Time for a new national defense strategy

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The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are advancing defense spending bills after the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by each chamber. Neither appropriations nor NDAA legislation is likely to make it to the president’s desk in the form in which they current exist. In both instances, the legislation will require a conference, with intra-caucus negotiations likely being the most intense.

{mosads}The question of whether to rearm and redeploy into Iraq is being pushed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), among others in the Senate and House, although they appear the most vocal of the hawks. The premise behind these views — which are largely draped in criticism of the president — is that if we spend more blood and money, we will get a lasting result.

As Iraq and Afghanistan both demonstrate, “lasting results” are fleeting. We found this in Vietnam, where some would argue we never had a result, and then again in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there were clear positive results while we were there in force. What history has shown is that when we leave, the results do not last. North Vietnam took over South Vietnam, Afghanistan largely remains in turmoil and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has put Iraq in crisis, if not the entire Middle East.

Reengaging by deploying a larger number of troops, and arming whomever is on our side today — but may not be tomorrow — to me demonstrates a lack of analytic skills, historical understanding and a reliance on bravado: the big bad wolf scenario. This is merely using muscle because we have muscle to flex, not because we can achieve a lasting result for citizens of countries who cannot or will not take responsibility for their own government and their lives — the later literally. We have shed enough blood and treasurer and have fulfilled our obligation.

So it is fair to ask: What, then, is the solution?

I am not sure there is a clear one.

Our first obligation is to defend the home front. That has been largely accomplished by intelligence gathering — with some privacy concerns — although I’m sure some would argue that our presence in the Middle East has had an impact as well. The question to be answered is: At what price and for how long? If I were still in Congress, I would have voted for the USA Freedom Act: It seems like a reasonable compromise. We clearly need to be vigilant — that means each and every one of us — observing what is going on around us without devolving into hysteria or focusing on stereotypes. Think Oklahoma City and Charleston, S.C.

The first step toward a solution is to reassess the National Defense Strategy, listening to the right and the left and hopefully what remains of the middle politically. There are some difficult questions to be answered, with broad-reaching ramifications. Should we withdraw all military activity from the Middle East? We are certainly not as dependent on the Middle East for oil, but we have long-term partners there. Should we focus on other tools in our arsenal? Do we use technology more extensively and spying more effectively outside of the United States? Do we reinvent foreign aid so that it is a more focused and forceful arm of foreign policy?

It is fairly clear that what we are doing is not working. To a large extent, that is because the people we have sought to assist will not defend themselves. Whether that is because they lack the will or the historical concept of self-rule is unclear.

A new national defense strategy needs to be developed, rather than relying on the concept that by America brandishing it arms forces overseas, that it makes us a stronger and better protected at home. I can’t honestly reach that conclusion, nor can I justify the cost. Can you?

Owens represented New York’s North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. He is now a senior strategic adviser in the Washington office of McKenna, Long and Aldridge and a partner in the Plattsburgh, N.Y. firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC.

Tags Afghanistan Afghanistan War Defense budget Defense spending Department of Defense DOD Iraq Iraq War ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria John McCain Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell National Defense Authorization Act NDAA Pentagon Vietnam Vietnam war

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