When I crossed the border into Iraq in 2003, leading a 30-man platoon as part of the 4th Infantry Division, I had spent years training and focusing all of my efforts on re-fighting the first Gulf War. Our doctrine was based on lessons learned over a decade earlier. Had we been part of Operation Desert Storm, I am sure we would have been wildly successful. But the war we entered, which we were only able to leave with heads held high nearly a decade later, was not our uncle’s war. This wasn’t the fault of our hardworking men and women in uniform, struggling against an unseen insurgency from the first months of the war. Rather, our struggles resulted directly from a failure of vision and strategic planning at the highest levels.
Today, we can and should be proud of President Obama’s new strategic defense review. We have finally learned that we cannot keep fighting the last war, but rather we must be prepared to address whatever comes next. As the wars in the Middle East wind down, we are rightfully looking toward the next strategic unknown — the emerging economic and military might of the Asia-Pacific rim. Indeed, this should be our focus, as our military has always existed to support and defend America’s interests around the world — interests that include enhancing the human condition through trade and commerce, and the vigorous defense of human rights and liberty.
Perhaps it is most important to remember that this is only a part of the Obama administration’s overall national security strategy. The new defense direction complements our growing engagement in diplomatic and economic development around the globe. This is the keenest showing of the President’s understanding of how the world really works. In this election season, listen to the candidates who face him: they urge stagnancy in strategy and disengagement with the world, while rising powers like China would love to fill America’s shoes. Thankfully, our Commander in Chief has a clear vision leading us into the next decade, a vision that will allow America to remain the brightest beacon of hope the world has ever seen.
Jon Gensler works for Borrego Solar Systems, developing large-scale solar energy projects for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. He is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.