President Barack Obama should use his 2011 State of the Union address to provide substantive long-range strategic direction regarding our most critical national security challenges. Otherwise America will become overwhelmed policing the globe while our security shrinks and we waste defense dollars.
Last year national security challenges were an afterthought in Obama’s State of the Union speech. Only a fifth of his speech focused on security challenges and those remarks were sandwiched between criticizing the Republican Party and a promise to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military. That lack of interest in national security explains Obama’s lackluster results.
Only three of Obama’s national security topics addressed in his 2010 speech succeeded. The lame duck Democratic majority congress repealed the military’s homosexual ban against the recommendation of most ground combatants and the advice of the service chiefs. He oversaw the withdrawal of our combat brigades from Iraq, a process President Bush put in motion. And he negotiated the Russia-favoring new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which gives the illusion of success without addressing important differences.
This time America deserves a speech that sets clear strategies and priorities to secure the nation without driving our economy deeper in the red. Here are six national security challenges which Obama should address.
First, Obama should indicate how much defense America can afford. America’s armed forces are overstretched trying to finish two wars while operating in 166 countries with thousands of fixed facilities, 1.4 million active-duty troops, thousands of aircraft and hundreds of ships. In FY11 our defense will cost $750 billion not counting other costs such as $125 billion in veterans’ programs.
Evidently Obama is pressuring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to cut defense spending. Defense cuts are appropriate in these fiscally tough times, but they must be accompanied by fewer missions which Obama must also direct and hopefully without accepting too much risk.
The Pentagon’s big ticket discretionary items are personnel and weapon systems. Obama must right-size our armed forces based on our long-term security requirements, such as whether we will need large numbers of ground forces for future troop-intensive counter-insurgencies like Afghanistan.
Weapons systems are always targets for defense savings but keeping a ready, modern force requires long-term thinking. Last year the administration ceased placing new orders for our F-22 Raptor stealth fighter because Gates saw no near-term threat. But on January 11, 2011 the Chinese introduced a stealth fighter that challenges Gates’ analysis.
Second, Obama must outline his strategy for hemispheric security threats. The 2010 Times Square bomber incident reminds us how vulnerable we are to transnational-supported terrorism. But arguably our largest hemispheric vulnerability is what Obama promised to fix in 2010 – our “broken immigration system – to secure our borders.”
Our southern border remains porous to those seeking a better life in this country but also to those who threaten our security. The level of violence in Northern Mexico, which pours across the border, is staggering – 11,000 drug-related homicides in 2010, a 70 percent increase from 2009. That violence and agents with terrorist agendas illegally cross the border to threaten our security and violate our sovereignty. It is past time our military do more to secure the entire border.
There are emerging hemispheric security issues that warrant attention. Two days’ drive down the Pan American Highway is a close Iranian ally and a rabid U.S. antagonist, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. He runs a totalitarian and militarized state with the help of Cuban intelligence agents and hosts Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah and, according to the German magazine Die Welt, Iran plans to establish a ballistic missile base in Venezuela equipped with long-range Shabab 3 missiles capable of reaching the U.S.
Third, Obama must outline a strategy to address the threat posed by Iran and North Korea. Western intelligence agencies agree Iran is pursuing atomic weapons. They conclude it is only a matter of time before Tehran’s atomic-tipped ballistic missiles threaten American economic and security interests.
Last week former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is the European Union’s Mideast envoy, said Iran poses a “looming, coming challenge” to world peace which the West must tackle by force if necessary. But for the past two years Obama’s strategy was to cajole Tehran with tough talk and sanctions to no avail.
North Korea is an aggressive rogue which twice-tested atomic devices, improving its long-range ballistic missiles and a global weapons proliferator. But so far Obama’s bait and switch strategy for dealing with Pyongyang has not worked and neither has his efforts to pressure North Korea’s mentor, communist China, to rein-in its communist partner. Must we wait for the Hermit kingdom to successfully explode an atomic bomb on Los Angeles or Seoul before getting serious?
Fourth, Obama must establish a China strategy that counters the communists’ rapidly expanding military threat. Beijing already owns a significant part of our national debt, manipulates its currency to favor Chinese companies and is growing a sophisticated, large and expeditionary military that exceeds any reasonable regional requirements. And it keeps its military intentions secret, fueling our concerns. Worse, these developments are especially disturbing when coupled with evidence that China’s next generation of military leaders are nationalistic, independent and aggressive as evidenced by escalating regional confrontations and published military views about China’s new “core interests” which claim sovereignty over disputed territories and entire seas.
Fifth, Obama’s Afghan strategy is in trouble in spite of $5.7 billion in direct war costs per month. Obama’s strategy of focusing troops on high-density populations is beginning to show promise, but other critical facets such as recruiting the Afghan government away from corruption and preparing Afghan security forces to take-over the mission by 2014 lag. But the most daunting of Obama’s war problems is with Pakistan.
Obama’s strategy will not succeed without Islamabad’s full cooperation which is doubtful because that atomic-armed country won’t do what is necessary to deny our enemies sanctuary. Besides, even though America provides billions in arms and economic aid, Pakistan is trending toward Islamist extremism as evidenced by the recent assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.
Governor Taseer was allegedly killed by a man who saw him as an apostate for opposing Pakistan’s Islamic blasphemy law. This incident, which earned widespread public support, exposes Pakistan’s rising Islamic fundamentalism that is radicalizing the nation, undermining that country’s dysfunctional national government and turning the people against America, especially the war in Afghanistan.
Finally, Obama must address the radicalization of the Arab street. This issue is far more complex than the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off, a common excuse for Arab discontent, which Obama failed to mention in his 2010 speech. Rather, the recent uprising in Tunisia illustrates the problem.
Tunisia’s unrest is blamed on anger over poverty, unemployment and repression. The growing fear is these problems are widespread across the Arab world and could lead to popular revolt among disenfranchised young populations which could overthrow their totalitarian governments in favor of radical, Islamist regimes that might host transnational terrorism.
President Obama’s most important constitutional responsibility is providing for America’s national security. That is why he must use his State of the Union address to outline strategies and priorities for at least these six security challenges and then vigorously follow-through in 2011.