2010 Matters for Our National Security
Although war and peace issues haven’t been the centerpiece of this year’s election season, Tuesday’s results will be felt around the world.
The Obama Administration has taken on some of the greatest challenges facing our nation. Two years ago, the president came to office with the intention to restore integrity to America’s presence in the world. His speeches–both abroad and at home–hit the high notes of change. First, that our values make us stronger. Second, that we must modernize our presence in the world.
Some of the administration’s first years deserve critical attention: reversals on civil liberties at home and drone strikes abroad are two examples. But these issues shouldn’t detract from the “Eyes on the Prize” argument that Obama has set out for us. He is absolutely on the right track when he notes that, in today’s world, we must focus on building credible influence and that our permanent preparation for fighting the last century’s wars (the Cold War) is making us less secure.
Why this is a critical security election
The reason tomorrow’s elections are so important is that Congress stands in the way of this vision. If conservatives win, it will become even more difficult to realize a modern American presence in the world.
Today’s threats require more software, less hardware. Criminal networks, contagious ideology, disease and erratic weather are not problems that will be solved by conventional weapons platforms. They require instead the deployment of skilled and knowledgeable personnel and strategies of prevention and adaptation. Today’s threats come from weak states where violent anarchy prevails, not solid states that play by the rules.
Passing a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia is a no-brainer. The START treaty may well be voted on in the Senate in November. If it gets held up or fails, it will be due to right-wing intransigence and a generic opposition to all global cooperative efforts. This Ronald Reagan inspired treaty should coast to passage. Instead, unreasonable voices in the next Congress may weaken our position in the world by failing to affirm our own set of rules. We need the boost of START passage if we want to be credible partners for our terrorism-fighting allies in Europe and elsewhere. The recent interception of airplane-bombs from Yemen came from a smart and committed international network using intelligence and police techniques. This is where our secure future lies. The more we are waylaid by out-of-touch elected leaders, the more our security suffers.
Dangerous breed of conservatives
Today’s conservatives are a new breed. They are not traditional in the sense that they do not seem interested in conserving much of anything, particularly if it involves the US Government. They claim to love the Constitution, but skip the part about providing for the general welfare. Instead, they tend to focus on defense as one of the only legitimate uses for federal dollars. If right-wing voices dominate Congress over the next two years, you can expect that the progressive reforms of the defense budget will be scrapped. (this will be just fine for the defense corporations that are also funding right wing candidates and “experts” to make their case).
The current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has vocally criticized today’s defense priorities. He has consistently called for Congress to stop fighting the last century’s wars against enemies that no longer exist and, instead, turn our attention to the modern era. Most importantly, he is a significant advocate for increasing American non-military assets for national security. These are credibility enhancing policies—like economic aid, technical assistance and diplomacy. The Defense Department’s lessons are not theoretical. They are the sober result of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than any other federal entity, the armed services know through experience that today’s threats have no military solution and mostly cannot be fixed in a uniform and carrying a gun. If the right wins tomorrow, look for these military insights to be ignored and for our credibility enhancing security assets to be put on the chopping block.
Ideally, the US Congress should act as the intermediary between the Executive Branch and the public. It has fallen down badly in this part of its job. Globally conscious Members of Congress do exist, however. Part of our challenge is identifying them early and supporting them outside of the normal institutional structure. Congress is an antique. Its lens on the world is stuck somewhere between 1940 and 1980. Moreover, the communications revolution is just now hitting Congress. At the same time, technology enabled participation is transforming societies across the world. From Cairo to Chicago, the DNA of self-governance is changing. Social media and the communications explosion are hugely important, but they alone will not fix institutional failures. New relationships need to be created and maintained. In politics, relationships will leverage technology, not the other way around.
Millennials, show your stuff!
Our challenge today is a good one for twenty-something millennials: you play well with others, are tech savvy and you want to change the world. November 2, you must show the rest of us that teams perform better than solo acts. That a common good does exist and that you expect Congress to provide for it. The next two years are critical. The President has put out a vision, now the rest of us need to put some legs underneath it. But first things first. Vote!
by jmuhles.jpg via flickr/creativecommons
by Lorelei Kelly, Care2 Blogger