Does anyone take serious words seriously anymore here in Washington?
News item No. 1 concerns the testimony of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 22. She said deteriorating security in nuclear-armed Pakistan "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world."
News item No. 2 is this headline on the front page of the May 4 edition of The Washington Post: "U.S. Options in Pakistan Limited."
News item No. 3 is a quote in Jackson Diehl’s May 4 column in The Washington Post from a senior Obama administration official: "It’s not good when your national security interests are dependent on a country over which you have almost no influence."
In a matter of two weeks, we have gone from witnessing the U.S. secretary of state testify to Congress that a nuclear Pakistan run by Islamist radicals would be a "mortal threat" to America to hearing the administration admit that we have limited options to avoid such a threat.
What are we to make of such a development? I and many others had previously warned of the dangers of a nuclear "Talibanistan" (which have been obvious and talked about for years). Experts I have talked to in the past week do not believe Clinton is overstating the case. Nor do I. She is very careful with her words — and they fit the danger.
If Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were to get into the hands of Taliban or al-Qaida, even unlaunched, they would provide the weapons-grade fissile materiel necessary to create a nuclear holocaust, here in the United States or elsewhere.
How did it come to be that the government of the most powerful nation in the history of humanity (with a population of 300 million-plus and a gross domestic product of about $14 trillion, which is larger than the second-, third- and fourth-largest economies — Japan, Germany and China — combined) has confessed that its options are limited regarding a "mortal threat" to it?
And what are we going to do about it? I don’t blame the Obama administration — not yet. It inherited our current national military strength. But it has been obvious for years that we are not prepared to deal with a world that refuses to behave as we either predict or prefer. And we need to start catching up with the growing contingent threats.
It was in understanding the inevitability of contingent or unexpected events to emerge that led Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, the great 19th-century Prussian field marshal and army chief of staff, famously to observe, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Thus, he believed that "war is a matter of expedients." As has been observed, "He was suspicious of rigid, inflexible, and totalizing grand strategies and theories," arguing instead for a strategy and preparations that provided for a series of plug-in points that could be shaped to meet the military challenges of the moment — as a war unfolded.
So, too, should we be prepared for world political events — or be prepared to pay the consequences. That is why when, a year ago, I was writing my most recent book, "American Grit: What It Will Take To Survive and Win in the 21st Century," I argued that we must face the reality that, given the growing threats in a rapidly morphing world, we will need a bigger military than our current all-volunteer force: "The questions that any statesman or strategist has to confront are obvious: What if our armed forces are suddenly needed to take out Iran’s nuclear program? What if Pakistan falls to the jihadists, and we need troops to secure that country’s nuclear weapons? What if China invades Taiwan? What if North Korea, in a desperate gambit, launches an attack on South Korea? What if the vast resources of the North Pole spark a military rivalry between Russian, Canada, the United States, and other countries? What if the Saudi oil fields require protection? What if we have to secure our southern border from increasingly ambitious drug cartels or civil disturbances in Mexico?"
Well, in the mere year since I wrote those words, three of those seven contingencies (Iran, Pakistan and Mexico) have gone from speculation to the daily headlines. The blood is not yet on the ground regarding them, but prudent investors would start buying coffins. And yet we plan not at all.
Our troop strength is so limited that President Obama has to move troops out of Iraq — risking turning inherited near success into possible strategic failure — in order to slightly beef up Afghanistan. Now, while perhaps we may have some time, we should be putting on a crash program to increase troop and materiel strength. With the recession, we probably could induct more volunteers than seemed possible during prosperity. But that is only a half-measure. We eventually will need more Army and Marine combat troops than will volunteer (and increased Navy and Air Force sea and airlift and fighting capacity, which we could start building now).
It should be inadmissible for the U.S. government to identify a "mortal threat" without at least offering up a plan to defeat it. Where is the plan? Where is the public clamor for a plan?