QDR: A Strategic Gift
February 9, 2006 - 12:31pm ET
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I want to thank Donald Rumsfeld for the new Quadrennial Defense Review. This 92-page defense-planning guide depicts in no uncertain terms the Bush administration's vision for America 's future: a long, expensive war on terror culminating in a knock-down, drag-out, high-tech fight with China. That's a future that is, in fact, very likely if America does not make a significant change in direction. But it is not a future that is in any way pre-ordained. If Dems can exploit the Bush administration's fatalism, they have a major opportunity to challenge the GOP in 2008.
First a word on the future: The future is unwritten. This is driven home to many of us every time we read our 401(k) statements that say, "Past performance is no indication of future results." There are trends, certainly, but the best planners can do is offer a range of scenarios as to how events may unfold. To the extent that a trend has some kind of durable "lock-in" like, say, America 's dependence on gasoline for transportation, we can more confidently predict how things may evolve in the future. When we go beyond five years, however, prediction becomes very difficult to calculate because so much can change.
The Quadrennial Defense Review, however, goes well beyond what is knowable, to use a favorite Rumsfeld phrase. Instead, the QDR picks one particular 20-year scenario and decides this is what America must plan for: the "Long War" and conflict with China. In doing so, Rumsfeld leaves behind reason and replaces it with ideology. Rumsfeld is saying that America has no intention to prevent the escalation of terrorism or a strategic conflict with China. In effect, Rumsfeld has delivered to America a dark and self-fulfilling prophecy. Call it Rumsfeld's dialectic.
To understand just how absurd this strategic concept is, compare it to the planning of American strategy for the Cold War. Back then, we faced an oppositional ideology backed by a numerically superior military force. Our planners (great minds like Acheson, Marshall, Nitze and Kennan) saw this reality and devised a strategy for containing and reversing this existential threat that placed economic and political measures above military responses. It was an asymmetrical, long-term strategy, where the U.S. military provided a safety net in case our economic and political strategy failed. At the end of the day, the economic and political strategy worked and we never had to fight the Soviets.
Today, in contrast, the Bush administration is laying out a plan, a very expensive plan, to confront a largely economic and political threat with and extraordinary military force. Yet there is no military solution to either the war on terror or China 's economic rise. If we are to avoid Rumsfeld's dismal future, America must face these two conflicts with an economic and political strategy, that, like the Cold War strategy of containment, is rooted right here in the American economy. The Bush administration has yet to offer such a plan, and instead is doing everything it can to defend the economic order that drives these threats.
But many Democratic presidential contenders suffer from their own version of "lock-in." Should they continue along their current paths, they—and the Democratic Congressional leadership—will fail to capitalize on this fundamental strategic flaw at the heart of the administration's planning. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Evan Bayh have all staked their 2008 presidential hopes on a tactical critique of Bush's record—a critique that attempts to attack the president for being "soft" on defense. Recent criticism of Bush's Iran policy is evidence of this. Only Wes Clark has begun to make noises at the strategic level—since Clark does not need to shore up his national security credentials, as do the other Dems.
What is hobbling Democrats, though, is more than just the need to appear "tough"—forcing career politicians to prove that they have policy mastery and backbone to do national security—although that is a factor. Rather, we are also witnessing the effects of a blind spot among the Democratic national security elite in Washington.
Most policy advisers understand well the enormous "power" the United States wields. Indeed, they understand both the "hard" and the "soft" aspects to our power. But most debate focuses on how we can use that power to influence others to secure an opaque set of national interests. My experience in Washington and around the world has shown me that the real force shaping international security is not these tools of American policy so much as America's underlying set of national interests.
National interests come in three kinds: physical security, economic expansion and values promotion. With no military threats to the nation and homeland security and the intelligence community handling terrorism, most of what we spend defense money on is about securing our economic interests. Iraq and Iran matter because of the Persian Gulf energy supplies. North Korea matters because of trade relationships. China will grow into a threat as it dominates more and more of the resources and markets on which America depends.
If the United States is to really deal with the challenges we face globally, we must ultimately change our dysfunctional set of national interests—namely, our economic interests. Our hard and soft power, combined, can never overcome the slow but inexorable force of our oil-addicted, debt-dependent, climate-change inducing, ecosystem-devouring economy. If we try, the bill will quickly break that economy Bush is trying to preserve.
The energy security debate has cracked the door on this level of analysis a little bit. But on its own, energy security is not yet compelling enough to inspire the level of change necessary to put America on a sustainable, inclusive and prosperous path. Only when we look at the fullest strategic picture: energy, debt, jobs, terror, climate, ecosystem, etc., will Democratic insiders begin to understand what two-thirds of Americans already know: America is headed in the wrong direction.
Thanks, Don, for making that crystal clear.
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