If you don’t mind heights, crossing the Newport Bridge—the longest suspension bridge in New England—offers you time to enjoy some spectacular views.
During the summer, you can see 12-meter sailboats, participants in past America’s Cup races, gliding along on a close reach. In the fall, the foliage lights up the colonial neighborhoods of Newport like the Fourth of July. Not often, but if you’re lucky, on a calm winter day you can almost see your smile reflect off the brilliant cold-silvery waters of Narragansett Bay. And you know spring is here when the harbor fills in with more and more boats anticipating the summer season ahead.
The best view of all, though, no matter what the season, is of a beautiful historic structure that brings incredible pride to my heart and commands my respect all year round. It’s the United States Naval War College.
That’s why it pains me to disagree with defense secretary Robert Gates and the Obama and Bush administrations in their handling of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (AfPak). As I’ll point out, leadership is out of touch with the boots on the ground. And America should not be in the business of rebuilding nations. For one, it’s not a long-term sustainable mission financially.
The Naval War College is part of the Department of Defense (DOD), whose $741.2-billion fiscal 2011 budget was proposed this week. $192.3 billion, or a quarter of the budget, covers combined overseas contingency operations (OCO) in Iraq and AfPak, including the $33-billion Obama surge.
Unfortunately, much of the DOD’s budget and its analysis of the way forward, as illustrated in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and Ballistic Missile Review, places too much emphasis on the wars we’re fighting now and not enough on the future threats we may face. This unfortunate way of thinking is supported by Gates, who has said, “We now recognize that America’s ability to deal with threats for years to come will depend importantly on our success in the current conflicts.”
Not far from the war college is Middletown, Rhode Island, home of Major General Michael T. Flynn. He’s the top military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, handpicked by General Stanley McChrystal. Flynn, along with Captain Matt Pottinger, USMC, and Paul D. Batchelor, DIA, wrote the most important intelligence I’ve ever read on Afghanistan, Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan.
What’s so important about this report is how it literally lays out the right counterinsurgency strategy. It unmasks the truth about how little we know about the culture within the villages and tribes we fight and then later help to support. Just one example tells of the women in a village destroying a water well we built for them in the center of their village. Turns out, walking to get their water was the only time they got to talk amongst themselves. This type of intelligence will always be recognized too late by high-level strategic planners, including the president. The order of command is backwards.
The local-level intelligence that is provided to the boots on the ground is therefore often worthless. The report states, “Some battalion S-2 officers say they acquire more information that is helpful by reading U.S. newspapers than through reviewing regional command intelligence summaries.”
In addition, there’s no accountability for the worthless intelligence since the senior intelligence community can hide behind the shield “secretiveness” provides.
The way the report was released is also important. It was not only released for the benefit of high command. It was released to the public through a think tank, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), to make sure it received the attention it deserves. It is a cry for help. There are clearly not enough troops to win with the current strategy.
Robert Gates should know our very presence in Afghanistan takes us down a road of no return. He’s an expert on the Soviet experience. The report says, “[K]illing insurgents usually serves to multiply enemies rather than subtract them…. The Soviets experienced this reality in the 1980s, when despite killing hundreds of thousands of Afghans, they faced a larger insurgency near the end of the war than they did at the beginning.”
Our mission should not be to promote prosperity around the globe when it’s not being accomplished here at home. It’s not right. Reviewing the 2010 QDR to the Council on Foreign Relations, under secretary of defense for policy Michèle Flournoy says, “America must increasingly integrate its efforts with others to help promote prosperity and security.” You will not find that language in the U.S. Constitution.
This week, Russia announced its new fifth-generation jet fighter. Of course, we cancelled our F-22 program last year and it was replaced by the excellent, though inferior, F-35. Any pilot will tell you that two engines (F-22) are better than one (F-35). An F-22 supplemented by an updated F-16 and F/A-18 fleet makes much more sense in protecting our air supremacy. And this week we learn that the F-35 is drastically behind schedule. According to Gates, “[T]he progress and performance of F-35, over the last two years, has not been what it should, as a number of key goals and benchmarks were not met.”
China put a stop to all friendly U.S. military exchange relations last weekend because of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. And last year, the Obama administration placed tariffs on China’s tire imports. Why fuel the fire?
In as little as ten years, a recent RAND study points out, we’ve lost our ability to defend Taiwan against China. “Now, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bristling with a newly acquired arsenal—including Su-27 and J-10 fighters, AA-12 and PL-12 missiles, and short-range ballistic missiles—defeats the US side. Moreover, the PLAAF defeats the US side with or without F-22s, with or without access to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, and with or without the participation of two US carrier battle groups, according to the monograph.”
Over the summer, Russia encouraged China to sell its U.S. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds and would likely take pleasure in tanking the U.S. mortgage-backed security market. What if China does decide to sell? What if other countries join it and decide they don’t want to finance our debts any longer?
As of November, China was the #1 major foreign holder of U.S. treasuries. Number four was “Oil Exporters,” a category that consists of this lovely group: Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Algeria, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria. Even though I disagree with our continued dependence on foreign oil, these rankings sort of give you a clearer view of the reason for it, don’t they? Better to keep these countries as financiers than something else. And rounding out the top eight is Russia. You can bet forcing this group to be buyers of our debt is not our birthright.
In this chilling movie trailer to 33 Minutes, the Heritage Foundation illuminates the potential devastation posed by ballistic missiles.
Our leadership is misguiding supportive and patriotic Americans. We all wish for a safer world. Yet it seems we are sacrificing the safety of our grandchildren by putting out fires in AfPak that will continue to burn long after we leave. And thanks to the president, they already have our departure date marked on their calendar.
Other risks are exponentially more important than our involvement in AfPak. It’s up to our leadership to face this reality with the clear thinking each risk requires. That’s what you deserve.
Regardless of the path we choose, though, driving by the U.S. Naval War College I’ll always have great pride in my heart and give it the respect it commands for the sacrifices it represents. My children, and I’m sure your children, will do the same.
E.J. Smith is Managing Director of Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd. an investment advisory firm managing portfolios for investors with over $1,000,000 in investable assets.