Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.
The report is in, and the review of the president’s foreign policy is clear: If there is not an immediate course-reversal, the United States is in serious danger.
In 2013, the United States Institute for Peace, “a congressionally-created, independent, nonpartisan institution whose mission is to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflicts around the world,” was asked to assist the National Defense Panel with reviewing the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The National Defense Panel is a congressional-mandated bipartisan commission that’s co-chairs were appointed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
On July 31, the National Defense Panel released its long-awaited report on the effects of the QDR and delivered its findings to Congress. The panel pulled no punches — its findings were a scathing indictment of Obama’s foreign policy, national security policy, and defense policy. The panel found that president Barack Obama’s QDR, military force reductions, and trillion-dollar defense budget cuts are dangerous — and will leave the country in a position where it is unable to respond to threats to our nation’s security. This, the panel concluded, must be reversed as soon as possible.
In particular, the report addresses the need for the administration to return to the flexible response doctrine — a policy where the military was tasked with being capable of fighting two wars at the same time. Given the current state of affairs and the threats posed to our nation, the panel felt that the two-war doctrine was still required to meet our nation’s national security challenges. The man-power reductions and budget cuts are both reflections of this change in policy, so it must be altered before that is possible.
So what is the flexible response doctrine, and why is it so important?
In 1961, the Kennedy administration sought to remake U.S. defense doctrine after concluding that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “New Look” doctrine, which focused on mutually-assured destruction, was inappropriate for the Cold War. Kennedy decided that the United States would adopt a “Flexible Response Doctrine,” in which we would hold adversaries at bay through strategic deterrence and the ability to fight two wars — plus a smaller conflict — at the same time. That doctrine carried the United States through the Cold War and all of the other so-called shooting wars that followed, despite numerous challenges from nation states and non-state actors alike.
In 2012, the Obama administration decided to change the two-and-a-half war policy of the Flexible Response doctrine, in part due to the nation’s war fatigue, after having been at war for over a decade, and also in response to budgetary constraints exacerbated by a sluggish economy. The administration announced its intentions to significantly reduce the defense budget and re-examine the acquisition of major defense systems and hardware, shaping the future size and scope of the U.S. military. Given that Obama was first elected on an antiwar platform, this decision seems reasonable.
Here’s the problem: At the time the Obama administration announced the change in our defense doctrine, the president was also in front of the cameras threatening to use military force in Iran and Syria, announcing a “strategic pivot” toward Asia to counter a rising China, and swearing to uphold our defense treaties with Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, NATO, etc, all while we were still at war in Afghanistan. How can you threaten to take military action that could start a war when you are already fighting one in Afghanistan if you have changed your military doctrine to only fight one war at a time?
Some detractors may argue that this is a good thing, because it will prevent the president from starting another war. It’s worth pointing out that not all wars are of our choosing. The U.S. went to war twice in the last 50 years because our homeland was attacked by enemy forces. And unlike World War II, the enemy has not been defeated — even though the president plans to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan and has chosen to not take decisive action against these enemies in Iraq, Syria, Africa, etc. — an enemy that still seeks to do us harm. The next war may not be of our choosing. And the enemy has pledged to do just that.
What is even more distressing is that this doctrine will trickle down into military acquisition strategy. The U.S. Navy purchases ships that will be in service for 50 years. That means that the ships we buy today will make up the Navy’s fleet in 2065. The change in military doctrine that Obama directed will have a negative effect on the size and shape of our armed forces for decades to come. With a rising China, a re-emerging Russia, and a continued threat of global terrorism, who knows if at that time, the U.S. will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” He was criticized for that remark, but it reflected the reality that he had to go to war with — an Army that had been hollowed out after the Gulf War by the Clinton administration. War is not a video game. You cannot hit the pause button on a crisis and ask the defense industrial base and the armed services to give you what you need to fight a war. That only comes from long-term acquisition strategy driven by doctrine that accurately reflects future threats.
If the administration does not reverse course on its defense strategy and ask congressional Democrats to reverse defense spending cuts, then our nation will find itself in a position where it is unable to defend itself and could become the victim of terrorism on U.S. soil once again.