Opinion: United States facing many challenges | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: United States facing many challenges

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist

A short year ago I recommended a non-fiction memoir titled DUTY to everyone interested in getting some solid “insider” information about our military exploits of the past 14 years.

It’s even more timely now, considering we are once again involved in Middle-East warfare and growing worldwide terrorism.

Recently I was in a crowded room listening to the author, Robert Gates. His 27 years of government service started in the Air Force, then decades in the CIA, then CIA director. He was also Defense Secretary for both Bush and Obama. He was on the National Security Council for decades, and he worked under six presidents. He additionally enjoyed his role as president of Texas A & M University, with 65,000 students on campus! While there, he said, he fired a coach.

“We overthrow governments of medium size countries with less controversy,” he said.

Today he is Chancellor at College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

During a recent presentation, Gates reviewed where the past few of years have brought us, and our new challenges. It is not pretty.

“I believe President Obama is sailing into uncharted and increasingly perilous waters with respect to America’s global position following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

Gates explained that President Obama’s unwillingness to enforce his red lines, his political emphasis on bringing troops home, and his and Congress’s willingness to substantially cut defense and intelligence “don’t inspire confidence in our friends, nor much trepidation in our adversaries.”

On the plus side, he said he applauds Obama’s insistence on new Iraqi leadership before engaging ISIS.

“Similarly, I applaud his determination to forge a coalition including the Sunni Muslim states in the fight against ISIS.

“He wanted to insure the troops on the ground are overwhelmingly Arab and Kurd,” he said. “I don’t think he anticipated they would also be Iranian,” he added.

Gates said the goal to destroy ISIS is unrealistic.

“A better one would be to try to dislodge ISIS from Iraq, push it back across the Syrian border and keep Iraq together. We could deny ISIS permanent control of significant territory, which they can use to plot further area destabilization and attacks on us or in Europe.

“The air strikes we’ve used have been effective,” he continued, “particularly in places like Kobani where we enabled the Kurds to hold onto the city. The strikes are having on impact on ISIS supply lines and on their ability to move their forces around.”

Gates said he would like to see Middle East nations send in ground troops, but that U.S. boots on the ground are going to be needed, too.

“It will be very difficult to dislodge ISIS from the cities they care about,” he said, “particularly in the Sunni territories without U.S. forward air controllers and spotters, and without U.S. advisers down to the battalion level plus our special forces.

“I think the total number we’re talking about for these roles is in the hundreds, not thousands.”

Politics is a continuing problem, just as it was during his tenure as Secretary of Defense, he said.

Congress is unwilling to compromise in passing budgets and other legislation, and presidents — Obama and Bush — both shunned building any rapport with Congress. As a result, neither was much feared, and not much liked.

“I truly believe without exaggeration that the most significant challenge to our national security today is found within the two square miles that encompass the White House and the Capitol.”

We need, he pointed out, a consistent strategy that will last longer than a single presidential term. There was a time, he pointed out, when America did have a policy like that.

In fact, it shaped the world: It was our cold war strategy, consistent through nine presidencies.

Today, legislation is by brute force, seldom by compromise.

The big game changer coming is Iran and its nuclear ambition. Our naïve hope is that Iran will want to join the big family of nations, he said. Iran, instead, is likely to develop its bomb, followed by Saudi Arabia and probably Egypt. Proliferation is going to be the order of the day.

“Harbor no illusions about Iran,” he cautioned. “Until 9/11, Iran-sponsored Hezbollah had killed more U.S. citizens than all other countries.

“But I fear the political desire for an Iran/Nuclear deal outweighs practicality.”

Other challenges? Putin and the Russian goal of building a buffer of friendly states on the periphery of Russia will continue. That goal is as old as the Russian Empire.

Russia is not a rising power, he said. China is. He said he expects China to focus on naval superiority in East Asia rather than challenging the U.S. to a costly global arms race.

Israel, a U.S. ally since 1967, has let U.S. politics muddy the relationship. Despite this, about the only thing we are not in agreement on is the approach to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That disagreement is minor compared to Sen. Tom Cotton’s letter (with 47 other Senators signing) warning Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the U.S. Congress could change any treaty our president signs.

That letter, said Gates, “was, frankly, just plain stupid.”

That’s the way Washington is probably going to operate in the future, Gates predicted regretfully.

Free Press columnist Ken Johnson is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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