Obama's 'new' defense goals aren't new – and neither are the flaws in his strategy
The goals of Obama's new defense strategy aren't new: countering terrorism and instability in the Middle East and maintaining access in the Asia Pacific. The news is the change in how the US will accomplish those goals. Can the strategy work? I have my doubts.
Don’t get me wrong – I am pleased that the executive branch and defense establishment have developed a fresh expression of America's national defense goals and strategy from the top down, as it should be. But let’s stop calling this new guidance a “strategic pivot” or a spectacular break from the past.Skip to next paragraph
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The new strategic defense guidance, announced at a Pentagon press conference on Jan. 5 by the president, is primarily an apologia for having a smaller active-duty Army and Marine Corps and a clear declaration that America has suspended its interest in conflicts the size of Afghanistan or larger. The guidance foresees that the main areas of US interest will be the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region. In the Middle East the US will be “countering violent extremists and destabilizing threats” and in the Asia Pacific it will “maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely.”
Those goals are no different from what the US is attempting to do now. The main change is that to accomplish those goals, the US will not be sending large armed forces anywhere. “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” That’s the news.
What the guidance is really saying is that America is exhausted from the current wars and, in a twist of the old WWI song, “we won’t be back ‘til it’s over over there.”
Hotspots like Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea can rest easier for the next few years. Partners like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, and South Korea should take notice that the US is drawing inward. States that are near-peer competitors like China and Russia should be reassured by America putting its rifles in the arms room. This pronouncement may do more in support of the president’s Nobel Peace Prize than anything else he has done.
Accomplishing the same strategic goals with a smaller Army and Marine Corps is not impossible. It’s just much harder, and American leaders should adjust their expectations accordingly. But since I agree with the goals themselves, I don’t have a major objection to the substance of the new guidance. In fact, I think this new guidance document is actually a slight improvement over previous defense reviews: It cost less and was done more quickly.