Spending is the watchword in Washington today. Last night President Obama addressed the nation on his plans for reducing the deficit, and today incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he explained the effects of budgetary constraints on the military. This involves facing the reality that defense spending, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has contributed to the deficit and should play a role in fixing the shortfall. It is also the case that there are right and wrong ways to reform defense spending. Reductions must be tied to a larger strategic vision that chooses what missions and capabilities are necessary to ensure American security. A “hollow” force is a danger if reductions come thoughtlessly or without matching capabilities to foreign policy appetites. In fact, changes in defense spending under President Obama have only slowed the rate of growth in the defense budgets, but have not yet produced any actual cuts. The military does face readiness issues, which can be traced back to wars fought with inadequate support under the Bush administration.
Tomorrow’s conference at The Hague – bringing together almost one hundred countries, international and non-governmental organizations – represents an important step in implementing a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan that recognizes that American interests cannot be secured through military force alone. Afghanistan’s neighbors including Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, China and the Gulf States all have significant interests in the country. If they are not engaged to play a productive and positive role, there is little chance that Afghanistan can be stabilized.
After more than six years of strategic drift and lack of attention, the United States finally has a focused and comprehensive strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan. As President Obama explained today, “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”
President Obama’s plan to end the war keeps the promise that he made throughout the campaign to withdraw American combat forces, redefine the mission to focus on training and counterterrorism, and send a clear message to the Iraqis and the world that America’s troop presence in Iraq is coming to an end.
As the United States experiences its own peaceful transition of power, Iraq heads toward provincial elections this week – the first of several critical touchpoints over the next year. This memo takes stock of where the US stands in Iraq and identifies key challenges going forward.
Changes in military tactics can lead to short term gains, but only a comprehensive political strategy to bring Iraq’s warring factions together can lead to a permanent solution to the conflict. One year since the President announced the “surge,” it remains clear that he has no such strategy.
Two months after General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified before Congress, the President has still not articulated a clear strategy or explained why the U.S. continues to have approximately 165,000 troops in Iraq.