Truman National Security Project

GailForce: President Obama’s Terrorism and National Security Strategy


On 23 May, President Obama gave a long awaited and much overdue talk on his strategy for conducting the war on terrorism.  I thought it was one of the best speeches he’s given.  He did a great job laying out his view points, justification for his terrorism strategy and what he sees as the road ahead.  There has been much coverage on what he said about drones, targeting U.S. citizens, and Guantanamo Bay.  I thought I’d cover some of the other things that jumped out at me.  What follows are some of my thoughts and questions:

“With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a new dawn of democracy took hold abroad, and a decade of peace and prosperity arrived at home. For a moment, it seemed the 21st century would be a tranquil time.  Then, on September 11th 2001, we were shaken out of complacency.”

From my perspective the term “peace” is relative.  After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, as a then working intelligence analyst I found the 90’s to be a more complex problem and potentially just as dangerous as the issues we faced during the Cold War.  During the Cold War we knew who the bad guys were and from an analytic stand point we had a pretty good idea of what the issues and challenges were.  I’ve always felt that in the world there were a number of pots on the fire that constantly simmered.  The challenge particularly in the 1990’s was predicting which one would boil over.  I do not see that as a decade of peace.

First off, as I have blogged numerous times, the Gulf War never ended because Iraq did not abide by the agreements.  End result the U.S. and its allies had a large number of military units conducting daily combat operations enforcing UN sanctions.  Here’s a list I compiled for my book, A Woman’s War, of some of our most intense times:

ž     13 & 18 Jan 1993 strikes were conducted against selected air defense targets

ž     17 Jan 1993 Navy launched 44 TLAM cruise missiles against Zaafaraniyah Nuclear related facility

ž     27 June 1993 Navy strike against Iraqi Intelligence headquarters

ž     Oct 1994 in response to threat of Iraqi troops against Kuwait CENTCOM deployed over 28,000 troops and 200 additional aircraft

ž     Sept 1996 Operation Desert Strike

ž     Launched 12 cruise missiles against surface to air missile sites and command and control facilities

ž     Dec 1998 Operation Desert Fox

ž     Aimed at installations associated with WMD and Iraq’s command and control network

ž     On first day we launched 280 cruise missiles, almost as many as was used in the entire first Gulf War

Then there is Somalia.  In their official history, United States Central Commands states:

“To prevent widespread starvation in the face of clan warfare, the command responded in 1992 with Operation Provide Relief to supply humanitarian assistance to Somalia and northeastern Kenya. CENTCOM’s Operation Restore Hope supported UNSCR 794 and a multinational Unified Task Force, which provided security until the U.N. created UNOSOM II in May 1993. In spite of some UNOSOM II success in the countryside, the situation in Mogadishu worsened, and a series of violent outbreaks ultimately led President Bill Clinton to order the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Somalia.”

The “so what” factor is an unintended consequence.  Because of  extreme poverty and weak government, and a power vacuum in the region, a number of Somalis became pirates.  That problem has resulted in a number of nations, including our own having to devote naval forces combating the problem. Other pots that boiled over in the ‘90’s was the genocide in Rwanda and lack of world response to nearly one million people being massacred in under 100 days, and the rise of cyber warfare.  Why is this important?  Because it shows once again we must be ever vigilant and try to deal with issues before they become major problems and explode.  Current examples are the territorial disputes in the Pacific between China and Japan, China and Vietnam, China and the Philippines, etc.

“Now make no mistake: our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. We must recognize, however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today’s threats, and how we should confront them.”

I found this to be one of the most significant parts of his speech.  This is particularly important in light of the huge budget cuts to the Defense budget because of sequestration.  This situation has been particularly damaging to the military’s ability to do maintenance and training.  This affects the capability of the military to surge forces in reaction to a crisis.  General Raymond Odierno, the Army’s Chief of Staff said the Army has had to cut back on 80% of its training and cancelled depot maintenance for the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year.  He warned:  “The cost of these actions is clear — we are sacrificing readiness to achieve reductions inside the short period of this fiscal year. And readiness cannot be bought back — not quickly and not cheaply.”

The end result, as has been mentioned by many senior military  leaders, is if there is a crisis the military might not be able to respond.  During his congressional testimony on Benghazi former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Congress, “…an exhaustive review of the Benghazi events has established the Defense Department responded appropriately to the attacks… there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.” (Note:  In response to the Benghazi situation, the military has deployed a force of Marines to Spain in order to be able to respond to any future crisis in Africa. ” When fully operational, the unit will be required to be airborne within six hours of receiving orders, providing the type of rapid response that the Pentagon says was not possible during the Benghazi attack”.)

Here’s the so what factor.  I would ask the President and his team,  according to your own senior military leaders sequestration has damaged military readiness.  What happens if we have to deal with a major crisis now?  The North Korean crisis appears to be winding down, what if it flares up again?  Do we have forces that are trained, manned, and able to deal with a full blown war while also dealing with wars and crises in other parts of the world?  In this era of fiscal challenges, are you proposing we design a military based on budget limitations or do we design a military based on strategy and we fund it with that process in mind?

Think I’ll end here.  More to follow on this topic in the next few days.  As always my views are my own.

Gail Harris is a Truman National Security Project Fellow. This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy Blogs.