Jim Rubens - 12 Step for Beltway Hawks: First, Admit Failure

 Time for an Effective National Security Strategy

Beltway establishment hawks – who lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, squandered $100 billion on Afghanistan reconstruction (only 10% of which can even be accounted for), created a failed-state terror haven in Libya by toppling Muammar Gaddafi, and in 2012-2013 armed and funded the “moderate” Islamic insurgents who morphed into ISIS – now want us to forget their serial strategic blunders and drag us into yet another Middle East ground war.
The national security debate has degraded into more versus less intervention, with the more camp pinning the blame for the rise of ISIS on President Obama’s failure to reach a status of forces agreement to keep post-surge US troops in Iraq.

Now, we know the real reason for the rise of ISIS, and it’s not because we failed to intervene. Judicial Watch just published a previously secret August 2012 Pentagon report almost precisely predicting that US support for insurgent anti-Assad Sunni factions would lead to unification of those factions and to the creation of an “Islamic state … in Iraq and Syria.” The Keystone hawks persisted well into 2013 in spite of this verbatim warning from the Pentagon in 2012:
“This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi, and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy …  ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) could also declare an Islamic state through its Union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

Desperately lacking from the national security debate is a coherent, long-range strategy to protect America from Islamic terror. Nation building has failed. Regime change has increased instability in every case. Whack-a-mole bombing campaigns simply drive jihadi insurgents into temporary hibernation or into other failed states, like the one we created in Libya. This haphazard interventionism has loaded our children with a trillion dollars in debt and sacrificed the lives and broken the bodies and minds of tens of thousands of our immensely brave and professional soldiers.

Toward an Effective Strategy
Surgery, not nation building.  Whether as lone wolfs or organized in jihadi-controlled regions, Islamic radicals around the world will continue to plot harm to Americans.  In failed state or enemy territory and using drones and Special Forces, our military (not the CIA) should neutralize individuals directly responsible for killing or seriously harming any American citizen. Every such operation should be promptly followed by an after-action evaluation by a special Congressional committee named for that purpose. A declaration of war with appropriate parameters must first be adopted by Congress, and the Constitutional rights of any involved American citizen must be protected.
Don’t get sucked into the Sunni-Shia proxy war.  There are no good guys for us to save. Let the proxies spill each other’s blood, not ours. Wealthy Middle East nations such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia which have substantial air and ground forces are in the best position to contain their internal security threats. Caveat: Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, and Israel must not be prevented from defending itself.
Autonomous sectarian regions.  Abandon the myth of a unified Iraq and allow Iraq and Syria to disintegrate into autonomous Shia, Sunni and Kurd sectarian regions. A UN safe haven will be needed at least transitionally for regional refugees. The US can play a substantial humanitarian role here.
Demand that Saudis stop funding terror.  In the near term, the US must end our tacit agreement with Saudi Arabia that it act as the world’s primary buffer against oil price/supply shocks while Saudi royals act as the
world’s leading funders for the radical Wahhabi ideology and global terror network. In return for this funding and for imposition of Sharia law (the Saudis do more beheadings than ISIS), the Islamic radicals wink at the princes’ debauchery and their $100 million London apartments and refrain from attacks on Saudi soil.
Cut pork to fund defense priorities.  Our most expensive weapons program, the F-35 fighter bomber, is
unable to reliably fly in desert conditions and, because of its heavy, single-engine design, was defeated in simulations by Chinese fighters. Congress continues to spend ($120 million this year) on the Abrams tank program that the Army has repeatedly stated it does not need. Congress has allowed the Defense Department budget to remain un-auditable since 1990. Before spending more money, fiscal conservatives should require a full DOD audit so that we know where the money we are already spending is going. Fund needed defense spending from cuts to pork, not by breaking healthcare and pay promises to our soldiers.
And Energy
Replace fossil fuels. Beltway hawks thought that, by strengthening ISIS, they could weaken Russia and take down Syrian President and Russian ally, Bashar al-Assad. Russia now has Europe by the short ones because Europe
imports 17 trillion ft3 of natural gas per year (65% of net EU-28 consumption), its top source being Russia. Qatar has the world’s third largest proven gas reserves and could replace EU dependency on Russian gas given sufficient transmission pipeline capacity through Western Syria and Turkey. The US and Qatar have long sought this pipeline route blocked by Assad for reasons made obvious by the chart below.

Better than continuing our blowback-prone proxy war to take out Assad, let’s permanently end free-world dependency on fossil energy from Russia and the Middle East.
Here’s how.
The US leads the world in medical technology and biomedicine, enjoying the resulting high-paying domestic jobs and strong net exports. We’ve achieved this as a direct result of $30 billion annual funding for pre-commercial
health science research, sustained over the past decade and largely distributed via competitive grants by the National Institutes of Health. Despite this success and strong political support for protecting our science and technology lead, the US has fallen to #11 in global R&D per capita.
Heresy for small-government conservatives, but the $2 billion per year the federal government has spent over the past decade on basic energy research is too little. My pitch: add $10 billion per year in sustained national support for pre-commercial energy R&D.
I do not mean more Solyndras, taxpayer guarantees for nuclear plant construction, oil and gas subsidies, or corn ethanol supply mandates. Phasing out existing federal energy subsidies like these can pay for about half of a $10 billion R&D bump. Government should stop picking commercial winners and losers because crony capitalism distorts, corrupts and freezes marketplace dynamics which otherwise accelerate knowledge and technology commercialization and drives out cost. Taxpayer-backed energy R&D should focus on blue-sky work in materials science, nano-chemistry, energy storage, batteries, solar PV technology, offshore wind platforms, and thorium fuel cycle reactors, for example.  
Commercialized energy technologies are already booming without subsides. Unsubsidized energy efficiency and utility scale wind and solar PV (in that order) are already
cheaper than or competitive with combined cycle natural gas as electricity sources.

Policy change can still help with commercialized energy sources. The US can sharply reduce the cost of residential solar PV by slashing regulatory complexity.  Residential solar entrepreneur Barry Cinnamon blogs that US bureaucracy and paperwork about double the cost of US domestic rooftop solar compared with Germany. 
“Amazingly, it boils down to the difference between a one page incentive application in Germany for the installation of a standardized system that does not even require an inspection...compared to hundreds of pages of permits, applications and agreements coupled with multiple inspections and jurisdictional requirements that are required in the U.S.”
Once energy storage becomes less costly than natural gas, market forces will cause displacement of fossil fuels as primary heat, electricity, and transportation energy sources worldwide within two or three decades. Dictators and terrorists will be defunded, energy price shocks will be history, excessively resource dependent nations economically democratized, and global warming curbed.

The Presidential Primaries
Sadly, this post contains more detail than the announced national security/foreign policy planks of the candidates because detail invites attack.  Candidates with whom I’ve talked at length admit to me that, as yet, they have no strategy to offer. Others are getting by just fine on poll-driven rhetorical generalities. The lack of competing and well-articulated national security strategies is restricting debate, forcing voters to run blind, and delaying formation of the national consensus always needed for sustained public support of any strategy.
Primary voters, for the good of our nation, please demand more detail from the candidates.


Thanks for reading,

Jim Rubens