The language of clear and present danger, “the _______ unlike previous aspirants for hegemony, is motivated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world”. The quote is from The National Security, by Norman Graebner, his book was published in 1986 and the subject of the quote is the Soviet Union. The actual verbiage is from the National Security Council, in its document number 68, begun in 1949 and issued in early 1950.
Fast forward to 2014 and the same statement could be made in regard to the fundamentalist jihadi movement, as epitomized by ISIS/ISIL and demonstrated by the military establishment of new “caliphates” across the Middle East, in Libya and into Yemen and Nigeria. If anything the new fundamentalist regimes are more openly brutal in their takeovers than the Communist regimes which were taking control of Russia, China and North Korea during late 40’s and early 50’s. The actual loss of life to date would shift strongly to the Communist regimes, but the jihadi caliphates are much more open about their methods and practices.
The point in the comparison is that under the administrations from Truman through Kennedy, there was an immense amount of strategic effort devoted to characterizing and coming up it both new national security practices and strategies to counter what was perceived as a global threat. There was also an immense amount of Congressional attention to that threat and a variety of legislation was passed to deal with it. As of 2014 that legislation remains largely unchanged and serves as the platform for dealing with an entirely different type of threat, one which more openly proclaims its desire to take absolute control over the rest of the world. While this is not an article in praise of the Cold War American strategies, it should at least be acknowledged that they were developed, debated and implemented with Congressional involvement.
Yet after years of a new growing threat, one which now actually claims significant geographic areas of control, there appears to be little strategic dialog. At best we see knee jerk military actions and a constantly broadening military assistance programs, including National Guard relationships with over 60 nations around the globe and a constantly expanding low visibility military capability.
As followers of this blog and readers of Shadow Warfare know, I don’t see such things as necessarily bad, more like necessary evils. What troubles me is that way back in the Cold War, the U.S. pursued its National Security strategy with vigor but was often blind to the more subtle nuances – such as the differentiation between Communist and Nationalist movements. That led us to aligning with first colonial and later military dictatorships and ultimately forced many nationalist movements towards the Communist banner and outreach to Communist nations, simply in reaction. The contemporary question is whether we would be able to come up with a more rational strategy, for instance one which could address the complex situation in major nations such as Nigeria.
Perhaps a more rational strategy is possible, perhaps not. But at the moment we seem to be strictly in knee jerk mode, with no sign of the sort of strategic thinking or debates of the Truman era – as well described in Graeber’s work. Today’s arguments and debates are over the level of National Security Council (read White House/National Security Adviser/Sec of Defense) tactical micromanagement of the military campaign against ISIS and the apparent bipolar nature of a Congress which opposes executive actions while demanding involvement in foreign military campaign but can’t even deal with a new Authorization for Military Force much less calls for a formal declaration of war called for by a potential Presidential candidate.
Bottom line, tactical decisions, authorizations for military force and even declarations of war would be best served in the context of an overall strategy to address a new threat in a new century – if somebody sees signs of such a strategy emerging, being discussed, promoted or debated, please let me know. So far I’ve missed it if that’s happening…. The best I can find is the sort of dialog in this article, which should actually be the sort of discussion we are seeing in Congress or at least within the National Security Council.