Kiron K. Skinner, PhD, the W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and coauthor of the New York Times bestselling books, Reagan, in His Own Hand and Reagan, a Life in Letters, has just published an article in the scholarly journal Strategika that we think should reach a much larger audience.
“The U.S. Cannot Wish Away Its Present Security Concerns” reminds us that there is such a thing as an “Obama doctrine” on national security and what its on-the-ground effects are in today’s international crises. (A link to Dr. Skinner’s article appears at the end of this piece.)
The Obama doctrine, says Dr. Skinner, “holds that fiscal constraints, including the need to reduce the deficit and debt, and rebalancing of the U.S. military away from the ‘wartime strategy’ of the last decade dictate national priorities in defense and foreign policy.” (Emphasis ours)
In Skinner’s analysis these priorities are: “protecting the homeland; ending U.S. involvement in the two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; countering terrorism and dismantling terrorist organizations, especially in the Middle East and North Africa; rebalancing U.S. economic diplomacy and military resources toward the Indo-Pacific region; enhancing existing relationships with allies in Europe and elsewhere; developing new partnerships with states and regional organizations; maintaining a leadership role in major international organizations; controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction; reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles; resizing the military and reducing the rate of increases in defense spending; and improving and using cyber techniques, drones, and special operations forces to combat state and transnational threats as much as possible.”
The president has remained remarkably consistent about his national security priorities, says Dr. Skinner.
“In January 2012, the Department of Defense issued Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. According to White House and Defense Department senior officials, the report emerged from unprecedented conversations among national security principals, including the president, and thus should be viewed as a comprehensive statement of U.S. strategic priorities. To support this new guidance, President Obama, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a joint press conference to highlight the positions presented in the report.
“Echoing statements from his presidential campaign, the president declared that the wars against terrorists and tyrants in the Middle East were ending in large part because: “We’ve decimated al-Qaida’s leadership. We’ve delivered justice to Osama bin Laden and we put that terrorist network on the path to defeat…. Now we’re turning the page on a decade of war…. And as the transition in Afghanistan continues, more of our troops will continue to come home.”7 He then spoke of downsizing the military and the U.S. footprint around the world: “As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints, we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces.”
While the Obama administration seeks to have the U.S. military presence recede in the Middle East, notes Dr. Skinner, “it has declared that U.S. military and economic presence in Asia will grow. In fact, the president has said that ‘budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region.’ According to the Obama Doctrine, the twenty-first century will be the American-Asia Pacific Century.”
There are two problems with the claim by President Obama that “the twenty-first century will be the American-Asia Pacific Century.” One noted and discussed by Dr. Skinner and another that we raise as something that needs more discussion and investigation.
Consider, asks Dr. Skinner, “just a few international crises that have bubbled up in the past few months. Russia has annexed part of Ukraine. The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) is a formidable military and political force in Syria and Iraq, and has gained control of more territory than al-Qaeda could have realistically ever hoped to dominate. An ISIS caliphate would redefine the Middle East. Missiles are pointed at Israel from every direction. Hundreds of innocent Palestinians in Gaza have perished in the cross-border conflict that is consuming both sides.”
These political realities are clearly at odds with the Obama administration’s strategic guidance, says Skinner in what we would call an instance of scholarly restraint and understatement.
Skinner concludes with this critique of the Obama national security strategy:
“As the only superpower, the United States provides extended deterrence for much of the world. When its leadership fails to tie priorities to an overall strategy that can be clearly articulated and understood by domestic and international audiences, it is no surprise that chaos ensues even in countries where the White House once claimed to have helped improve security and secured sovereignty. The absence of a strategy is also why President Obama’s recent speech at West Point fell flat for many Democrats and Republicans. As a warning to adversaries, it lacked credibility.”
We respect and admire Kiron Skinner’s scholarship and her clear-eyed assessment that world events do not allow President Obama to simply declare “the twenty-first century will be the American-Asia Pacific Century” and make it so.
But we think Dr. Skinner’s article raises an issue that bears much more investigation; the assumption that lies at the very heart of the “Obama Doctrine” that fiscal constraints, including the need to reduce the deficit and debt, dictate national priorities in defense and foreign policy.
Given that the national debt has increased some $7 trillion since he took office we don’t see any indication on the part of President Obama that he wants to actually reduce the deficit and debt, as he claims is a goal of the Obama doctrine.
Furthermore, if you reduce the carrier fleet, and other means of the long range projection of power, how do you make the twenty-first century into "the American-Asia Pacific Century” through anything other than wishful thinking?
We hope that some scholar of Kiron Skinner’s caliber will take up the challenge of writing a follow-on article with the working topic “The U.S. Cannot Wish Away Its Present Fiscal Concerns” that explains just how dangerous the country's Obama-created fiscal reality has become for America's national security.
Click the link to read Kiron K. Skinner’s “The U.S. Cannot Wish Away Its Present Security Concerns.”