[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
“Alas, poor Clausewitz….”
The Obama administration released its National Security Strategy last Friday, shepherded by the National Security Courtier, Susan Rice. Even by the increasingly mediocre standards for this exercise the administration managed to hit a new low for vapid superficiality, muddled thought and brazen political appeals to Democratic Party special interest groups, notably the gay lobby and environmental activists.
While it is normal for an administration’s political opposition to deride the NSS (and often there is much to deride; let’s be honest, the Bush administration NSS papers will not be shelved next to The Art of War either) it is atypical for the administration’s own recently retired top officials to blast it right out of the gate:
Former Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn blasted the Obama administration’s national security strategy on Sunday, describing it as too narrowly focused on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We need a much broader strategy that recognizes that we’re facing not just this tactical problem of ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” Flynn, who retired last year as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We’re facing a growing, expanding threat around the world,” Flynn said, noting that terrorist threats have doubled in the Middle East and Africa.
“I think what the American public is they’re looking for moral and intellectual courage and clarity,” Flynn said, adding the public didn’t want “passivity and confusion.”
“There’s confusion about what it is that we’re facing,” he added.
Flynn, who led the DIA for two years under Obama, previously served as assistant Director of National Intelligence and director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Central Command and Joint Special Operations Command.
Flynn used an analogy of a quarterback leading a football team down the field.
“I feel like when we say ‘ready, break,’ every player on the team is going off into other stadiums, playing different sports,” he said.
Flynn said it was a “good question” when asked who in the Obama administration is in charge of leading the U.S. counterterrorism strategy. “If everybody’s in charge, nobody’s in charge.”
Top tier center-left think tank, The Brookings Institution, is similarly unimpressed.
Flynn is right. No one is in charge. Which is why Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations called on the president to fire his entire senior White House staff and replace them with officials with at least average competence in national security. Gelb, it must be said, is a Democrat.
It is highly unlikely the president will fire any of his second term team regardless of the consistently poor foreign policy results they are delivering for him. If he cared at all, they would be gone already. The NSC is broken and is unable to formulate strategy because the truth is the President likes it that way and does not want a strategy. Strategies abroad force constraints on the domestic political freedom of action of politicians at home.
There is a silver lining however.
The administration is describing their approach now as one of “strategic patience” – signaling quite clearly that they intend to avoid any substantial foreign policy commitments for the next two years. This has foreign policy and national security community experts (and our allies) very nervous because our adversaries might read that as license for their own regional aggression, or at least substantially reduced risks and costs for ignoring American security interests. This is a valid concern, but there is a flip side.
If the people steering the ship of state have demonstrated – repeatedly- that they are not up to even the basics of the job, that they cannot read the horizon, operate the bridge or navigate successfully, do you really want this team going full steam ahead? In any direction? We are better off with the ship at anchor.
The real strategic patience will be the American people waiting out this dead in the water administration.