Wednesday, April 27, 2011

National Security: From Containment to Sustainment

The United States is in a pivotal era, as we grapple with the close of a century in which our dominance of the planet -- whether seen as a good thing or not -- could be taken for granted. We continue to consume, pollute, and buy weapons out of all proportion to our population. Indications are mounting, though, that our position in the world is changing fundamentally. Somewhere between elation that undeserved dominance is ending and panic that this means the end of prosperity and security, a middle path must be found in which we adjust to some new realities.

In the tradition of George Kennan's "Mr. X" Long Telegram of 1964, two Pentagon officers have released a National Strategic Narrative under the name Mr. Y. I first learned of their report from Tom Ashbrook's On Point broadcast. Several cogent remarks from the report illustrate why I consider this a very important and timely document. Writing as private individuals but clearly with the support of senior Pentagon officials, the authors are telling simple truths that many in both parties have resisted.

A sampling illustrates:

Dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy. (p4)
Without our values, America has no credibility. (p6)
Perhaps the most important first step we can take, as part of a National Strategy, is to identify which of these resources are renewable and sustainable, and which are finite and diminishing.  (p7)
We can no longer expect the ingenuity and labor of past generations to sustain our growth as a nation for generations to come. (p7)

This last claim is rightly made, I believe, in the context of investing in the most valuable of our renewable resources: our youth. The authors go beyond the usual platitudes about the importance of education, to promote a new attitude toward it, and toward the value of work itself.

John Norris wrote in his introduction of the Mr. Y piece for Foreign Policy (emphasis mine):
Yet, it is investments in America's long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?
 Norris also highlights the report's finding that Americans have over-reacted to Islamist extremism. He and the authors are absolutely correct: the 9/11/01 terrorists knew exactly which buttons to push, and in many ways our country reacted exactly as they hoped. As the report authors write -- and remember, these are a Navy Captain and a Marine Colonel -- they have turned the United States into a paranoid country.

We have squandered the global sympathy that the 2001 attacks inspired (see my Managua memorial photos for an example), but there is time to re-enter the community of nations as a responsible participant. The authors continue:
We are, in the truest sense, part of an interdependent strategic ecosystem, and our interests converge with those of people in virtually every corner of the world.   We must remain cognizant of this, and reconcile our domestic and foreign policies as being complementary and largely congruent. (p9)

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