In the wake of the Iraq war, the Bush Administration and Congress are trying to learn what lessons this victory holds for preparing for future conflicts. There is an expectation that in short order they can digest the war's complex operations and determine sound policy insights.
But that is not likely to happen. Rather, in the near term, they would do well to focus on a few key strategic issuesrefining national military strategy, restructuring U.S. alliances, reordering defense research and development priorities, rebalancing aviation acquisition programs, improving post-conflict planning, and enhancing the role of the U.S. Department of Defense in homeland security.
An analysis of the war and its impact on how the United States can best meet these core strategic challenges suggests that the following actions should be high on the list of Administration and congressional priorities in the months ahead.
- The Pentagon should publish a military strategy that establishes isolating potential enemies as a first principle. Keeping enemies in a small box--undercutting their alliances, sources of support, and the means to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction or advanced technologies--ought to be job one.
- As the purpose and utility of America's alliances is changing, the U.S. military force structure needs to keep pace. The Administration must align military forward presence and engagement to meet new strategic requirements. Getting the realignment of forces in Europe right should be a high priority. Congress should give strong and unqualified support to these efforts.
- The only way to bring about a further dramatic increase in the mobility and flexibility of U.S. forces is to develop the breakthrough technologies and new manufacturing methods that will significantly reduce the weight of the force while retaining its lethality and survivability. Congress should increase annual funding for the basic science and technology effort that might provide the leap-ahead capabilities needed for military transformation by about 10 percent.
- The United States military is on the cusp of a wave of acquisition that by mid-decade could account for a quarter or more of defense spending. The lion's share of this procurement will be in modernizing the air fleet. This is an enormous investment that the Pentagon can ill-afford to get wrong. The Administration and Congress should fundamentally rethink short-range aircraft procurement. A less ambitious program would still allow the United States to maintain its competitive edge while turning its attention to other critical defense needs, particularly bomber modernization and transformation programs.
- Although it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of the occupation of Iraq, it does seem that preparations for the post-conflict period were inadequate. The U.S. needs to do better. The Department of Defense should assign the Army the mission of post-conflict operations (not peacekeeping or nation-building) as a core competency and build a supporting joint and interagency structure that is prepared to execute these missions rather than one that is created ad hoc.
- The United States is not adequately prepared to deal with catastrophic terrorist attacks that might occur while U.S. forces are engaged overseas. The Pentagon must rethink the organization, tasks, and forces assigned to the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to ensure that they are adequate to support homeland security against the threat of catastrophic terrorist attacks, particularly during periods when U.S. forces are engaged in overseas conflicts.
Refining the national military strategy, restructuring U.S. alliances, reprioritizing defense research and development efforts, rebalancing aviation acquisition programs, improving post-conflict planning, and providing additional support to NORTHCOM are obvious and pressing problems that can be addressed right now--helping to ensure that the nation maintains its competitive advantages, brings overseas military campaigns to successful conclusions, and protects the homeland.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.