With budget cuts looming, the Pentagon should focus on adaptability—not just technolgy
Adaptability, not technology, will win the wars of the future.
As the date for a long-promised drawdown in Afghanistan nears, debate is swirling. Many Democrats are urging a significant withdrawal, while most Republicans and U.S. military leaders warn that doing so will endanger recent gains. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has cautioned that the United States “shouldn’t let up on the gas too much.” “We’ve made a lot of headway,” he said during a recent visit to Afghanistan, “but we have a ways to go.” But this debate misses the point.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that President Obama, hoping to break the see-saw deadlock between rebel forces and Muammar Qaddafi’s military, had authorized the use of armed Predator drones in Libya. The Predator—technically known as the MQ-9 Reaper—is accurate and deadly; it can fly for over 40 hours and carry more than 1,000 pounds of missiles and bombs. The decision to send these drones was driven by the tactics Qaddafi’s forces have developed to circumvent NATO air strikes, namely intermingling with civilians and moving in unmarked vehicles.
From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO’s future was in question. While it had been the most successful multinational alliance in history, partnerships of that sort seldom survive once their enemies are gone. As the Berlin Wall came down and Stalin’s empire shattered, NATO’s clock was ticking. Amazingly, though, the Alliance persisted, largely by transforming itself. It staved off a challenge from a proposed European Union Defense Force, which might have supplanted it; provided an institutional framework for continued U.S.
Strategy is a strange beast. Up close—as it is unfolding—even a good strategy can appear muddled, confused, and indecisive. Its logic only becomes clear over time. President Obama’s Libya strategy demonstrates this. It has drawn howls of criticism from across the political spectrum, most of the “muddled, confused, and indecisive” variant.
When it came to foreign policy and national security, George W. Bush was a "big idea" president. Whether one agreed or disagreed with them, overarching concepts and a defined perspective on history drove his decisions. So far, Barack Obama has not been a big idea president, at least in foreign and national security policy. His instincts have been more those of a lawyer, charting a careful course through specific challenges and gravitating to a middle path which minimized risk.
Today the world's attention is riveted by the U.N. strikes on Libya and the battle for Benghazi, as that nation's future hangs precariously in the balance. But whatever happens in the coming weeks or months, one thing is clear: The chances of a drawn-out insurgency in Libya are very high. History offers a number of sign posts that an insurgency will occur. Unfortunately Libya has almost all of them. At this point the political objectives of the government and anti-government forces are irreconcilable. Each side wants total victory—either Qaddafi will retain total power or he will be gone.
The world hoped that Libya would repeat the experience of Tunisia and Egypt: a popular uprising that toppled the dictatorship fairly quickly and at modest cost, followed by an effort to begin consolidating popular governance. That now seems unlikely.
As Americans became transfixed by the violence and chaos in Libya, calls for U.S. military action arose across the political spectrum. Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, among others, advocated the creation of a no-fly zone and arming anti-government forces. Meanwhile, opponents of military action have warned that the use of force is almost never as easy, quick, or cheap as it first appears; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Central Command’s General James Mattis have noted that even establishing a no-fly zone would be difficult and dangerous.
Not so long ago, few Americans, very much including policy wonks and military officers, knew anything about Yemen. Government officials couldn’t even find it on a map, though it was right there, sprawling across the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yet over the past year or so, a flood of reports were splashed across America's front pages, cautioning that Yemen was on the verge of being transformed into the next Afghanistan—a place where Al Qaeda could live, train, even thrive and plot with impunity. On Christmas day 2009, a Yemeni trained terrorist tried to detonate a U.S.