problem, but only the messenger. In this way he may be able to win their support for those key provisions of the budget that he, the Secretary of Defense, wants to see pass, rather than spill his own blood on the Senate floor fighting for things a lame duck President Obama wants to see funded. Considering the short amount of time President Obama has left in office, it is better for the new Secretary of Defense to feather his own nest, then worry about what is left of President Obama's. If he does this, and fights for the strength and integrity of the Department of Defense, rather than the White House, he will ingratiate himself to both sides and may just get the budget he wants... or the key provisions of it anyway.
3. Finding Ways To Negate Bureaucratic Inertia And “Next-War-Itis”
With President Obama on his way out of office, most government departments will be putting on their “let’s do as little work as possible until the next guy comes in" suits. Government torpor, apathy and inertia will be setting in, big time. It’s how America works.
Unfortunately, for the new Secretary of Defense this means that while he may have wide latitude to set a new national security agenda, he won't have anybody willing to get behind it and/or implement it. His efforts to prioritize military initiatives and provide strategic direction will be stymied at every turn. More to the point, successful prioritizeation requires balancing the military’s demands regarding means for addressing both present and future threats, and with Obama on his way out of office it is going to be difficult to know what the next guy to come into office will consider important “targets” for prioritization... which essentially means that no prioritization will take place. If so, this will be especially problematic in the case of future threats. Our point then is that without knowing what things will look like when the next President is elected and takes office, all of the people within the Pentagon that prefer to take their lead from the White House rather than their boss will be reluctant to support any initiative the next Secretary of Defense comes up with until the next President comes in and puts his imprimatur on things.
This isn't the first time this kind of problem has happened. Secretary of Defense Gates had a similar problem. In his case he ignored the President's priorities by putting at the top of his agenda everything and anything having to do with helping to win the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To his credit, his focus was on helping to save American military lives, and so he prioritized the rapid development and acquisition of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs). While on the surface this seemed like a natural thing to do, he had to fight to get his way, as many of the politically focused bureaucrats in the Pentagon were more interested in fighting the next war than worrying about how to win the one we were already in. From Gates' perspective, the military’s focus on preparing for the next war, while the present one was being lost due to a lack of focus, was intolerable. He denounced “next-war-itis” as something that had to be put down at every turn, and fought against it at every turn.
Considering that the next Secretary of Defense is likely to come into office with everyone trying to act like there is no war being fought at this time, how will he keep inertia from setting in, or priorities from being skewed; particularly if one considers that there is in fact a new war (ISIS) just getting underway, even though no one wants to admit it?
Gates may have understood the situation well and fought like hell to prioritize the present over the future, but when he left office and Hagel came in the problem came back again. Hagel, doing as best as he could, again tried to keep things in order and put as much attention as possible on solving today's problems rather than those of tomorrow. To a large extent he too succeeded, except that in doing so he now leaves his successor with a problem of his own: all the focus on the present has left the future… in the form of research and development aimed at developing new military capabilities… bearing the brunt of recent budget cuts. And so the next Secretary of Defense is going to have to help swing the pendulum back one more time... towards the future, if you will. This is especially so with respect to helping our military develop better cyber capabilities.
The recent debacle with North Korea shutting down Sony Picture’s business, and forcing it to cancel the release of its satire about assassinating Kim Jong-un is a case in point. The first thing is, if North Korea was responsible for the hack of Sony Pictures data, then without doubt North Korea’s actions are nothing short of an act of war, not cyber vandalism as President Obama prefers to call it. For a sovereign nation like North Korea to attack the economic viability of a vertical segment of another nation’s markets (in this case, America's film industry), not to mention attacking and undermining another country’s constitutional principles (in this case, freedom of speech and expression) is clearly an act of war.
In our view, if North Korea is guilty then America should respond… in kind. Specifically, the DoD should respond by shutting down North Korea’s access to the web… period… in all of its forms, from the internet to digital communication of every sort. But that's not the real problem. From our perspective the real problem is that we don't know if North Korea did what everyone wants to believe it did, or not. The fact that a cyber crime of this magnitude can take place and the U.S. government does not know with certainty who did it is reprehensible.
As all know by now, within a short time after the hack occurred the CIA, never one to miss an opportunity to garner publicity for itself, went public and announced that North Korea did it. To back up their statement they issued a bunch of information about "IP address" similarities, replicated "malware code" and things like that. The only problem is that their "proof" is in fact not proof; not at all. In fact, the "proof" that they issued makes it look to real cyber security professionals as though the job was an inside job, done by a disgruntled employee using old code developed 8 years ago and readily available on the internet, rather than some clever programmer from the hermit kingdom.
This then is the problem to us: here we sit in America, vulnerable to major cyber attacks like that Sony went through, and no one in our government is competent enough to be able to trace the source and identify the culprit. The CIA runs around making ham-handed claims that on further scrutiny look less and less true. Claims that they can not back up with facts because they simply don't have the technical skills in this subject matter area to know what they speak of. So here we are, the government of the United States of America rushing to tell the world—through an announcement made by our President no less—that we have caught North Korea in the act, when in fact we have not. Boy, doesn't that make us look stupid on the world stage? A laughingstock of a country... supposedly more technically advanced than any other, but easily fooled by a 23 year old hacker employee from Sony Pictures.
And during all of this our military sits on the sidelines twiddling its thumbs. A military packed with eager young men and women able to gain the skills needed to handle situations like this, but without enough leadership at the top of the DoD to force the issue.
Having the ability to shut down North Korea's internet pipeline is one thing. Having a U.S. military that can watch what they are doing in real time, subvert their code so that we can trace what they are doing as the code proliferates around the world, and otherwise "rule" cyber space, is an absolute necessity if America is going to protect itself from these forms of asymmetrical cyber warfare.
Judging by the humiliating and dim witted way in which our government handled the Sony situation, it is clear that it is time that a professional organization within our government... like the U.S. military... step in and take control of this area of national defense. It is time that a professional organization, not some group of children that play at global politics like the CIA, or some other barely qualified group that calls itself "expert", like the Secret Service or FBI, be given responsibility for handling both the passive and active elements associated with cyber crimes and warfare. Oh, and it would be nice if they were given a budget to match too.
Next-war-itis aside, the next Secretary of Defense needs to make sure that, in this and other areas, not only are near term priorities like these taken care of, but also long-term issues having to deal with how future wars will be fought need put back on top as a point of focus. Regardless of why things in Defense have been prioritized towards the present, the next Secretary of Defense needs to get things back in balance, making critical decisions that will balance all of the DoD’s competing demands. In this regard, only decisive leadership can break through the status quo. Waiting for it to come from the next President would be a mistake.
4. Developing An Ability To Focus On More Than Just Air-Sea Battles
As the three earlier issues suggest, there are plenty of things that the next Secretary of Defense should worry about. To these we will add recalibrating how the Pentagon thinks future military threats should be handled. In our estimate, the Defense Department seems to be hung up on applying its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) concept to every conflict that arises. This in turn, if we understand A2/AD correctly, causes our military to rely heavily on air and naval dominance to overcome the problem. Publicly this make most American’s think that, for example, President Obama has abandoned traditional military approaches to kinetic confrontations in favor of drone warfare. This may be true, but it oversimplifies the facts. President Obama turned to drones because the military recommended he do so, and they made this recommendation because they felt that A2/AD suggests that using drones is a good way of minimizing America’s physical, manpower involvement abroad, while still applying kinetics to the situation.
Such an approach is simplistic at best. It creates an international mess wherever it is applied, turning global opinion against America for starting things it never finishes… or finishes sloppily… and for leaving garbage all over the field when America eventually tires of the effort and withdraws from the conflict. More importantly, this focus on air-sea solutions fails to account for the kind of “gray-war” challenges to America’s hegemony that are rising around the world.
Let us be clear, there is no doubt that there are threats that fit into the A2/AD milieu. However, not all of them do, and to look to A2/AD as the solution to all burgeoning threats is a grave mistake. The incoming Secretary of Defense needs to challenge this way of thinking… a form of thinking that has become conventional… and force military strategists to move beyond what they learned in war college and enter the new age. North Korea’s generals did. They moved from focusing on denying area access to using cyber warfare to attack economic interests. In the process they achieved a public relations coup, made America and Hollywood a laughingstock and achieved their objective. Why can’t America’s generals learn to do the same?
Sure, there exists an ability for adversaries like China or Russia to deny America access to a region through equal or greater precision targeting of weapons. Even Iran can do this; but does this mean we should be depending on A2/AD to solve all problems? Should our military be prioritizing weapon systems development and combat tactics on the basis of finding better ways to hide our vessels undersea, or developing extended range, low observable air platforms, and in the process ignore the trend towards gray-wars that are area agnostic? We think not.
Instead we need to recognize that while those technologies offer some value, pursuing ways to “hide” assets while the enemy pursues ways to “find” them is a loser’s game. By doing so the U.S. is essentially betting that it can continually outpace its adversaries’ advances. Any engineer knows that isn’t going to happen forever. Instead, what is needed is to enhance our military’s capabilities on land, as well as in cyber space… where the next full scale war will not only break out but be fought.
Better land capabilities, more field robotics, development of cyber weapons able to run the gamut from pinpointing and being able to shut down individual MAC Address and IP code machines, to the ability to shut down anything from a regional area of internet exchange points and network access points, to internet traffic interchange points, regional internet service providers, and tier 1 networks, to entire national internet grids and global backbone cables, is what is needed as America moves forward. Yes, hiding submarines off the coast of China is important, but so too is being able to fight adversaries like ISIS—proven experts in Social Media warfare—and North Korea—a backward country whose military is light years ahead of ours when it comes to cyberwarfare. The fact of the matter is that cyber stupidity reigns in America; just look at the loss of over 1 million credit card details that took place with Staples last December to see what we mean. Our bureaucrats lead the way in this area, continuing to focus on only those technologies they understand.
Russia, China, ISIS, the Iranian Quds force and others are all pursuing versions of modern technology strategies and forms of warfare today that we can't challenge, while we worry ourselves sick about A2/AD. It is clear, America’s national security managers have put in place a structure wholly unequipped to counter, let alone defeat, the kind of enemies now nipping at out heals. The technologies we need to fight this crowd do not exist in sufficient depth, quantity and capability… nor are they managed by sufficiently knowledgeable people… to be able to hold off a serious attack from one of these adversaries. Perhaps worst of all, even if we apply ourselves to fixing this problem, the new technologies needed will not soon produce an easy fix to this problem.
When the next Secretary of Defense takes office we feel certain he will find wholly inadequate strategic thinking within his realm. We make out point again:
A2/AD presents too limited a means for dealing with the kind of global problems trending at this time. It fails to provide the full range of solutions needed to address the kinds of confrontations America’s enemies are beginning to mount against us. This means the next Secretary of Defense will need to re-fight the strategic battles that were fought in the past, when it was decided that A2/AD was the way to go. To win this time he will have to expand the threat picture in a way that makes it easy for the public to internalize the danger that lies ahead. To do this he will need to link the need to develop effective means to fight what may appear on the surface as non-kinetic wars, with the need for us to win the gray-wars that are coming our way. At the same time he is going to have to get the attention of the next President—early on—and gain his concurrence that this expanding threat picture demands budget relief.
Fix the budget problems, clean up the defense acquisition process so that cost of acquisition decreases, fight inertia and the tendency to focus on the next war at the expense of today’s gray-war enemies, and move from dependence on air-sea battle solutions in favor of improved cyber war capabilities.. and underwrite all of this with a new breed of land based cyber warrior, and all will be well.
But it doesn’t end there. There is still the problem of addressing the regional problems already on the current Secretary of Defense’s plate.
1. Putting Life Back Into America’s Transatlantic Security Partnerships
Considering how hard America fought to save Europe back in WWII, they sure don’t seem to have anything in common with us anymore. Are we really descendents of Europeans? Is that possible? The way we think and see the world, compared to theirs, couldn’t be more opposite than if they came from Mars. If the next Secretary of Defense wants any help at all out of the Europeans, as he tries to tamp down kinetic problems around the world, not just in Europe, he is going to have to find a way to rebuild and breathe new life into the transatlantic security relationships that were formed what seems like light years ago, when Europe and America saw the world through the same glasses.
One would have thought that Russia’s annexation of Crimea would have brought Europe around to our way of thinking again, but it didn’t. Let’s blame that on President Obama… he’s a good whipping boy for something like this, after all, his way of thinking is closer to theirs than most of America’s is. The truth be told however, it’s not his fault. The Europeans are, well, just not from this planet. If the Europeans are to be brought around to supporting American causes again, the next Secretary of Defense is going to have to play a much more aggressive role than his predecessors did in convincing them that they too have an obligation to keep the world safe.
One place to start is with America’s commitment to the Ukraine. President Obama promised the Ukraine $118 million in equipment and training, so they could better combat Russian provocations. Guess what? They don’t need it. If you read our article last month about the Ukrainian military, you know that they are far more competent than people give them credit for, and fully equipped to give Russia a bloody nose if it decides to take a more active involvement in what its sponsored rebels are doing. Yet while the Ukraine doesn’t need America’s help, if we don’t act like we give a darn about the country we will never get the Europeans on our side on other matters. The problem is that the half hearted response President Obama made to the Ukraine crisis only served to confirm what European leaders have already come to think: that the U.S. no longer maintains a long term commitment to Europe’s continued security.
Falling on the heels of his pulling missiles out of Poland, and comments by the Polish Ambassador to the U.S. regarding his disdain for President Obama and America’s lack of backbone in general, President Obama’s approach to the Ukraine only underscored that for the Europeans Elvis has left the building. If the Secretary of Defense wants relations with Europe… military relations as in NATO… to regain some of its former strength he is going to have to work hard to reassure nervous Central and Eastern European allies that we care what happens to them.
One way he can do this is to become a very vocal supporter of the $1 billion request recently made to Congress for a European Reassurance Initiative. The Initiative, as it is formulated, is intended to further enhance recent action taken to increase U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force deployments in the region. A key component of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan, these measures, along with the funding, are intended to increase the level of U.S. involvement in exercises in Europe. While a small step by our standards, the Europeans have loudly applauded this proposed action… including leaders from what is becoming a very skeptical Poland when it comes to American breast beating. To make sure this momentum is not lost, the next Secretary of Defense should build on this program by working diligently to readjust America’s military involvement in Europe and NATO, with the aim of increasing our visibility on important matters from the European’s perspective.
While this will go a long way towards revising America’s lessening image in Europe, it won’t solve the real problems that are facing that part of the world. In this regard the next Secretary of Defense has even more work to do. In particular, recognizing that Russia is returning to its old ways, the Secretary of Defense needs to find a way to make the Europeans live up to their own commitment to their own security.
One can see how they have tossed military readiness and security aside by looking at the downward trend in military spending, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. Military spending has consistently declined from an average of 2.5% in the 1990-1994 timeframe to just 1.6% today. At a minimum, this number has to go back to at least the 2% level if defense is to be maintained. At the present only Estonia, Greece and the U.K. are meeting this goal. When one considers the financial mess Greece is in, and the diminutive size of Estonia, this is a laughable situation.
If one deems this spending issue as related to maintaining a minimal level of defense security, the question arises as to whether any spending is taking place in Europe on new military technologies, as well as R&D. At this time Europe as a whole has nearly abandoned these areas, failing to live up to their security commitments in defense investment. Of greater concern, Europe has shown a profound reluctance to contribute to out of area operations. As it stands, the ISAF combat support provided in Afghanistan, which is still winding down, may be the last time America sees European troops alongside of it as it tries to tamp down world troubles.
As to the reason this is happening, to some extent it can be said that just as Americans are becoming war weary, so too are Europeans. That may be so, but the fact remains that today’s world is a troubled one, fronting despots and deviants that not only devastate and destroy the life of their own people, but threaten the stability of the rest of the world too. These people must be dealt with, or the world will suffer. It is only right then that Europe must shoulder its share of this burden. Getting it to once again do so is a task the new Secretary of Defense is going to have to put high on his agenda. And as to those who say that Europe is doing enough, one need only look at the huge decrease in Europe’s contributions to the fight against ISIS, as compared to the significant commitment they made in the fighting in Libya just three short years ago.
One way or the other, the United States must convince the Europeans to increase their investment in the resources needed to help the free world hold its own on this increasingly troubled planet. With President Obama not stepping forward on this issue, and there being no time to wait for the next President to get into office and take up this cause, the task falls to the next Secretary of Defense to reinvigorate history’s most successful military alliance and bring it back on track.
2. Middle East Security Issues
As we look at the problems of Europe and their contribution to world stability, the Middle East comes into view. What President Obama’s view is on what U.S. policy should be in this area is hard to fathom. What is much easier to figure out is what Secretary of State Kerry’s policy is. And while we laud Secretary of State Kerry for his persistence in trying to tackle all of the competing interests in this part of the world and bring a modicum of stability to it, he needs help. In our mind, the Secretary of Defense is the most natural person to help Secretary of State Kerry bring a little peace and quiet to the Middle East.
For one thing, the next Secretary of Defense, whether he likes it or not, will inherit a passel of problems in the Middle East. Importantly, finding a fix for each one is critical to America’s national security. That being the case, the next Secretary of Defense would do well to saddle up to the then current Secretary of State and commit to work closely with him to tamp down future hot spots.
First on the list should be the so called “P5+1” Iran nuclear negotiations. Some say this group has made substantial progress in talks with Iran. We disagree. Having spent over 30 years abroad, negotiating business deals with slippery counterparts, this author can see a stalling tactic when it sits on the end of his nose. The fact that after all of this time a deal with Iran remains elusive is proof enough that the Iranians are controlling the pace of negotiation, and have no intent of concluding the discussions until some other event happens. We ask you then: what other event could they possibly be waiting to happen, before they allow the negotiations to reach a conclusion? How about “Hey folks, guess what? We’ve got a nuclear bomb too!”
The fact is that America cannot afford to let Iran slime its way into developing a nuclear weapon. Nor can we allow Iran’s leaders to continue supporting terrorist groups and their activities. Let’s face it, Iran is an enemy of the U.S. Thinking that negotiating with their leaders is going to change their tenor is just plain stupid. Until ideological changes take place within Iran, no matter who leads it the U.S. can expect that it will continue to see America as the Great Satan. With P5+1 holding the momentum, the next Secretary of Defense, having the task of defending America, must proactively make the point that while the rest of the world may have no deadline in sight for the conclusion of the present negotiations, he does… and if that date is exceeded he will be pounding on the President’s desk to launch missiles against Iran’s nuclear development sites, physics laboratories and other research bureaus. And for good measure, he will be walking the halls of Capital Hill demanding support for this kind of action too.
Presumably having made his case that as the new Secretary of Defense he will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon on his watch, the next problem he should tackle in the Middle East relates to U.S. operations against ISIS (a.k.a. the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)), as well as the yahoos that call themselves al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and the other terrorist groups itching to take center stage and ride the wild wind. In this area the new Secretary of State needs to put forth a plan to blunt their near-term growth, ratchet up a Social Media and Network war as good as the one they are running, and bring into the equation more Islamic pressure on Muslims to resist their call to arms. It’s in this last area that the Secretary of Defense needs to step outside of normal military thinking and recognize that just as psychological warfare has a place in every war, it has one in this fight too… except that the form it will take in this fight will need to be different than what most military men think of when they think psyops.
In this case, the psychological warfare program that the next Secretary of Defense needs to craft and put in place must be formulated and run by Muslims. In particular, it needs to first be Mosque based and second it needs to be Social Media oriented. In the former case, efforts must be made to get Muslim community leaders to issue fatawa against ISIS and al-Qaida extremists. Why take this approach? Because there is no better way to stop extremist recruitment than for the religion that underlies it to issue a fatwa against the people doing it. Nothing could be more clear to a Muslim worshipper than a fatwa being issued against all who join these terrorist crusades. It makes the point succinctly that the Muslim religion forbids this form of extremism. Involve yourself at your own risk; if you do rest assured that you will spend eternity in hell. No 10,00 virgins for you son. Hell awaits you.
As for the Secretary of Defense involving himself at this level in these matters, what is called for here is nothing more than the refocusing of the fight his Department is already engaged in on a new form of psychological warfare, one that the enemy might actually stop to listen to. His imprimatur on this approach would go a long way towards causing Muslim Imans to issue such a fatwa. Does that mean that extremists everywhere will lay down their arms? Hardly. But it might go a long way towards curbing the tendency of younger people to fall victim to their propaganda and join their cause. Better then to have the Secretary of Defense take the role of showing Imams were to focus their energies then letting them continue to issue useless fatwas against those who draw images of Abū al-Qāsim Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hāshim (ابو القاسم محمد ابن عبد الله ابن عبد المطلب ابن هاشم), a.k.a. Muhammad, while his followers cut off the heads of young girls.
Finally, in undertaking his new job the next Secretary of Defense will also have to focus on even more ways to get Gulf countries to cooperate with each other against ISIS and the other factions ripping apart their part of the world; more than they are at present. To date Secretary Hagel has done a very good job of bringing many of these countries together as informal partners against terror. When the next Secretary of Defense takes office he will need to focus on this too, and take it to the next level. The fact is, Gulf security objectives must be made consistent between the U.S. and all of the Middle East countries America considers allies. Only by doing this can terrorists and gray-wars be avoided. And besides, if this can be accomplished, it is sure to have a positive spillover effect in terms of bearing fruit in nudging Iran back into line with world standards of behavior.
Having said all of this, as the new Secretary of Defense works to attain these goals, hopefully he will not miss an opportunity to push for improved human rights in every Middle East country his plane touches down in. Doing so might jeopardize his ability to accomplish some of the goals we have listed above, but unless he does so the world is doomed to continue to see the Middle East continue to exist in the dark ages they live in today.
Whether its stopping terrorism, insuring the safe passage of oil and gas to global markets, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, deterring regional aggression, helping Middle Eastern countries transition to a more inclusive form of government, improving the quality of life of postage stamp nations still harboring grudges against their neighbors from events that happened during the time of Jesus, furthering human rights values, or maintaining a commitment to Israel’s security, the next Secretary of Defense will have his hands full with the Middle East. To help accomplish these goals he will need to work closely with his counterparts in the State Department, the Intelligence Community and the White House. In the end, this may prove to be the hardest job of all. Yet without a whole government approach, which he should advance, American efforts to change the Middle East will fail to gain traction. If this happens regional partners in this area will sour of listening to America preach reform yet again, and Congress will turn its back on the supplemental funding the DoD so desperately needs to help right the wrongs and put out the fires that burn through the Middle East.
3. Finding Ways To Manage China’s Rising Power In Asia
Three years ago the Obama administration touted its rebalancing of its focus towards the Asia-Pacific region. Much like the infamous reset button that the U.S. offered to share with Russia, nothing came of it. China is as aggressive as ever, while the remaining nations of the Pacific have all but abandoned belief in America’s pledge to help keep them safe. One by one they have all gone their own way, sidling up to China and making friends there, rather than risk finding themselves on the outside looking in… in need of America’s help when she could care less what happens to them because politics, economic conditions and political expediencies at home no longer allow America to be the Pacific basin’s policeman.
The fact of the matter is that America has turned its back on Asia. President Obama, for some reason, never got around to formulating a national policy that covered all of the problems that Asia held. Secretary Kerry, a hard worker in the extreme and no one to back away from an important task, has been so deeply enmeshed in solving Middle East problems that he hasn’t been able to do diligence to the problems in Asia. As a result, much of the work that needed doing in Asia has been left up to Secretary Hagel.
With so little focus, and so many problems, it was only natural that the countries of this region turned their eyes towards China, and began blinking solicitously toward her.
And she came running.
As a result, the possibility of passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact has taken a back seat to other matters, and with it went any hope of any true “refocus” on America’s part. At present, except for a few desultory efforts by a couple of countries in Asia to improve their ties with America in those specific areas where they stand to benefit, there is no coordinated activity on the U.S.’ part to do anything in Asia except sit back and watch it move away. It’s almost as if the Pacific Plate that cuts its way through coastal California is slipping away… moving west towards China, increasing the space between the U.S. and its former Asian allies, and taking them with it in the process.
But there is hope. Hope still exists because Secretary Hagel found time to focus on Asia, working on his own to, if not craft an American policy, at least rebalance the Defense Department’s policy towards Asia. He and he alone can be credited with the achievements that have been made in U.S. – Asian relations.
For one, he has focused intently on crafting a security order in Asia that makes room for a rising China, while at the same time working to assure the lesser countries of Asia (and Austral–Asia) that their interests will be backed by America if they continue to pursue responsible representative government for their people. So far this has worked. Countries like Indonesia, prone to corruption, have embarked on political changes that are bringing in fresh faces in the form of elected rulers more squeaky clean than some of the political leaders in our own country. To underwrite this, Hagel has closened ties with the militaries of many of these countries, essentially saying to them that if they will let go of control over their respective governments, and pass it on to the civilian sector, and at the same time work to improve human rights in their countries, he will teach them how to build and run a real military… a modern military… one they can be proud of... with all of the bells and whistles that come with it, from global respect to fancy new armaments. Thus, countries like Vietnam have cozied up to America, as have the Indonesians, Burma and others.
Still others, like Australia, are moving closer to America because, while they desperately need to trade with China to keep their own economy alive, they feel threatened by her. In response, even though the Aussies speak kindly about China and kowtow to her every temper tantrum, they have begun to encourage the U.S. to set up bases throughout the country. Already the U.S. has in Australia 5 Army "training" bases, our Air Force has stationed air mobility support planes on another 5 RAAF maintained air bases, with the Navy anchoring theatre anti-missile air warfare destroyers at a base of their own in Perth, from which they then saunter around the country making port visits to nearly every decent sized port in Australia. This, plus a massive early warning defense system being run by the U.S. out of Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in the middle of Australia, allows Australia to act like it has the military capabilities of the United States even though it doesn't.
China isn't fooled. Even with all of this military power arrayed against her, she is as belligerent as ever. China is an angry empire on the rise.
If America is to maintain this momentum in favor of partnering with the countries of the Asia Pacific, to balance out China's agression and contain her without it appearing as though this is the objective, the next Secretary of Defense will need to not only continue the march, but deepen the relationships being built in Asia too. Whether its Japan with its love-hate viewpoint towards American bases, South Korea with its overt hatred for U.S. forces stationed in the country… but clear headed recognition that they need to be there… Australia, who is still trying to figure out what they are doing in the midst of Asia instead of being north of the equator where all other white faced round eyed people live, or any one of the numerous other countries that populate this part of the world, all are looking to America to see what happens when the next Secretary of State comes in, and the next President too.
Almost to a country, except for what Secretary Hagel brought them, none of them liked what the Obama administration fed them for these past 6 years. They are sitting and waiting now. The tone the next Secretary of Defense sets when he takes office may well determine where the next hot war breaks out. If he does his job right, it won’t be in Asia. If he stumbles, countries like China and North Korea won’t give him a chance to regain his footing. In that case the next hot war will likely break out on one of the Spratley, Senkaku, or Paracel islands, or on Scarborough Shoal, or even in the Kurile islands.
When it comes to Asia, to do his job right the next Defense Secretary will need to re-assure America’s Asian allies that we stand beside them again. And as we said a minute ago, he will also have to act to proactively deepen the partnerships we have, while at the same time undertaking to execute a sure footed, strong but respectful dialogue with China.
What we know is this, sustaining a focus on the Asia-Pacific will be difficult when crises in other regions of the world work to pull the next Secretary of Defense’s attention away—especially when one considers that for the most part things in Asia “work.” But is has to be done. After so many years of abandonment the U.S. must begin to deliver a consistent message to this region. In terms of what the message should be, it should be that:
– America stands beside not just those countries in Asia that it has defense treaties with, but every country in Asia, in working to protect their independence, their people, and their territorial integrity.
– That America is committed to an open and inclusive approach to security in the region—including insuring China that it need not have worries that America will try to take advantage of it. Relations with Chine need not be a zero sum game. There is plenty of room for both of us on the stage, but there is no room for a bully willing to use sharp elbows to get his way.
– That America will continue to engage with China on areas of cooperation, even as the two countries find disagreement in still other areas.
– That where disagreement is found, America is committed to trying to find peaceful ways to resolve those disagreements, especially where the disagreement involves a fundamental point of importance to either of the two countries.
– That while disagreements will come about between the U.S. and China the basic principles of mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual benefit, and a commitment to mutually appropriate and safe behavior will help the two resolve any differences without the need for histrionics or saber rattling.
Ashton Carter, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, knows the Pentagon about as well as any living human being. People say he's one of the brightest defense-policy intellectuals the country has. The question is, can he run the Department of Defense as well as he understands it?
 Gray-War, a term
coined by columnist David Von Drehle,
who defined a Gray-War as “a war without
fronts, without armies, without rules;
in which the weapon can be any
commercial jet and the target any
building anywhere.” By this standard,
North Korea’s attack on Sony Pictures is
an act of Gray-Warfare.
- To return to your place in the
text click here:
 Fatawa is the
plural of fatwa; in Arabic the singular
is فتوى, the plural is the same).
- To return to your place in the
text click here:
Various articles by Craig
Whitlock, Columnist with The Washington
Does Anyone Want To Be The Secretary
of Defense?, D.S. Wright,
published online November 28, 2014.
Obama's Former Secretary of Defense
Turns Against Him, Igor Volsky,
published online October 3, 2014.
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