The killing of Osama bin Laden says a lot about the United States at war. It occurred almost a decade after 9/11, contradicting the notion that a democracy can’t fight a long war. It demonstrates that our presence in Afghanistan, without which the raid would have been impossible, is our main point of leverage on Pakistan. It reveals that even a reluctant commander in chief can summon the strength of will and nerve to order the assassination of a terrible enemy.
The mission says a lot about our government’s ability to carry out its most fundamental task: providing for our security. Al Qaeda has had some successes since September 11, 2001, but nothing remotely on the scale of that terrible day. Our law enforcement, domestic intelligence agencies, and even the Department of Homeland Security have been more successful than anyone would have guessed.
Our foreign intelligence efforts have been transformed. By the end of the Cold War, the CIA’s ability to conduct covert operations was a shambles. East bloc spies had penetrated its innermost circles. Our technical intelligence capabilities were unmatched—but those were focused on Soviet missiles and the Red Army. Now, if press reports are accurate, the agency can run an undetected safe house while scouting the bin Laden compound for months.
Most of all, though, last week’s mission was a snapshot of a superb military. The nearly flawless raid stands in stark contrast to the Desert One tragedy of 1980. But the leadership distinction between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama isn’t so great as some would have us believe. -Carter’s decision to go ahead with Operation Eagle Claw was as bold as any Obama had to make. And the nature of a large-scale hostage rescue attempt meant greater risk.
The big difference between 1980 and 2011 is that President Obama is blessed with an infinitely more capable set of military tools. Today’s force stands at the end of a 30-year trail of investment in recruiting, retaining, and training the best people and providing them with world-class equipment. The fighting in our long war against global terrorism has been varied and exhausting, but the force has been sharpened to the cutting-edge. The SEALs who killed bin Laden were prepared to succeed.
In Desert One, the “chances for success were very slender indeed,” recalled mission leader Col. Charles Beckwith. As Beckwith wrote in Delta Force, such a complicated operation “revealed that at this time the Armed Forces of the United States had neither the present resources nor the present capabilities to pull it off. Training was needed to accomplish unique and demanding tasks.” Operation Eagle Claw was undertaken at the nadir of the post-Vietnam years. The fledgling all-volunteer force was weak. Service leadership was dispirited. The generation of weapons that marked the Reagan build up was largely still on the drawing board. Training was little removed from the low-budget “shake and bake” approach created during World War II.
The irony, of course, is that Barack Obama—the commander in chief who owes his newfound martial reputation to a military built and maintained by his predecessors of both parties—is leading the charge to cut defense spending. His most recent proposal to eliminate $400 billion from future Pentagon budgets essentially doubles the cuts from his first two years in office. The long-term result will be a smaller, less-well-equipped, and less-well-trained force. If President Obama continues to employ the force at current rates, it will be more rapidly run down.
Congress, which has the constitutional obligation to provide for the armed forces, may well slash defense even more deeply than the administration would like. Senate Democrats are preparing a set of budget proposals, based upon the recommendation of the Bowles-Simpson commission on “fiscal reform,” to gut defense. Defense secretary Robert Gates described these spending levels as “catastrophic” for the force.
Meanwhile, the Republican party is in danger of losing its deserved reputation for being strong on defense. President Obama’s “bin Laden bounce” in the polls will fade. But if his 2012 opponent is the nominee of a quasi-isolationist, green-eyeshade GOP, Obama will be able to claim he’s the most assertive candidate for commander in chief.
Luckily, Republicans can begin to reclaim their national security credentials by sticking to the defense numbers proposed in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. Of course, until four weeks ago, these were also the Obama administration’s defense numbers. They’ve gone from being a political floor for Pentagon spending to a ceiling. And the final irony? The president’s boldness in launching the bin Laden raid is one of the best arguments against his proposed defense cuts.
On May 1, an important mission was accomplished with astonishing success. Now we must prepare for the missions to come.
Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.
(DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Molly Dzitko, U.S. Air Force)
While India’s decision not to buy an American fighter jet in its MMRCA competition is certainly disappointing for the United States (see AEI commentary here, here, and here), its repercussions may not be limited to the United States alone. In particular, New Delhi’s decision against the F-16 bodes ill for Taiwan, which has been looking to buy that fighter since 2006. Washington, unfortunately, has let the potential sale fall victim first to the unhealthy Bush-Chen relationship and then to overblown concerns for its would-be effect on the Sino-American relationship (my colleague, Gary Schmitt, nicely summed this up in an article for the Taipei Times back in February).
Unfortunately, the sale appears no closer to approval now than five years ago, when Taiwan first attempted to submit to the U.S. government a Letter of Request (which, in an unprecedented move, the Bush administration refused outright to accept). Writing for Defense News, Wendell Minnick reported last month:
Taiwan defense officials are frustrated by continued U.S. reluctance to move forward on new F-16C/Ds and an upgrade program for older F-16A/Bs. Combined, the programs add up to $10 billion in new U.S. arms deals to Taiwan, but reluctance by Washington to anger Beijing continues to stall the deal.
Yet the need, Minnick points out, is urgent:
The Taiwan Air Force has 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF), 56 Mirage 2000s, 146 F-16A/Bs and about 60 F-5E/Fs. The F-5s, largely used for training and reconnaissance, are scheduled for retirement within the next five years. The Mirage 2000s are suffering from maintenance problems and will be mothballed within the next five to 10 years.
Taiwan’s state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) is upgrading 71 IDFs with delivery expected in the 2013-14 timeframe.
Should the U.S. not release the F-16C/D fighters, Taiwan will not be able to replace the 116 fighters (F-5/Mirage) to be phased out within the next 10 years. F-16 A/B fighters and the remaining 55 IDFs that are not upgraded will also begin to lose operational capability as they age further.
What does any of this have to do with India’s MMRCA competition? A decision in favor of the F-16 and the resulting purchase of 126 aircraft would have kept the production line open for several more years. As it stands now, current orders will keep the line open only into 2013 and future sales to other countries remain uncertain. If the Obama administration continues to sit on its hands, as it seems wont to do, the F-16 line will close without a formal decision ever having been made and Taiwan will be out of luck. Taipei could look to the Europeans instead, but there are concerns about their reliability as suppliers. Taipei would likely be interested in purchasing the F-35, but given the difficulties with the F-16, JSF sales would appear to be a pipe dream.
The result? In the next 10 to 15 years, the Taiwan Air Force’s number of operationally effective fighters (including the questionable F-5s) could be reduced from nearly 400 to well under 100. For all intents and purposes, and especially when compared to the rapidly modernizing Chinese fighter fleet across the Strait, Taiwan could be without an Air Force worth speaking of in the next decade. Cross-Strait stability would suffer for it.
Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.
(DoD photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol, U.S. Air Force.)
In today’s edition of The Diplomat, I argue that perhaps North Korea and Pakistan are more similar than we think. Conceding that they have many differences, ”from the level of regime control in each state to the amount of public openness and civic dialogue,” I try to make the case that both countries have taken the United States for a diplomatic ride over the years.
In light of Osama bin Laden’s death and the increased scrutiny of U.S.-Pakistan relations, it may useful to put our troublesome relationship with Pakistan in context. Here’s my main point in the piece:
North Korea and Pakistan share a trait that they have learned by subverting years of U.S. diplomatic efforts—engagement in a cycle of misbehaviour, “engagement,” token concession-making, and foreign aid cadging that spans years and multiple administrations.
This cycle fools us into a false hope of successful diplomacy that is then consistently tempered by the disappointment of misbehavior. Two nations end up getting what they want—most specifically aid money and regime survival—we don’t achieve any diplomatic progress and then ultimately end up more frustrated than before.
I should clarify, however, that this doesn’t mean that we have to start treating Pakistan like North Korea. Considering the way we deal with North Korea, it would only make the U.S.-Pakistan relationship worse. And there’s no reason to isolate Pakistan from the international community. Rather, my point that the United States needs to understand is that diplomatic engagement without rigorous demands for results is a waste of time.
(flickr/user Borut Peterlin)
This afternoon, CDS contributor Gary Schmitt testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee‘s Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia. In the hearing, Schmitt discussed European counterterrorism methods and practices and compared them to American ones:
European laws and practices are not any less aggressive than those found in the United States. Indeed, in a number of instances, they are more forward leaning in their respective approaches to the jihadist threat. And while for reasons of history, constitutions, and the nature of the threat in each country, there are differences in how each of these democracies goes about protecting its citizens, one broad point stands out: just how much the U.S. and its allies are in the business of “preemption.”
Read the rest of the testimony here. And, for even more on Euro-American counterterrism issues, see Schmitt’s 2010 book, Safety, Liberty and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism.
(flickr/user Isa Santi e Barbi)
See House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon on President Obama’s defense cuts below. To learn more about the imperative of sustaining defense spending, see the Defending Defense project.
Since the announcement, late Sunday night, of Osama bin Laden’s death, increasing amounts of scrutiny have been put on Pakistan, and rightly so. It’s impossible to imagine a situation where the world’s most wanted terrorist could live in a walled compound in a city of about 500,000 people that’s also home to the Pakistani military academy without any officials knowing about him. As Steve Coll has observed, it in fact appears as if bin Laden was being effectively housed under state control in what another observer has called “protected luxury.”
If there wasn’t already enough damning evidence against Pakistan’s complicity with radical Islamic terrorists, Osama’s death should seal the case shut. Yet leader after leader in Pakistan had vehemently denied that their country harbored the terrorist. It’s hard to tell whether this is the result of ignorance or duplicity. Regardless, it should force us to question the United States’ ability to continue its multi-billion dollar relationship with Pakistan under its current terms.
In addition to Osama bin Laden, Pakistan has now either served as a refuge or training ground for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and countless other international terrorists. It’s likely that al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Taliban chief Mullah Omar are also ensconced in Pakistan.
Pakistan is suffering from a deep, existential crisis that can be traced back more than 100 years, to when the first ideas of a separate Islamic state in South Asia first emerged. The schizophrenia evident in the country today is a consequence of this identity crisis, and it isn’t something that can be easily resolved through increased aid. In fact, if anything, the United States’ awkward relationship with Pakistan—a frenemy approach of rebukes and concessions—propagates the illness.
There is a military-jihadi complex in Pakistan in which each institution needs the other to survive. Furthermore, both the military and jihadists can operate without the help of the civilian government. Thus what the United States hears from President Asif Ali Zardari or Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is likely not the whole truth about Pakistan’s intentions and motives.
It was President Obama himself who declared several months ago that the “cancer of terrorism” was in Pakistan. Whether he knew at that time about Osama bin Laden’s presence in the country or not, his remark was quite sentient. Nevertheless, killing the world’s most-wanted terrorist will not be enough to fundamentally change the nature of the battle against terrorism or eradicate the cancer from Pakistan. That will only be possible once Pakistan itself decides to fundamentally change the way it governs itself and pursues its national interest.
For more on how Pakistan’s history can help explain its crisis today, see my latest essay in the May/June issue of World Affairs.
(Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen)
The Yale faculty votes today on a committee’s recommendation that the school again recognize ROTC. Assuming a successful outcome – which seems likely – Yale will join Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford in rescinding its Vietnam-era ban on the program.
However, the ROTC homecoming is not complete. Even as elite schools reestablish ties, the ROTC program has largely lost its “national” character, becoming increasingly Southern and rural. Its critical civic function – ensuring that the officer corps reflects the nation as a whole – has been forgotten.
Nowhere is this clearer than in New York City, America’s largest and most diverse metropolis. For the past twenty years, New York has been served by just four ROTC programs within its five boroughs—programs that are insufficiently resourced and not centrally located. In a report for the AEI Program on American Citizenship, I consider the consequences of this neglect not only for the city and its students (many of whom are eager to serve), but for military effectiveness and the health of civil-military relations, more generally.
The young men and women of New York City represent a huge untapped pool of talent that could help the military meet the challenges of the post-9/11 security environment. However, expanding the ROTC footprint would have a more significant impact than just improving military effectiveness. An essential aspect of a healthy citizenry, especially in a republic such as ours, is the will and capacity to perform some form of public service—with none being more fundamental than that of putting one’s life on the line as a member of the armed forces. With an all-volunteer force whose members are increasingly drawn from a narrower segment of the American public, that choice is no longer fully available to the whole country, making it less likely that the public can truly appreciate the sacrifices made by those who do serve. These are trend lines that can, and should, be reversed. Reversing the downward turn of ROTC programs in New York City would be an important first step.
(DoD photo by Cherie Cullen)
What conservative would make such a hubristic statement in the Tea Party, deficit-slashing, small government environment of 2011? An in-the-bunker apologist for George Bush? An unreconstructed neocon warmonger?
No. It’s from Martin Feldstein, professor of economics at Harvard, president emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and once Ronald Reagan’s chief economic adviser. A conservative and economist of impeccable credentials cannot be imagined, a man of habits arguably more “paleo” than “neo.”
The quotation is taken from his Irving Kristol Award lecture, delivered at AEI’s annual dinner last night. The focus of the lecture was China, but Feldstein’s real topic was America and its international and domestic political and economic future. With his unique ability to extract clarity from complexity, Feldstein made an overwhelmingly persuasive case for America’s ability to continue to lead the world. One passage, in particular, should be broadcast hourly in the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon:
There are also those who say we cannot afford to be the global policeman. But should we really be deterred from that role when the cost of our entire military budget–including the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan–is now less than 5 percent of our GDP? There is no danger of bankrupting ourselves by so-called “imperial overreach” when we spend less than 5 percent of GDP on defense. And while there is no doubt waste in military budgets and military procurement, that is unfortunately inherent in the congressional appropriation process. Cutting the defense budget would reduce our military capabilities rather than just removing waste.
He wondered, too, whether we would be comfortable with a Scrooge-like grand strategy “limited to protecting our trade, our foreign investments, and our access to oil?” Feldstein’s economics are no “dismal science,” but rather informed by our deepest political principles. The strategic question he posed was, “As the only democratic superpower with the ability to defend and to punish, do we not have a moral obligation to be willing to use that power?”
CDS Contributor Gary Schmitt will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia this afternoon at 2:30 PM. The hearing will provide a broad overview of security issues in these regions. To view the livestream video of today’s hearing, click here. To learn more about Dr. Schmitt’s recent work on Euro-American affairs, see his 2010 book Safety, Security and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Counterterrorism.
Defending Defense member the Heritage Foundation will be hosting Chairman Buck McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee this morning at 10:30 AM. With the killing of Osama bin Laden this past Sunday and ongoing debate about defense spending, this will be a timely and informative event. To learn more about the event and to view the webcast, click here.