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Nov 21 2013
HASC Seapower Chairman pens op-ed with Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, a former USAF B-1 pilot
Prioritize the Long-Range Strike Mission
By Reps. Randy Forbes and Chris Stewart
The National Interest
Read full article here
One of the fundamental elements of American military power that gives our national defense strategy a truly global reach is our ability to project power at long-distances. Along with aircraft carriers, our long-range bomber fleet provides one of the Nation's premier power-projection capabilities. Whether nuclear-capable B-52s performing strategic deterrence during the long years of the Cold War, B-1s dropping munitions over Baghdad in the first hours of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or stealthy B-2s flying exercises over the Korean Peninsula to signal American resolve during a crisis, our Air Force bomber fleet serves as one of the most flexible and lethal tools in the United States' kit.
But as the second decade of the twenty-first century unfolds, the United States has allowed its long-range strike advantage to atrophy. The resulting capability gap is the result of two trends. First, while seeking a "peace dividend" in the aftermath of the Cold War, the Defense Department effectively ceased investing in new long-range strike capabilities. DoD compounded the problem by making a conscious decision to invest more heavily in short-range fighters at the expense of developing new long-range strike systems, a decision that is not without its risks. Second, the demands of fighting irregular wars over the past decade left few resources available for new, high-end bomber investments.
The atrophy of the Air Force's bomber fleet mirrors the service's overall decline to the smallest number of aircraft in its history. The bombers that remain today are rapidly aging, with many now considerably older than the crews who man them. The average age of a B-52 is fifty-two years, our B-1s average twenty-eight years, and our B-2s twenty years. Under current Air Force plans, some B-52s will receive modernization packages to extend their service lives past 2040 and modernized B-2s are scheduled to remain in service until 2058. While the twenty B-2s in our inventory will continue to make vital contributions to the Air Force's long-range strike mission in contested environments, there is clearly a need for new aircraft with new capabilities in the service's inventory to meet the demands of the coming decades.
Indeed, a series of developments in recent years have made long-range strike capabilities even more critical.
* The military competitors the U.S. could face in the future—including both Iran and the People's Republic of China (PRC)—enjoy a level of geographic strategic depth that the U.S. has not had to contend with since the end of the Cold War. Countering this challenge demands not just more range but also more persistence for manned aircraft to remain in enemy airspace to find and attack targets.
* In the future, the U.S. will have to contend with a more mobile set of targets (including ballistic missile launchers) as well as hardened and/or deeply buried facilities. This is a challenge that cannot be addressed sufficiently with standoff weapons alone and will require stealthy, long-range strike platforms.
* For diplomatic, economic, and strategic reasons, military planners cannot assume regional bases will be available for aerial refueling tankers and short-range fighters to operate from in the future. Indeed, we have encountered such limiting factors in previous operations. And should the U.S. gain access, the PRC and Iran are developing or acquiring a range of ballistic missiles, land-based aircraft, land-attack cruise missiles, and, in the case of Iran, terrorist proxy groups they can employ to target U.S. assets and regional facilities.
* Finally, the PRC and Iran have developed, or are trying to acquire, air-defense systems that, along with the strategic depth these countries enjoy, could render it prohibitive for nonstealthy aircraft and standoff weapons to penetrate their airspace and loiter over the target area. Holding mobile, hardened or deeply buried targets at risk inside sophisticated air-defense networks, therefore, will require long-range strike platforms with all-aspect, broadband low-observable characteristics.
The Air Force's answer to this set of strategic dilemmas is the Long Range Strike-Bomber, or LRS-B, which is intended to serve as the principal conventional and nuclear-capable bomber for the remainder of the century. This platform aims to fulfill the Air Force's need for a long-range strike aircraft with the speed, stealth, range and payload capacity needed to operate in antiaccess/area denial environments. Successfully integrating LRS-B into the Air Force inventory will be critical for deterring aggression and supporting allies in places like the Western Pacific and Middle East.
Unfortunately, the Air Force is still years away from operationally fielding the LRS-B. Currently, the service doesn't expect to begin flight-testing until the mid-2020s and full operational employment for some time thereafter. The service is also planning for a total of between eighty and one hundred LRS-Bs, considerably less than the nearly 160 bombers currently in service. While some modernization of existing bombers can help bridge the gap, the United States is poised to face a significant shortfall in long-range strike capabilities for the next two decades, making it all the more critical to keep this program on track.
The Navy also has an opportunity to develop a next-generation platform that could greatly extend the offensive power of its carrier air wings. The Navy is well along in proving the feasibility of this concept in the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration program. To be effective in emerging threat environments in the Western Pacific and other regions, a future carrier-based unmanned combat air system must be stealthy, capable of automated aerial refueling, and have integrated surveillance and strike functionality. In contrast, developing a new carrier-based unmanned aircraft that is primarily another flying sensor would be a missed opportunity.
Going forward, it is imperative that Congress clearly articulate to the Department of Defense its support for robust long-range strike capabilities. There is little time to waste in bringing the Air Force's bomber force and the Navy's carrier air wings into the twenty-first century to preserve our nation's long-range strike advantage.
Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) is Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) is a former Air Force B-1 bomber pilot.
|Waging War on a Shoestring
By Thom Shanker
Read The Full Story Here
SIMI VALLEY, Ca. – The four-star commander of all Air Force combat jets earned an audible gasp from the audience of national security specialists with his disclosure about American vulnerabilities brought on by the spending stalemate back in Washington.
Over the summer, the Air Force grounded its combat squadrons as Congress and the White House argued over the budget, and money ran out for flying hours… Things got so bad that on one particular day, July 17, the entire Air Force had only eight warplanes ready and available beyond those already committed to critical missions. Had there been an unexpected crisis at home or anywhere else around the world, that’s all – eight jets – that could have been scrambled in emergency response… The nation “dodged a bullet,” Gen. Gilmary Michael Hostage III, the Air Combat Command commander, said. That theme of self-inflicted wounds to military readiness animated a conference on security challenges this weekend at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library here.
… [T]he lack of a federal budget has hamstrung the Defense Department’s ability to carry out missions across the world. That fact, combined with the wide array of threats posed by adversary nations and terrorists have created a national security challenge “as complex as any ever facing the nation,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former Pentagon under secretary for policy.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered a direct appeal to lift sequestration, just one month before the next deadline for budget negotiators. The Army, Mr. Hagel said, has just two of its 43 active-brigades ready and available for major combat operations. The Navy’s global presence is down 10 percent. And Marine Corps units, other than those preparing for duty in Afghanistan, are getting 30 percent less funding.
On the question of reduced readiness, General Dempsey said the military would respond to any challenge and march off to any order from the president. “The ‘Fight Tonight’ forces will remain ready,” he said. “But we’ll have less depth.”
The loss of depth in the combat ranks means that any conflict fought under current budget constraints would be longer and riskier – and would entail more casualties, General Dempsey warned. And he rejected those who predict the nation will not face off against a major adversary in the foreseeable future, saying that the United States has, throughout history, never accurately predicted the next war.
The military may be forced by budget cuts to “do less,” General Dempsey said. “But we can’t do it less well.” He said the nation owed its troops sufficient money to remain an overwhelming effective fighting force to outgun any adversary. “We must never accept a fair fight,” he said.
The sequester cuts, he said, are forcing the Pentagon to “accrue greater risk and consume readiness” at the exact time the military needs to be rekindling a broad array of combat skills after a decade focused solely on the counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said a downward budget had done more than injure the military’s “premium on readiness.” He said it had increased a requirement to define America’s role in the world.
“Do we want to be able to shape the environment, or do we want to be prepared to react to it?” asked Mr. Reed, a West Point graduate who served in the Army Rangers. “Can we afford to shape the world – or can we afford not to?”
Nov 19 2013
Thornberry Unveils Agenda for Durable Defense Reform
A Focused Defense Reform Effort “…There are still plenty of inadequacies in defense acquisitions, lawmakers have found. These vexing issues might not warrant another major piece of legislation but are serious enough to justify a fresh probe by the House Armed Services Committee. The panel is about to take a two-year deep dive into the Pentagon’s troubled procurement process. "Chairman McKeon and I have been talking about a focused defense reform effort for some time,” said House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-TX. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., wants to focus on acquisition reform, organizational bloat and the security clearance process.”
-National Defense Magazine, 11/18/13
Watch Thornberry’s Speech Here:
“What we’ve done so far has not worked out so well,” said the understated Texan. “We’re not going to make things better by piling on new mandates, new oversight offices, new micromanagement.” Instead, Thornberry wants to sit down with the Defense Department and defense contractors to winnow through the accumulated regulations “line by line,” he said: “go through, thin those out, and try to simplify and rationalize." The effort requires an equally hard look at legislation, Thornberry made clear. “Yes absolutely, Congress has contributed to this problem over the years, to a substantial extent,” he said. “So as we go through the regulations that come from the Department, we absolutely go through the statutes and reporting requirements and briefing requirements that Congress imposes as well, and we need to thin it all out... We contribute to the problem,” Thornberry said. - Breaking Defense, 11/18/13
“We Have To Do Better”: "There is a lot at stake, and . . . we have to do better," both inside the Pentagon and within the halls of Congress, Thornberry said. - The Hill, 11/18/13
“More Defense For The Dollar”: "Because of the challenge of confronting “a dangerous, complicated world with limited resources,” Thornberry said, “we need to get more defense for the dollar..." Illustrating the size of the problem, Thornberry noted that the military last year spent $360 billion on contracts, which is 10 percent of the total federal budget and half of defense spending. The system also needs to allow faster development of new weapon systems, he said, contrasting the decades it can take the military to field a weapon to the two years in which an auto maker can turn out a new vehicle and the months the computer industry requires. In light of the past failures in acquisition reform, Thornberry said Congress would need to dig deeper, to address the root causes of the waste and delay, not just address the symptoms.” - Seapower Magazine, 11/18/13
Nov 19 2013
National Security Forum Draws Defense Heavyweight
"Whether it’s Congress imposing too many regulations on the Pentagon, whether it’s the Pentagon imposing too many requirements on industry, or whether it’s industry imposing too much cost on Congress – this downward spiral must stop and stop now."
Forum Draws Defense Department Heavyweights, Santa Clarita Valley Signal, by Luke Money
McKeon, who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the nation’s military for the House of Representatives, has regularly criticized the sequester, saying it would have a disastrous impact on defense.
Dempsey said the impacts of sequestration would be felt more fully in the future, as years of cuts could erode the depth of the nation’s military manpower and reduce needed resources.
“Now we do have peace through strength today, but we may not have it tomorrow,” he said.
“The U.S. military's top commanders, groping for ways to cope with a shrinking Pentagon budget, have agreed to a plan that would curb the growth of pay and benefits for housing, education and health …"What we have asked these young men and women to do over the last 10 years, we can't pay them enough," Gen. Dempsey said during a conference at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. "Having said that, we also have an institution to manage."… Previous efforts to curb benefits have met stiff opposition from veterans groups and lawmakers. Gen. Dempsey said the military's previous efforts to change compensation were flawed because they were one-year fixes. The new approach would offer a multiyear plan to slow the growth of military compensation.”
"So the message here at the Reagan Presidential Library was many Democrats joining with pro-defense Republicans in being very skeptical of any nuclear agreement with Iran" - Barbara Starr
WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke on the dire condition of military readiness at the Reagan National Defense Forum Saturday in Simi Valley, CA. Selected excerpts from Sec. Hagel’s speech below spotlight specific and serious vulnerabilities to American national security caused by significant defense cuts made since 2011.
Building on themes discussed at the Reagan National Defense Forum, Rep. Rob Wittman will be speaking at a Foreign Policy Initiative meeting this week on "The Impact of Defense Cuts on Military Readiness" Thursday, November 21 from 12:30 - 1:30 PM in 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building. Along with other distinguished guests, Chairman Wittman will brief Congressional staff on the readiness challenges the military faces today.
Read the full remarks
“…While our people today are strong and resilient after 12 years of war, they are under tremendous stress from years of repeated deployments, and so are the institutions that support them, train them, and equip them. As you all know, the department is currently facing sequester-level cuts on the order of $500 billion over the next 10 years. This is in addition – in addition – to the 10-year $487 billion reduction in DoD's budget that is already underway. That means we are looking at nearly $1 trillion in DoD cuts over this 10-year period, unless there is a new budget agreement.
“Consider that since sequestration began, just a couple of examples.
• The Navy's average global presence is now down more than 10 percent, with particularly sharp reductions in regions like South America.
• The Army has had to cancel final training rotations for seven brigade combat teams. That's more than 15 percent of the entire force, and it now has just two of the 43 active-duty brigade combat teams fully ready and available to execute a major combat operation.
• Air Force units lost 25 percent of the annual training events that keep them qualified for their assigned missions, and
• Marine Corps units not going to Afghanistan are getting 30 percent less funding just as the service is facing more demands for more embassy security and more Marines around the world.
“These are all current readiness realities, and they have all occurred since the imposition of sequestration in March. But the effects will be felt for a long period of time to come. By continuing to cancel training for non-deploying personnel, we will create a backlog of training requirements that could take years to recover from. And inevitably, we are shrinking the size of the force that is ready and available to meet new contingencies or respond to crises across the globe.
“That is not the military that our men and women signed up to be part of. They signed up to be a part of a team that trains, deploys and protects their country. We need to give them the opportunities and the resources they require to successfully accomplish the mission. We must not revisit the mistakes of the 1970s.”
Nov 14 2013
Classified House-wide Briefing TODAY
By Briget Johnson, PJ Media
House Republicans are launching a Military Readiness Task Force in an attempt to battle President Obama’s defense cuts.The task force within the conservative Republican Study Committee will be chaired by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.).
“The RSC has always stood up for a strong national defense, and we are focused on the threats posed by President Obama’s refusal to address the long-term spending crisis that is jeopardizing the readiness of America’s Armed Forces and the security of our nation,” RSC Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) said. “As fiscal conservatives, we have worked to prioritize a strong national defense by shifting sequestration cuts to other parts of the discretionary budget in order to maintain a high level of military readiness.
Wittman, who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee, “has the expertise, the respect, and the first-hand knowledge” for the task at hand, Scalise said. “I appreciate his passion and leadership at this critical time in America’s history.”
Wittman said he was happy that the caucus of conservatives “has honed its focus on this critical issue as we enter the final phase of discussions on the fiscal footprint for 2014.”
“Members of the RSC have an important role in these discussions and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help educate my colleagues and the nation on the impacts on our national security as our military is continually squeezed during these tight budget times,” he said.
“Our debt and deficit present a national security threat, but how we trim those back is an important conversation. Our military readiness is suffering under the indiscriminate cuts of the sequester. Congress must do everything in its power to mitigate those effects and ensure our men and women of the military are trained and equipped with the tools they need to keep themselves and our country safe.”
By FPI Executive Director Christopher J. Griffin
Tomorrow’s session should be of particular value because it will examine the interaction between the four military services’ ability to train units and the demands of the combatant commanders who employ them in operations. This cross-walk will be essential for Members of Congress to have a full understanding of the harm that sequestration-level budget cuts are doing our military.
Although the details of individual unit readiness and risk will be classified, the public record indicates how serious a topic this is.
The Service Chiefs have repeatedly described how their inability to train and maintain forces could prevent them from supporting combat operations. The Army now has only two brigades – out of 42—that are combat ready. The Navy cancelled five ship deployments this year and postponed the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman Strike Group. The Air Force grounded 31 squadrons this year, including 13 combat-coded squadrons. The Marines are shifting readiness funds from other units in order to fully man, train, and equip those specific units bound for Afghanistan. This degradation of readiness is shocking at face value, but it cannot be fully understood without reference to the operational requirements of the combatant commanders who would employ them in a conflict.
Testifying before Senate,General Amos calls cuts "a formula for more American casualties."
Military Joint Chiefs Warn About Budget Cuts
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, bemoaned the reduced number of ships the Navy will be able to deploy and said, "We're tapped out."
The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh III, said he would have to reduce flying hours by up to 15 percent and reduce his service's number of satellites. Greenert said the Navy could have to cut its fleet to as low as 255 ships by 2020, about 30 fewer than today, while Amos said the Marines' 186,000 troops would shrink by the thousands.
Stars and Stripes
The eventual result, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, would be more combat deaths. He predicted Marines would someday be sent to a combat theater and forced to stay until the end of the conflict.
“We would empty the entire bench,” he said. “There would be no rotational relief like we had in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines who join the Corps during that war would go from the drill field to the battlefield without the benefit of pre-combat training.
“We would have fewer forces, arriving less-trained, arriving later to the fight. This would delay the build-up of combat power, allow the enemy more time to build up their defenses, and likely prolong combat operations altogether. This is a formula for more U.S. casualties.”
As he closed his opening statement, Odierno made clear he disagrees with analysts and some lawmakers who believe the Pentagon budget — nearly $600 billion with war funding — can absorb more cuts.
“I do not consider myself an alarmist,” the Army chief said. “I consider myself a realist.”
“We will reduce system upgrades for unmanned aerial vehicles. We will delay the modernization of air defense command-and-control systems. If reductions of that magnitude continue into [fiscal 2015] and beyond, every acquisition program will be affected,” Odierno said. “These reductions will significantly impact 100 modernization programs.”
For the Navy, Greenert said “investment accounts will be particularly impacted by sequestration in [fiscal] 2014, and we will not be able to use prior-year funds to mitigate shortfalls as we did in [fiscal] 2013.”
Greenert said “reductions imposed by sequestration and the limitations of a [continuing resolution] will compel us to” take steps such as canceling the planned buy of a Virginia-class attack submarine in 2014, as well as one littoral combat ship and afloat forward staging base.
“Each of these would further worsen the reduction in fleet size,” Greenert said.
Oct 30 2013
Reps. Forbes and Hanabusa in Breaking Defense Op-Ed
Time For Congress To Rebalance On Asia-Pacific: Reps. Forbes & Hanabusa
Read Online at Breaking Defense
October 29, 2013
We are pleased to announce the launch of a bipartisan House Armed Services Committee (HASC) oversight effort we are calling the HASC Asia-Pacific Oversight Series. For the last 12 years, the United States has worked alongside its allies and partners to sustain large-scale ground operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the war against Al Qaeda and its associated forces.
While the committee will continue to conduct strong oversight of our nation’s efforts to degrade and destroy these terrorist networks, we believe the time has come for Congress to play a leading role in shifting our attention towards the long-range trends that stand to affect our security interests. Primary among these are the shifting security dynamics that have been occurring across the Asia-Pacific region. More specifically, we feel the rise of Chinese military modernization, and the geostrategic impact this trend stands to have on our friends, allies and trading partners throughout the region, calls for a thorough oversight effort by the House Armed Services Committee.
The Obama Administration acknowledged the need for our government to pay closer attention to the Asia-Pacific two years ago with its stated policy to begin to shift the nation’s attention to the region. However, we feel the Congress has been slow to conduct a ‘rebalance’ of its own. This series aims to stimulate such a process, not only because the Obama Administration has not fully supported its rhetoric with resources, but because we know this policy will only be successful with strong congressional input and support.
At its core, this series will seek to enhance an understanding of Asia-Pacific security issues for both members of Congress and the general public. To be successful, we will rely on government witnesses and some of the best independent thinkers across the country to increase our understanding of the military, economic, and political trends affecting the long-term security outlook in the region.
We will utilize full committee and subcommittee hearings, including engagement with other committees and classified briefings by officials from the Pentagon and Pacific Command. We will also conduct discussions with ambassadors from across the region to gain their shared perspectives. While we expect to devote rigorous oversight to these important questions in the years ahead, we plan to capture our bipartisan findings and share them at the formal conclusion of this series in February with the Independent Panel tasked with assessing the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. This will grant us the opportunity to catalogue what we have learned and to share our joint perspectives with the Independent Panel as it concludes its work on our future defense priorities.
In addition to education and oversight, we aim to use this series to play a leading role in encouraging the Obama Administration to build a multifaceted strategy for Asia-Pacific. For instance, we recently sent a letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice urging her to conduct a formal, interagency strategy review for the Asia-Pacific. We believe an Asia-Pacific Strategy Review is required not only so that departments and agencies across the federal government can have the authority to think and act creatively within a robust interagency system, but also to communicate to Congress the breadth of resources that will be required to implement this strategy.
A forthcoming report from a bipartisan think tank, the Center for a New American Security, agrees with our assessment, concluding that “White House guidance is sorely needed to ensure that military and operational planning is appropriately in sync with diplomatic and political goals… The National Security Staff should prepare a formal strategy for the U.S. rebalancing to Asia, signed by the President, to provide a single official source on U.S. interests, strategy, and priorities in the region.” Unfortunately, the Obama Administration continues to reject such a proposal and has forced the rest of the federal government, as well as officials in Asian capitals, to try and parse policy from a disparate collection of speeches, interviews and articles. We welcome the opportunity to further build the case for an NSS strategy review for Asia-Pacific as our HASC series moves forward.
In closing, we want to make two items abundantly clear before we proceed with this effort. First, we acknowledge that Congress has an important role to play across the spectrum when it comes to policy in the Asia-Pacific, including trade policy, diplomatic outreach, alliance management, and sustaining our defense posture and engagement. But given our position as members of the House Armed Services Committee, we have chosen to focus on the balance of military power and questions related to maintaining stability in the region.
Second, this series is about understanding the broad security dynamics of the region — including everything from our alliances, to maritime disputes, to the impact of the China’s military modernization over the last 15 years – and how our government should look to best posture itself to respond in the years ahead. This is not about pushing any one perspective that China is an enemy or threat to the United States. To the contrary, we believe that while there are elements of the U.S.-China relationship that are competitive, there are also many opportunities for cooperation we should explore.
Amongst a tide of recent political turmoil, we are proud to be able to work together on this effort. Although it is often said, it is worth repeating here: U.S. policy towards Asia-Pacific remains a truly bipartisan effort. We look to extend this positive story as our Nation continues the task of building a durable diplomatic, economic, and security architecture across the Asia-Pacific region.
WASHINGTON – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon spoke with Sean Hannity on Wednesday about Syria, the need to restore military funding, and the Chairman’s recent Moscow Times opinion editorial in response to Vladimir Putin. Listen now [MP3 web player]
Excerpts from Hannity Interview:
“I’ve been really opposed to us launching more military endeavors while we cut the military. You know over the last few years this President has done a surge to Afghanistan, which I supported but he also at the same time cut the defense budget. He flew missions over Libya and cut the defense budget. He shifted to a Pacific strategy and cut the defense budget. We cut four hundred eighty seven billion dollars before we even got the sequestration and the Chiefs said they could live with that… but they said they couldn't go any further cuts and still continue to carry out these missions. Well, sequestration is another five hundred billion of cuts, indiscriminate cuts.”
“General Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, testified that eighty percent of the army's brigades will be unready by the end of fourteen . He also testified that the cuts are causing the military to lose the best and the brightest…”
“I support sequestration, but you’re right, we’re gutting the military to the bone. I don’t think it's wise.”
Key excerpts from the op-ed below:
Rep. Buck McKeon
“But it is difficult to overlook his glaringly obvious strategic aims. Putin is trying to achieve two simple objectives. First, he wants his puppet Assad to remain in power, and he wants the Russian Navy to have the ability to park their ships at the five heavy piers in Tartus, Syria. Second, Putin wants to mischaracterize the resolve and nature of Americans, suggesting that the U.S. is in decline and rules without a rudder.” …
“Putin miscalculated when he tried to mask his self-interest with benevolence. He also miscalculated in achieving his second objective, using a surreal blend of hypocrisy and convenient ignorance of the facts. No one should confuse U.S. reluctance to use force at this time in Syria with a reluctance to defend our national security or to use all means necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Putin's New York Times Blunder
In his much-discussed op-ed in The New York Times last week, President Vladimir Putin has made a curious case to the American people and the international community about the conflict in Syria. Using flowery language about internationalism, diplomacy and compassion, Putin made a few reasonable points, but by and large he drew entirely the wrong conclusions about the nature of the Syrian conflict and the lessons he should learn about the U.S. response.
Putin wryly characterizes his opposition to Western involvement in Syria as a benevolent appeal of empathy for the innocents and respect for international law. Putin has warned that the violence in Syria would be worsened by U.S. intervention. He humbly omitted Russia's role in that affair: in the millions of tons of equipment, ammunition and arms that he has sent to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. These weapons have killed far more Syrians than chemical weapons. With more than 100,000 Syrian civilians killed, the blood of scores of innocents is on Putin's hands.The readers of Putin's op-ed know irony when they see it — especially when it's Putin who is urging Americans to observe the rule of law.
Putin speaks grandly on the importance of the United Nations and chides the U.S. for failing to seek UN Security Council authorization for humanitarian interventions. Of course, the U.S. has not been alone in seeking this authorization to deter the Assad regime — and other tyrannical regimes like it across the globe — from committing more crimes against humanity. It is Putin and his Chinese counterparts who have blocked this avenue. The world continues to wait for leadership from Putin or the Chinese Communist Party when it comes to human rights.
My suspicion is that Putin's sudden inspired confidence in the UN isn't so much warmhearted goodwill as it is a place where he has a veto over Western strategic interests. After all, I imagine the Security Council was as surprised as I was to see Putin's tanks rolling towards Tblisi, Georgia in 2008.
I acknowledge that U.S. humanitarian interventions are controversial and often unpopular. We have seen successes and failures. With that said, I welcome any humanitarian comparisons between the Western intervention in Libya and Putin's intervention in Chechnya.
To be fair, Putin did get one thing right. Neither the U.S. nor Russia is interested in seeing a fundamentalist Islamic state emerge from Syria. But with that said, he is spinning a tall tale that the American people don't buy and the international community shouldn't believe.
The Americans who read Putin's op-ed are not dupes. They are aware of the suppression of the Russian people, the intimidation of journalists and the wanton disregard for basic human rights. In addition, they are able to identify irony when they see it — particularly when it is Putin who is making a spontaneous appeal for humanitarianism and the observance of rule of law.
But it is difficult to overlook his glaringly obvious strategic aims. Putin is trying to achieve two simple objectives. First, he wants his puppet Assad to remain in power, and he wants the Russian Navy to have the ability to park their ships at the five heavy piers in Tartus, Syria. Second, Putin wants to mischaracterize the resolve and nature of Americans, suggesting that the U.S. is in decline and rules without a rudder.
Western intervention would likely mean a degradation of Assad's tools of terror. Putin knows that the U.S. may have its challenges, but we have no equal when it comes to destroying a dictator's tools of war. All Putin can do is be a spoiler. No wonder Putin would be interested in bringing any Western initiative before the UN, where he has veto power — his only true measure of great-power status.
Putin miscalculated when he tried to mask his self-interest with benevolence. He also miscalculated in achieving his second objective, using a surreal blend of hypocrisy and convenient ignorance of the facts. No one should confuse U.S. reluctance to use force at this time in Syria with a reluctance to defend our national security or to use all means necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
U.S. President Barack Obama may well not have persuaded Americans that Assad's use of chemical weapons in the midst of the Syrian civil war affects our national security. Likewise, many members of Congress remain unconvinced that the limited military action he proposed would achieve the aims that Obama outlined. Some say that the uncertain outcome of military action with such limited goals isn't worth the strain on U.S. military forces. But this is a temporary failure of leadership, and the current circumstances are unique. Demonstrate to us that vital U.S. interests are at stake, and we will act decisively.
History is on our side. Putin may be a fair-weather UN fan. So be it. But make no mistake: It is the U.S., not the UN, that has provided the strategic framework for stability and peace since World War II.
That responsibility will continue for decades to come — with or without the approval of Putin.