Strategy, What Strategy?

The Obama administration, according to two sources, has failed to produce a classified national security strategy, leaving the country bereft of guidance at a crucial time. One of the country's most respected strategists, Andy Krepinevich, said he spoke recently with a National Security Council staff member and was told the White House had not and would not produce a classified version of the National Security Strategy released last month. Krepinevich told reporters this morning that this concerned him greatly at a time when the country faces two wars and has had its strategic choices forced upon it by external actors such as al Qaeda, North Korea and China for most of the last nine years.

The Obama administration, according to two sources, has failed to produce a classified national security strategy, leaving the country bereft of guidance at a crucial time.

One of the country’s most respected strategists, Andy Krepinevich, said he spoke recently with a National Security Council staff member and was told the White House had not and would not produce a classified version of the National Security Strategy released last month. Krepinevich told reporters this morning that this concerned him greatly at a time when the country faces two wars and has had its strategic choices forced upon it by external actors such as al Qaeda, North Korea and China for most of the last nine years.

The Obama administration is not alone in having failed to craft strategy, he said, noting the Bush administration had also “greatly undervalued” it.

“In my estimation, we need to think more about budgets, yes, but we absolutely need to think more about strategy,” Krepinevich said during a briefing at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment on the 2011 defense budget. He heads CSBA.

Iranian nuclear weapons pose “enormous implications for U.S. security,” he said, given the likely effect of nuclear proliferation through the Middle East should Iran succeed at developing weapons. CIA Director Leon Panetta said last weekend that Iran is two years from fielding a nuclear weapon and possesses enough uranium to build two bombs.

And increasingly common precision rockets and mortars — known as GRAM — in the hands of groups like Hezbollah would allow them to greatly improve their ability to take out targets such as Israeli oil refineries and government buildings with certainty.

Add a healthy dose of European allies who “seem to be in a race to the bottom” in terms of defense spending and you have a deeply challenging international environment for which the nation must plan how to shape. Instead of the U.S. shaping the world and making informed strategic choices the rest of the world is shaping us, Krepinevich said. And that means the Pentagon is left with a “resource mismatch” because we have not anticipated the changes.

One Pentagon study to watch that will constitute a set of strategic choices is the Global Posture Review, Krepinevich said.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates is intimately involved in the review, which will recommend what bases the U.S. should have around the world and what facilities, such as hardened hangars or a port, they should possess, as well as what forces should be deployed at them.

And that led him to one crucial resource decision — thus strategic — the U.S. must make. What balance should we have between the F-35 and whatever forms of long-range strike (also known as bombers and missiles) we decide to build? The F-35 buy, he told me after the session broke up, should be pared down so the strike capability can be funded. The Joint Strike Fighter is a relatively short-range aircraft that must rely on hardened bases to protect it since China has fielded capabilities that will allow it to threaten many of our bases in the western Pacific, he said. The long-range strike capability will presumably have longer range and possess greater stealth than the F-35 and thus be better suited to penetrating denied airspaces. He was careful to note that the U.S. must possess a combination of dash (F-35) and persistence (long-range strike) to “manage” China.