In the middle of March, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard published a revised version of their 2007 paper, A Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century. The 2007 edition reflected the strong influence of 9/11, U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the global campaign against Islamist jihadis. It suggested broadening the reach of U.S. seapower by cooperating with other navies; helping littoral states that might fail by providing them with military training; and bolstering such traditional naval missions as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Strikingly, the word “China” did not appear in the 2007 document. Unmentioned also was what kind of forces American seapower would need and how much they would cost. The same paper was silent about which large roles mattered most to national security and specifically to America’s sea services. Its descriptions of the important elements of naval power outpaced both prescriptions for what to do with it and the choices—about where to invest money and time for example—that good strategy demands.
The sea services’ March 2015 strategic paper is an improvement over its predecessor. It acknowledges—albeit gently—that China presents the U.S. with “challenges.” It notes that Russia’s military modernization, seizure of Crimea, and slow motion invasion of eastern Ukraine raise serious questions about European security. The paper’s discussion of increased maritime activity in the Arctic is more timely that its authors could have known: Three days after the revised strategic paper was published, Vladimir Putin ordered an impressively large snap military exercise in the Artic featuring 41 warships and 15 submarines.
The revised strategic paper also mentions ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terror groups.
Additional useful contributions of the just-published revision include a list of naval competencies that explain what, precisely, seapower accomplishes. Emphases on cyber warfare and on perfecting commanders’ knowledge of surrounding threats are additional healthy signs that the sea services’ leaders are leading. Other improvements over the 2007 maritime strategy include the desired number and type of ships; the old version omitted this fundamental element of strategy.
But the revised strategy is less clear about what to do with whatever ships it actually possesses in the face of multiplying threats. In this, it does the sea services no favors. Are the U.S.’s interest in stability from the Black Sea through the Eastern Mediterranean into the Persian Gulf strategically connected, and, if so, can American seapower coordinate its efforts in this large arc? The revised strategy explains the importance of forward presence. The forward presence of U.S. naval and amphibious forces in the West Pacific is essential to any hope of honoring our treaty obligations with several Asian states, and to convincing China that force will not achieve its goals. But is that it? Forward presence is not a strategy.
Strategy is supposed not only to set broad national goals but also to decide how to achieve them. If sequestration and defense budget cuts continue, where will the money come from to replace aging ships? Surely that’s needed to, for example, secure the flow of oil from the Middle East now that Iran sits astride the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz and—through its Houthis proxies—the mouth of the Red Sea. Also left unanswered is this: As Russia and ISIS seek territorial expansion, does seapower have a strategic role in affecting events on land today, and if so, what is it?
Talk of “strategy” is abundant these days. Amazon.com offers dozens of books on national security, military, and business strategies. There are dozens more available on the history of strategy, strategic thinking, strategic management, and strategic leadership. President Obama offers the administration’s strategy for addressing ISIS and Republicans say that it is either not a strategy or—pointing to the terror organization’s progress—that it is a strategic failure. The Obama administration’s public strategic documents, like those of most administrations that preceded it, are long on desiderata, short on how to achieve them, and shorter still on the military and financial details that ought to accompany any large plan. Jawboning leaves the impression that strategy is like the weather, a subject of talk only. This is wrong.
With the World Series opening tonight in Kansas City, the Giants are no doubt feeling their oats. They’re coming off of a three-homerun performance in their game five win over the St. Louis Cardinals, which landed them their third World Series appearance in five years. However, the Giants should be wary, for power is a fickle friend.
President Obama just announced that he is bringing a counter-terrorism strategy to an insurgency fight. He was at pains to repeat the phrase “counter-terror” four times in a short speech. Noting that ISIL is not a state (partly because the international community thankfully does not recognize it), he declared, “ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.” Neither of those sentences, unfortunately, is true.
On Wednesday, the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, President Obama will speak to the American people about his strategy for dealing with the rise of the Islamic State, the would-be caliphate bestriding Iraq and Syria, the most palpable and present threat to the region since Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and, later, Kuwait.
Speaking earlier this morning in Estonia, President Obama addressed dealing with ISIS. He talked of making ISIS a "manageable problem" if the "international community" comes together:
"We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISILl's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem," said Obama.
"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” President Obama told the American Legion’s annual convention in Charlotte on Tuesday, August 26. He repeated the thought in his pre-Labor Day weekend press conference on August 28. A week before, the day after the murder of James Foley, Obama had remarked, “From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.”
Vice President Joe Biden told a reporter today that the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the ISIS will not alter the approach to the terror group. An "AP reporter asked if Foley's beheading changed the U.S. approach to ISIS," the White House pool report reads. "Biden said no, but it shines a spotlight on the horrors going on in that part of the world."
In March 1975, with the United States in post-Watergate disarray at home, stunned by repeated diplomatic defeats at the United Nations, and about to suffer the humiliation of seeing an ally at whose side we had fought for many years be overrun by the North Vietnamese Communist Army, Daniel Patrick Moynihan asked: “What then does the United States do?”
Early Friday morning, September 14, a movie-loving and Romney-supporting friend emailed: “I’m starting to panic. Tell me not to.”
I sent back the obvious response, citing the great Aladdin: “Abu, this is no time to panic. . . . Start panicking!”
A little panic never hurts a trailing campaign. Panic can be your friend—if it leads to a few basic adjustments. And with a few basic adjustments, Mitt Romney can win the presidency—without the help of a magic lamp or a genie.
Barack Obama adviser David Plouffe gave a statement to the press to say that his boss would leave the convention with "momentum" but that that the campaign is expecting "the race is going to be about where it was" before the conventions. Plouffe predicts that this "a problem for Mitt Romney."