Friday, August 25, 2006

James Webb on the Global War on Terror

After reading about S. R. Sidarth, I took a look at James Webb's campaign website. It features this recent speech on national security that seems pretty thoughtful. Webb makes a connection between Islamist terror and the rise of China, and has some cogent observations about problems with US-Russian relations. Overall, he seems to have thought a lot about what is going on. Even if he doesn't beat George Allen in Virginia, he's using the campaign to raise serious issues that have not been addressed--specifically the need for a new American "Grand Strategy." An excerpt:
What I would like to do today is to talk specifically about our national security - my views on where we need to go as a nation on this issue. I’d like to start off by saying that I’ve been doing this part of our governmental system all of my life. I was born in the military. My father was a career military officer. I served in the Marine Corp. Afterwards, when I went to law school, the first book that I wrote, when I was 28 years old, was on our strategic interest in the Pacific. I covered Beirut when the Marines were there in 1983 for the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. Two years ago, I was just coming out of Afghanistan having covered our forces in Afghanistan in nine different places for a great magazine. As mentioned, I served in the Pentagon as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy. I’ve been grateful to be one of the few people who has been able to write for the New York Times and the Wall street Journal editorial pages (because they basically hate each other) on these kinds of issues. And I must say to you that I’m very very concerned about the state of our national security posture. It is in total disarray. The Bush Administration has failed to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq. The Middle East is in danger of spinning out of control. Iran and North Korea, both of whom were more serious threats to our national security than the invasion of Iraq, have become ever more defiant. Al Qaeda and other extremist terrorist organizations have seen their ranks grow, largely as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. For the longer term, we’ve neglected these other things that reflect and affect our national greatness. We are mortgaging our future, step-by-step, to China. We have failed to invest in the economic competitiveness that underlies military strength and national power. And by that I mean our educational systems, our infrastructure which can’t be paid for when we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the infrastructure of territories that we are occupying around the world.

These difficulties have come about in large part because those who are telling us where we need to go, those who are leading us, lack the kind of strategic vision that has served our country so well in other eras. The grand strategy, national strategy demands that we identify and articulate our nation’s goals and objectives in outlining clearly how we intend to achieve them. The founding fathers intended that the Senate served as a check on the presidency and also that it be a place for deep deliberation on vital national issues. I’m mindful of something that Chuck Hagel, a Democrat, excuse me a Republican senator from Nebraska and a long-time friend of mine, has said many times over the past few years -- that when he took his oath of office, he took it to the Constitution and not to the presidency. I cannot say that about George Allen. And I cannot identify, quite frankly, one iota of George Allen’s strategic vision other than the talking points he has been receiving from the administration.

We need to start with the notion that our country has a unique place in the world. We all know that. We all feel it. It also has unique obligations in the conduct of its foreign policy. The overriding challenge of today for our country is international terrorism. And I would say that terrorism and Iraq were separate issues until George W. Bush incorrectly and unwisely linked them. We need to end the occupation of Iraq so that we can repair our relationships around the world and turn our focus back to the larger issue of terrorism.

Terrorism is intimately linked with the troubles in the Middle East, but what we’ve done in Iraq has been to make these problems worse. In my view, the conditions in Lebanon today are a direct result of the complete failure of our Iraq policy and indeed our entire Middle East policy. This administration planned from the beginning to make war in Iraq and it used the public fear and anger after September 11th to pursue that objective. I predicted at the time that invading and occupying Iraq would only strengthen Iran, therefore, benefiting virtually all of America’s enemies in that region, as well as affecting our relationships with other countries throughout the world. This administration and its supporters refuse to connect the actions in Iraq to the larger problems in the Middle East generally and to terrorism specifically nor do they appear to appreciate that their foreign policy has affected a wide range of issues across the globe which demand our strategic focus.

I’ve been saying for 20 years that China was pursuing a strategy with the Muslim world designed to destabilize the United States and to improve its access to oil. Among other efforts, it was China that enabled Pakistan’s move to become a nuclear power and it has been China that has been one of the closest allies of Iran. In fact, over the past three or four years, the largest on shore oil facility in Iran is now half-owned by the Chinese government. It’s a $200 billion facility. These are dangerous and neglected efforts that we need to address, both to improve the short terms problems in the Middle East and to safeguard our long term interest in China. The animosity resulting from our actions in Iraq has, in itself, strengthened China’s hand, just as the money we have spent in that war has weakened our infrastructure and threatened our economy. China, we have to face this, represents our greatest long term challenge, both militarily and economically. For too long, we have been mortgaging our future to the very nation that represents our greatest challenge.

Russia is a troubled country but still a world power. It is central to such Middle East issues as Iran and its evolution towards a nuclear capability and to the world oil market. If the Russian government goes the wrong way in the next decade, it has a potential, once again, to become a nuclear armed adversary or an extremely dangerous failed state. The current approach to Russia has swung from the President’s gazing into Putin’s eyes and supposedly seeing his soul to allowing Dick Cheney to scold him like a child This is not the way to engage a strange but vitally important world power.

In terms of the rest of the world, ultimately the entire global community must address the issues of failed states, world regimes, and underdevelopment, which are the breeding grounds of such issues as terrorism. In our own hemisphere, we need to improve our homeland security and to guard against the terrorist threat, at the same time coming up with a sensible, fair, and enforceable policy on immigration. And we need to think about that in the larger context of our relations with Latin America which has been backsliding toward authoritarianism and illiberal economies. We shouldn’t allow the rest of the Americans to become anti-Americans, even as we ourselves become more Latino in our makeup. A true vision for national security must also encompass non-military challenges. We need to wean ourselves off our dependence on foreign oil. It goes without saying that we are too dependant on Middle Eastern regimes today and if we are not careful we may be heading into a clash with China tomorrow over energy resources.