Does anyone take serious words seriously anymore here in Washington?
News item No. 1 concerns the testimony of Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 22. She said
deteriorating security in nuclear-armed Pakistan "poses a mortal threat
to the security and safety of our country and the world."
News item No. 2 is this headline on the front page of the May 4 edition
of The Washington Post: "U.S. Options in Pakistan Limited."
News item No. 3 is a quote in Jackson Diehl's May 4 column in The
Washington Post from a senior Obama administration official: "It's not
good when your national security interests are dependent on a country
over which you have almost no influence."
In a matter of two weeks, we have gone from witnessing the U.S.
secretary of state testify to Congress that a nuclear Pakistan run by
Islamist radicals would be a "mortal threat" to America to hearing the
administration admit that we have limited options to avoid such a
What are we to make of such a development? I and many others had
previously warned of the dangers of a nuclear "Talibanistan" (which have
been obvious and talked about for years). Experts I have talked to in
the past week do not believe Clinton is overstating the case. Nor do I.
She is very careful with her words and they fit the danger.
If Pakistan's nuclear weapons were to get into the hands of Taliban or
al-Qaida, even unlaunched, they would provide the weapons-grade fissile
materiel necessary to create a nuclear holocaust, here in the United
States or elsewhere.
How did it come to be that the government of the most powerful nation in
the history of humanity (with a population of 300 million-plus and a
gross domestic product of about $14 trillion, which is larger than the
second-, third- and fourth-largest economies Japan, Germany and China
combined) has confessed that its options are limited regarding a
"mortal threat" to it?
And what are we going to do about it? I don't blame the Obama
administration not yet. It inherited our current national military
strength. But it has been obvious for years that we are not prepared to
deal with a world that refuses to behave as we either predict or prefer.
And we need to start catching up with the growing contingent threats.
It was in understanding the inevitability of contingent or unexpected
events to emerge that led Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, the great
19th-century Prussian field marshal and army chief of staff, famously to
observe, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Thus, he
believed that "war is a matter of expedients." As has been observed, "He
was suspicious of rigid, inflexible, and totalizing grand strategies and
theories," arguing instead for a strategy and preparations that provided
for a series of plug-in points that could be shaped to meet the military
challenges of the moment as a war unfolded.
So, too, should we be prepared for world political events or be
prepared to pay the consequences. That is why when, a year ago, I was
writing my most recent book, "American Grit: What It Will Take To
Survive and Win in the 21st Century," I argued that we must face the
reality that, given the growing threats in a rapidly morphing world, we
will need a bigger military than our current all-volunteer force: "The
questions that any statesman or strategist has to confront are obvious:
What if our armed forces are suddenly needed to take out Iran's nuclear
program? What if Pakistan falls to the jihadists, and we need troops to
secure that country's nuclear weapons? What if China invades Taiwan?
What if North Korea, in a desperate gambit, launches an attack on South
Korea? What if the vast resources of the North Pole spark a military
rivalry between Russian, Canada, the United States, and other countries?
What if the Saudi oil fields require protection? What if we have to
secure our southern border from increasingly ambitious drug cartels or
civil disturbances in Mexico?"
Well, in the mere year since I wrote those words, three of those seven
contingencies (Iran, Pakistan and Mexico) have gone from speculation to
the daily headlines. The blood is not yet on the ground regarding them,
but prudent investors would start buying coffins. And yet we plan not at
Our troop strength is so limited that President Obama has to move troops
out of Iraq risking turning inherited near success into possible
strategic failure in order to slightly beef up Afghanistan. Now,
while perhaps we may have some time, we should be putting on a crash
program to increase troop and materiel strength. With the recession, we
probably could induct more volunteers than seemed possible during
prosperity. But that is only a half-measure. We eventually will need
more Army and Marine combat troops than will volunteer (and increased
Navy and Air Force sea and airlift and fighting capacity, which we could
start building now).
It should be inadmissible for the U.S. government to identify a "mortal
threat" without at least offering up a plan to defeat it. Where is the
plan? Where is the public clamor for a plan?