The United States has played a leading role in transforming the international system over the past sixty-five years. Working with like-minded nations, the United States has created a safer, more stable, and more prosperous world for the American people, our allies, and our partners around the globe than existed prior to World War II. Over the last decade, we have undertaken extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring stability to those countries and secure our interests. As we responsibly draw down from these two operations, take steps to protect our nation’’s economic vitality, and protect our interests in a world of accelerating change, we face an inflection point. This merited an assessment of the U.S. defense strategy in light of the changing geopolitical environment and our changing fiscal circumstances. This assessment reflects the President’’s strategic direction to the Department and was deeply informed by the Department’’s civilian and military leadership, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, and the Combatant Commanders. Out of the assessment we developed a defense strategy that transitions our Defense enterprise from an emphasis on today’’s wars to preparing for future challenges, protects the broad range of U.S. national security interests, advances the Department’’s efforts to rebalance and reform, and supports the national security imperative of deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending.
Emphasis is mine.
The first sentence is true, but incomplete. Actually we have again transformed the international system since 2001, advocating pre-emptive war as a coherent strategy (as long as the US is the only country that practices it). Also the financial/economic system established by the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 has been replaced by what we could refer to as our own made in the USA version of crony capitalism/global market as rigged casino that had been coming together since the mid 1990s, but has become glaringly obvious after the economic crash of 2008.
The "like-minded nations" at this point in time comes down to Israel, although they have their own goals which are not necessarily in the US interest of being achieved. One could argue that France may be a "like-minded nation", but given US "confusion" during the Libyan campaign I think that unlikely. The extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were the results of two strategically incoherent wars and both amounting to US defeats. In fact there is much the propaganda feel to the whole document and the disjunct with our recent history is so blatant at times it is difficult to take this document seriously, at least in terms of strategic coherence based on an accurate assessment of our recent history. Still I think it worthy of study in not so much what it says, but in the assumptions behind it, what it avoids and its intended audience.
Let's start with the assumptions. The first is what I bolded in the first paragraph and is the title of this post. Inflection point can be defined as:
An event that results in a significant change in the progress of a company, industry, sector, economy or geopolitical situation. An inflection point can be considered a turning point after which a dramatic change, with either positive or negative results, is expected to result. . . .
. . . Politically, an inflection point can be illustrated by the fall of the Berlin Wall or the fall of Communism in Poland and other Eastern Bloc countries.
Difficult to see what exactly the "inflection point" is today, although I would agree that 1992 was indeed one and that our strategic coherence has been going south, along with the effectiveness of our military actions, ever since that point in time. In other words there was a turning or inflection point after 1989-1992 and the result has been negative. Nothing I have read in this document shows either awareness of that basic fact, awareness of the self-defeating quality of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, nor any inclination to correct the situation to reflect the actual interests of the people of the United States. Instead what it shows is a lock-step determinism to continue with the failed policies/attitude of the past.
The second assumption is that the Al Qaida boogyman remains the main national security threat and counter-terrorism remains the first primary mission of the US Armed Forces:
The demise of Osama bin Laden and the capturing or killing of many other senior al-Qa’’ida leaders have rendered the group far less capable. However, al-Qa’’ida and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. More broadly, violent extremists will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, partners, and the homeland. The primary loci of these threats are South Asia and the Middle East. With the diffusion of destructive technology, these extremists have the potential to pose catastrophic threats that could directly affect our security and prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring the activities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establish control over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.
Interesting mix of messages associated with this assumption. First, there is the not so subtle reminder of OBL "being brought to justice". Then the extensive nature of this nebulous threat which is portrayed as being essentially existential (violent extremists . . . pose catastrophic threats that could directly affect our security and prosperity), what in strategic theory is known as an "absolute enemy". Absolute enemies are not recognized as such in Clausewitzian thought and it is rather a Leninist concept. That is the concept that the administration is using here is a totalitarian concept which has been used in the past to justify war crimes and mass murder. The last sentence refers to the use of drones or RPAs, which I have addressed in the past. The existential and absolute nature of the threat justifying not only the use of this destabilizing weapon system, but the extensive and unending dedication of resources to combat this type of threat. In fact even questioning this policy can be see as treason, since "the absolute enemy" requires by definition an "absolute" response.
There is no mention of any state connection to Al Qaida, which is interesting given what we now know about OBL's last years. This would add necessary ambiguity to understanding the actual nature of Al Qaida and the situation as a whole, and that is clearly not the intention of the present administration any more than it was that of the last.
The third assumption has to do with what we actually achieve with our current force structure/level:
U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. . .
The maintenance of peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and of U.S. influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence.
Is it true that our presence keeps the peace, or would we have an acceptable level of stability if the US Navy only had three carrier battle groups? Is it the US that keeps the free flow of commerce going, or would it be operating pretty much the same without us? Who exactly would be the source of all this disorder if we weren't there to police this huge area? What would be their possible motivation to disrupt things? Do they even possess the resources to achieve this disruption?
A clue to the answer to these questions imo is the title of this document, which is "Sustaining US Global Leadership", but it isn't really "Leadership" that we are interested in sustaining, but "Dominance". "Defense" is a reaction to a threat or actual aggression, whereas "Dominance" is a state or condition of existence. Almost all acts of aggression committed by states since 1992 have been either committed by us, like-minded Israel, or by states that we supported. We're not in the peace and stability business, we're in the coercion and war-making business and our current goal is to maintain the state of dominance which allows for that, no matter what.
The fourth assumption has to do with the Arab Spring:
n the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure to reform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that, over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and are more stable and reliable partners of the United States.
Emphasis mine. I don't see how being more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people can be equated with being more stable and reliable partners of the United States, but then if we get to decide what their legitimate aspirations are (wink,wink, nod, nod), then I guess it works. This of course brings us back to the same situation we had prior to the Arab Spring itself . . .
The fifth and last assumption I'll list has to do with NATO, but is not limited to that since the quote brings up other interesting points as well:
The United States has enduring interests in supporting peace and prosperity in Europe as well as bolstering the strength and vitality of NATO, which is critical to the security of Europe and beyond. Most European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it. Combined with the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, this has created a strategic opportunity to rebalance the U.S. military investment in Europe, moving from a focus on current conflicts toward a focus on future capabilities.
The first sentence contains an array of conflicting statements adding together to a very dubious assumption. By bolstering the strength and vitality of NATOpeace and prosperity in Europe? One could argue the opposite, that by not only maintaining and expanding NATO, not to mention a US missile shield for Europe, we are needlessly antagonizing Russia.
Europe doesn't need NATO, the US does, since without it what would be our rationale or legal basis for stationing troops, nuclear weapons and equipment in Europe? Without those bases (and Lajes as well in the Azores) we would be very hard pressed to sustain our dominance, in fact the whole war on terror would have been probably impossible, which would have been a good thing not only for Europe (would there have been the London and Madrid attacks without GWB's wars?), but for the US as well, or rather for the people of the United States.
Europe has gained nothing from NATO post 1992. The commitment of non-US NATO countries to both Iraq and Afghanistan argues for the immediate discontinuation of NATO in fact.
The final point I would like to make associated with this assumption, but actually a separate one, is that security is seen by the US government today as a commodity. The document speaks of our "Defense enterprise" and mentions European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it.
On the individual level, we purchase "security" as a commodity all the time: a new/improved lock for the front door, a can of pepper spray, a guard dog, an H&K automatic for your "personal protection" . . . Insurance also provides a form of "security". At the individual level though, "security" is a mindset buttressed by commodities, but not necessarily so. A person who trusts his or her neighbors does not feel insecure and probably will see little need for security in terms of commodities.
But we are not talking about that at the level of states. At this level, "security" is more a collective result of a whole series of material, institutional and moral/value decisions. Security = internal social stability/a durable external balance of power. Dominance could be seen as providing security, but that requires the consensus of the international community. Should the power in a state of dominance start acting erratically, or against the interests of powerful states or coalitions, then the presence of the dominance itself becomes source of instability. Also should the hegemon define its "security" has having its own way by coercing others and perceiving their ability/intention to resist as "undermining" its own security, then the hegemony is approaching delusional behavior or even systemic collapse.
By discussing these assumptions, I think both the mindset of the Nation's leadership and what they are leaving out of the equation becomes clear. My final statement on this post will be in regards to the intended audience . . .
To answer that question, let's first start with a quote:
Here we come face-to-face with the essential dilemma with which the United States has unsuccessfully wrestled since the Soviets deprived us of a stabilizing adversary - a dilemma that the events of 9/11 only served to intensify. The political elite that ought to bear the chief responsibility for crafting grand strategy instead nurses fantasies of either achieving permanent global hegemony or remaking the world in America's image. Meanwhile, the military elite that could puncture those fantasies and help restore a modicum of realism to US policy fixates on campaigns and battles, with generalship largely a business of organizing and coordinating material . . .
Reasserting a professional monopoly over the conduct of warfare requires drawing the brightest possible line between politics and war, thereby preventing civilian and military considerations from becoming entangled. Hence, the senior commander who experiences combat vicariously in the comfort of an air-conditioned headquarters nonetheless insists on styling himself a "warfighter". He does so for more than merely symbolic reasons. Assuming that identity permits him to assert prerogatives to which the officer corps now adamantly lays absolute claim.
As if by default, getting to Baghdad (or Kabul) becomes war's primary - almost its sole - purpose. The result is war undertaken in an atmosphere of astonishing strategic naiveté, leading soldiers like Franks and civilians like Feith to assume that, with a couple of quick battlefield victories, everything else will simply fall into place.
Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power, pp 187-8.
I think this quote makes it clear who the intended audience of this document is. It's our own military elite. This assures them that the political side will retain the same old goal of dominance, which we have pursued since 1992. The military will be left alone to organizing and coordinating the various operations, but there will be no actual connection between policy and military means/aim. Policy will continue as before to exist behind a curtain of propaganda and window dressing, while the military plans campaigns of destruction, but with the new promise of no actual US boots on the ground (However, US forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations), outside of special operations forces I assume. This is what Obama's "inflection point" comes down to. As others have mentioned we experienced this same sort of drawdown in the 1990s after the "Defense Panning Guidance" of 1992 had been put into effect.