It has often been said that presidential elections are all about the
economy. That just isn’t true. Harry Truman’s election was all about
Korea. John Kennedy’s election focused on missiles, Cuba and Berlin.
Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s elections were heavily about
Vietnam. Ronald Reagan’s first election pivoted on Iran. George W.
Bush’s second election was about Iraq. We won’t argue that presidential
elections are all about foreign policy, but they are not all about the
economy. The 2008 election will certainly contain a massive component
of foreign policy.
We have no wish to advise you how to vote. That’s your decision.
What we want to do is try to describe what the world will look like to
the new president and consider how each candidate is likely to respond
to the world. In trying to consider whether to vote for John McCain or
Barack Obama, it is obviously necessary to consider their stands on
foreign policy issues. But we have to be cautious about campaign
assertions. Kennedy claimed that the Soviets had achieved superiority
in missiles over the United States, knowing full well that there was no
missile gap. Johnson attacked Barry Goldwater for wanting to escalate
the war in Vietnam at the same time he was planning an escalation.
Nixon won the 1968 presidential election by claiming that he had a
secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. What a candidate says is not
always an indicator of what the candidate is thinking.
It gets even trickier when you consider that many of the most
important foreign policy issues are not even imagined during the
election campaign. Truman did not expect that his second term would be
dominated by a war in Korea. Kennedy did not expect to be remembered
for the Cuban missile crisis. Jimmy Carter never imagined in 1976 that
his presidency would be wrecked by the fall of the Shah of Iran and the
hostage crisis. George H. W. Bush didn’t expect to be presiding over
the collapse of communism or a war over Kuwait. George W. Bush
(regardless of conspiracy theories) never expected his entire
presidency to be defined by 9/11. If you read all of these presidents’
position papers in detail, you would never get a hint as to what the
really important foreign policy issues would be in their presidencies.
Between the unreliability of campaign promises and the unexpected in
foreign affairs, predicting what presidents will do is a complex
business. The decisions a president must make once in office are
neither scripted nor conveniently timed. They frequently present
themselves to the president and require decisions in hours that can
permanently define his (or her) administration. Ultimately, voters must
judge, by whatever means they might choose, whether the candidate has
the virtue needed to make those decisions well.
Virtue, as we are using it here, is a term that comes from
Machiavelli. It means the opposite of its conventional usage. A
virtuous leader is one who is clever, cunning, decisive, ruthless and,
above all, effective. Virtue is the ability to face the unexpected and
make the right decision, without position papers, time to reflect or
even enough information. The virtuous leader can do that. Others
cannot. It is a gut call for a voter, and a tough one.
This does not mean that all we can do is guess about a candidate’s
nature. There are three things we can draw on. First, there is the
political tradition the candidate comes from. There are more things
connecting Republican and Democratic foreign policy than some would
like to think, but there are also clear differences. Since each
candidate comes from a different political tradition — as do his
advisers — these traditions can point to how each candidate might react
to events in the world. Second, there are indications in the positions
the candidates take on ongoing events that everyone knows about, such
as Iraq. Having pointed out times in which candidates have been
deceptive, we still believe there is value in looking at their
positions and seeing whether they are coherent and relevant. Finally,
we can look at the future and try to predict what the world will look
like over the next four years. In other words, we can try to limit the
surprises as much as possible.
In order to try to draw this presidential campaign into some degree
of focus on foreign policy, we will proceed in three steps. First, we
will try to outline the foreign policy issues that we think will
confront the new president, with the understanding that history might
well throw in a surprise. Second, we will sketch the traditions and
positions of both Obama and McCain to try to predict how they would
respond to these events. Finally, after the foreign policy debate is
over, we will try to analyze what they actually said within the
framework we created.
Let me emphasize that this is not a partisan exercise. The best
guarantee of objectivity is that there are members of our staff who are
passionately (we might even say irrationally) committed to each of the
candidates. They will be standing by to crush any perceived unfairness.
It is Stratfor’s core belief that it is possible to write about foreign
policy, and even an election, without becoming partisan or polemical.
It is a difficult task and we doubt we can satisfy everyone, but it is
our goal and commitment.
The Post 9/11 World
Ever since 9/11 U.S. foreign policy has focused on the Islamic
world. Starting in late 2002, the focus narrowed to Iraq. When the 2008
campaign for president began a year ago, it appeared Iraq would define
the election almost to the exclusion of all other matters. Clearly,
this is no longer the case, pointing to the dynamism of foreign affairs
and opening the door to a range of other issues.
Iraq remains an issue, but it interacts with a range of other
issues. Among these are the future of U.S.-Iranian relations; U.S.
military strategy in Afghanistan and the availability of troops in Iraq
for that mission; the future of U.S.-Pakistani relations and their
impact on Afghanistan; the future of U.S.-Russian relations and the
extent to which they will interfere in the region; resources available
to contain Russian expansion; the future of the U.S. relationship with
the Europeans and with NATO in the context of growing Russian power and
the war in Afghanistan; Israel’s role, caught as it is between Russia
and Iran; and a host of only marginally related issues. Iraq may be
subsiding, but that simply complicates the world facing the new
The list of problems facing the new president will be substantially
larger than the problems facing George W. Bush, in breadth if not in
intensity. The resources he will have to work with, military, political
and economic, will not be larger for the first year at least.
In terms of military capacity, much will hang on the degree to which
Iraq continues to bog down more than a dozen U.S. brigade combat teams.
Even thereafter, the core problem facing the next president will be the
allocation of limited resources to an expanding number of challenges.
The days when it was all about Iraq is over. It is now all about how to
make the rubber band stretch without breaking.
Iraq remains the place to begin, however, since the shifts there
help define the world the new president will face. To understand the
international landscape the new president will face, it is essential to
begin by understanding what happened in Iraq, and why Iraq is no longer
the defining issue of this campaign.
A Stabilized Iraq and the U.S. Troop Dilemma
In 2006, it appeared that the situation in Iraq was both out of
control and hopeless. Sunni insurgents were waging war against the
United States, Shiite militias were taking shots at the Americans as
well, and Sunnis and Shia were waging a war against each other. There
seemed to be no way to bring the war to anything resembling a
When the Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections,
it appeared inevitable that the United States would begin withdrawing
forces from Iraq. U.S expectations aside, this was the expectation by
all parties in Iraq. Given that the United States was not expected to
remain a decisive force in Iraq, all Iraqi parties discounted the
Americans and maneuvered for position in anticipation of a
post-American Iraq. The Iranians in particular saw an opportunity to
limit a Sunni return to Iraq’s security forces, thus reshaping the
geopolitics of the region. U.S. fighting with Iraqi Sunnis intensified
in preparation for the anticipated American withdrawal.
Bush’s decision to increase forces rather than withdraw them
dramatically changed the psychology of Iraq. It was assumed he had lost
control of the situation. Bush’s decision to surge forces in Iraq,
regardless by how many troops, established two things. First, Bush
remained in control of U.S. policy. Second, the assumption that the
Americans were leaving was untrue. And suddenly, no one was certain
that there would be a vacuum to be filled.
The deployment of forces proved helpful, as did the change in how
the troops were used; recent leaks indicate that new weapon systems
also played a key role. The most important factor, however, was the
realization that the Americans were not leaving on Bush’s watch. Since
no one was sure who the next U.S. president would be, or what his
policies might be, it was thus uncertain that the Americans would leave
Everyone in Iraq suddenly recalculated.
If the Americans weren’t leaving, one option would be to make a deal
with Bush, seen as weak and looking for historical validation.
Alternatively, they could wait for Bush’s successor. Iran remembers — without fondness — its decision not to seal a deal with Carter,
instead preferring to wait for Reagan. Similarly, seeing foreign
jihadists encroaching in Sunni regions and the Shia shaping the
government in Baghdad, the Sunni insurgents began a fundamental
reconsideration of their strategy.
Apart from reversing Iraq’s expectations about the United States,
part of Washington’s general strategy was supplementing military
operations with previously unthinkable political negotiations. First,
the United States began talking to Iraq’s Sunni nationalist insurgents,
and found common ground with them. Neither the Sunni nationalists nor
the United States liked the jihadists, and both wanted the Shia to form
a coalition government. Second, back-channel U.S.-Iranian talks clearly took place. The Iranians realized that the possibility of a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad was evaporating. Iran’s greatest fear was a Sunni Iraqi government armed and backed by the United States,
recreating a version of the Hussein regime that had waged war with Iran
for almost a decade. The Iranians decided that a neutral, coalition
government was the best they could achieve, so they reined in the
The net result of this was that the jihadists were marginalized and
broken, and an uneasy coalition government was created in Baghdad,
balanced between Iran and the United States. The Americans failed to
create a pro-American government in Baghdad, but had blocked the
emergence of a pro-Iranian government. Iraqi society remained
fragmented and fragile, but a degree of peace unthinkable in 2006 had
The first problem facing the next U.S. president will be deciding
when and how many U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq. Unlike 2006,
this issue will not be framed by Iraq alone. First, there will be the
urgency of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Second, there will be the need to create a substantial strategic
reserve to deal with potential requirements in Pakistan, and just as
important, responding to events in the former Soviet Union like the
recent conflict in Georgia.
At the same time, too precipitous a U.S. withdrawal not only could
destabilize the situation internally in Iraq, it could convince Iran
that its dream of a pro-Iranian Iraq is not out of the question. In
short, too rapid a withdrawal could lead to resumption of war in Iraq.
But too slow a withdrawal could make the situation in Afghanistan
untenable and open the door for other crises.
The foreign policy test for the next U.S. president will be
calibrating three urgent requirements with a military force that is
exhausted by five years of warfare in Iraq and seven in Afghanistan.
This force was not significantly expanded since Sept. 11, making this
the first global war the United States has ever fought without a
substantial military expansion. Nothing the new president does will
change this reality for several years, so he will be forced immediately
into juggling insufficient forces without the option of precipitous
withdrawal from Iraq unless he is prepared to accept the consequences,
particularly of a more powerful Iran.
The Nuclear Chip and a Stable U.S.-Iranian Understanding
The nuclear issue has divided the United States and Iran for several years. The issue seems to come and go
depending on events elsewhere. Thus, what was enormously urgent just
prior to the Russo-Georgian war became much less pressing during and
after it. This is not unreasonable in our point of view, because we
regard Iran as much farther from nuclear weapons than others might, and
we suspect that the Bush administration agrees given its recent
indifference to the question.
Certainly, Iran is enriching uranium, and with that uranium, it could possibly explode a nuclear device. But the gap between a nuclear device and weapon
is substantial, and all the enriched uranium in the world will not give
the Iranians a weapon. To have a weapon, it must be ruggedized and
miniaturized to fit on a rocket or to be carried on an attack aircraft.
The technologies needed for that range from material science to
advanced electronics to quality assurance. Creating a weapon is a huge
project. In our view, Iran does not have the depth of integrated
technical skills needed to achieve that goal.
As for North Korea, for Iran a very public nuclear program is a bargaining chip
designed to extract concessions, particularly from the Americans. The
Iranians have continued the program very publicly in spite of threats
of Israeli and American attacks because it made the United States less
likely to dismiss Iranian wishes in Tehran’s true area of strategic
The United States must draw down its forces in Iraq to fight in Afghanistan. The Iranians have no liking for the Taliban,
having nearly gone to war with them in 1998, and having aided the
United States in Afghanistan in 2001. The United States needs Iran’s
commitment to a neutral Iraq to withdraw U.S. forces since Iran could
destabilize Iraq overnight, though Tehran’s ability to spin up Shiite
proxies in Iraq has declined over the past year.
Therefore, the next president very quickly will face the question of
how to deal with Iran. The Bush administration solution — relying on
quiet understandings alongside public hostility — is one model. It is
not necessarily a bad one, so long as forces remain in Iraq to control
the situation. If the first decision the new U.S. president will have
to make is how to transfer forces in Iraq elsewhere, the second
decision will be how to achieve a more stable understanding with Iran.
This is particularly pressing in the context of a more assertive Russia that might reach out to Iran.
The United States will need Iran more than Iran needs the United States
under these circumstances. Washington will need Iran to abstain from
action in Iraq but to act in Afghanistan. More significantly, the
United States will need Iran not to enter into an understanding with
Russia. The next president will have to figure out how to achieve all
these things without giving away more than he needs to, and without
losing his domestic political base in the process.
Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban
The U.S. president also will have to come up with an Afghan policy,
which really doesn’t exist at this moment. The United States and its
NATO allies have deployed about 50,000 troops in Afghanistan. To
benchmark this, the Russians deployed around 120,000 by the mid-1980s,
and were unable to pacify the country. Therefore the possibility of
60,000 troops — or even a few additional brigades on top of that —
pacifying Afghanistan is minimal. The primary task of troops in
Afghanistan now is to defend the Kabul regime and other major cities,
and to try to keep the major roads open. More troops will make this
easier, but by itself, it will not end the war.
The problem in Afghanistan is twofold. First, the Taliban defeated
their rivals in Afghanistan during the civil war of the 1990s because
they were the most cohesive force in the country, were politically
adept and enjoyed Pakistani support. The Taliban’s victory was not
accidental; and all other things being equal, without the U.S.
presence, they could win again. The United States never defeated the Taliban.
Instead, the Taliban refused to engage in massed warfare against
American airpower, retreated, dispersed and regrouped. In most senses,
it is the same force that won the Afghan civil war.
The United States can probably block the Taliban from taking the
cities, but to do more it must do three things. First, it must deny the Taliban sanctuary and lines of supply running from Pakistan.
These two elements allowed the mujahideen to outlast the Soviets. They
helped bring the Taliban to power. And they are fueling the Taliban
today. Second, the United States must form effective coalitions with
tribal groups hostile to the Taliban. To do this it needs the help of
Iran, and more important, Washington must convince the tribes that it
will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely — not an easy task. And third —
the hardest task for the new president — the United States will have to engage the Taliban themselves,
or at least important factions in the Taliban movement, in a political
process. When we recall that the United States negotiated with the
Sunni insurgents in Iraq, this is not as far-fetched as it appears.
The most challenging aspect to deal with in all this is Pakistan.
The United States has two issues in the South Asian country. The first
is the presence of al Qaeda in northern Pakistan. Al Qaeda has not
carried out a successful operation in the United States since 2001, nor
in Europe since 2005. Groups who use the al Qaeda label continue to
operate in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they use the name to
legitimize or celebrate their activities — they are not the same people
who carried out 9/11. Most of al Qaeda prime’s operatives are dead or
scattered, and its main leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri,
are not functional. The United States would love to capture bin Laden
so as to close the books on al Qaeda, but the level of effort needed —
assuming he is even alive — might outstrip U.S. capabilities.
The most difficult step politically for the new U.S. president will
be to close the book on al Qaeda. This does not mean that a new group
of operatives won’t grow from the same soil, and it doesn’t mean that Islamist terrorism is dead by any means.
But it does mean that the particular entity the United States has been
pursuing has effectively been destroyed, and the parts regenerating
under its name are not as dangerous. Asserting victory will be
extremely difficult for the new U.S. president. But without that step,
a massive friction point between the United States and Pakistan will
persist — one that isn’t justified geopolitically and undermines a much
more pressing goal.
The United States needs the Pakistani army to attack the Taliban in
Pakistan, or failing that, permit the United States to attack them
without hindrance from the Pakistani military. Either of these are
nightmarishly difficult things for a Pakistani government to agree to,
and harder still to carry out. Nevertheless, without cutting the line
of supply to Pakistan, like Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail,
Afghanistan cannot be pacified. Therefore, the new president will face
the daunting task of persuading or coercing the Pakistanis to carry out
an action that will massively destabilize their country without
allowing the United States to get bogged down in a Pakistan it cannot
hope to stabilize.
At the same time, the United States must begin the political process
of creating some sort of coalition in Afghanistan that it can live
with. The fact of the matter is that the United States has no long-term
interest in Afghanistan except in ensuring that radical jihadists with
global operational reach are not given sanctuary there. Getting an
agreement to that effect will be hard. Guaranteeing compliance will be
virtually impossible. Nevertheless, that is the task the next president
There are too many moving parts in Afghanistan to be sanguine about
the outcome. It is a much more complex situation than Iraq, if for no
other reason than because the Taliban are a far more effective fighting
force than anything the United States encountered in Iraq, the terrain
far more unfavorable for the U.S. military, and the political actors
much more cynical about American capabilities.
The next U.S. president will have to make a painful decision. He
must either order a long-term holding action designed to protect the
Karzai government, launch a major offensive that includes Pakistan but
has insufficient forces, or withdraw. Geopolitically, withdrawal makes
a great deal of sense. Psychologically, it could unhinge the region and
regenerate al Qaeda-like forces. Politically, it would not be something
a new president could do. But as he ponders Iraq, the future president
will have to address Afghanistan. And as he ponders Afghanistan, he
will have to think about the Russians.
The Russian Resurgence
When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Russians
were allied with the United States. They facilitated the U.S.
relationship with the Northern Alliance, and arranged for air bases in
Central Asia. The American view of Russia was formed in the 1990s. It
was seen as disintegrating, weak and ultimately insignificant to the
global balance. The United States expanded NATO into the former Soviet
Union in the Baltic states and said it wanted to expand it into Ukraine
and Georgia. The Russians made it clear that they regarded this as a
direct threat to their national security, resulting in the 2008 Georgian conflict.
The question now is where U.S.-Russian relations
are going. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the collapse of
the Soviet Union a geopolitical catastrophe. After Ukraine and Georgia,
it is clear he does not trust the United States and that he intends to
reassert his sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. Georgia
was lesson one. The current political crisis in Ukraine is the second lesson unfolding.
The re-emergence of a Russian empire in some form or another
represents a far greater threat to the United States than the Islamic
world. The Islamic world is divided and in chaos. It cannot coalesce
into the caliphate that al Qaeda wanted to create by triggering a wave
of revolutions in the Islamic world. Islamic terrorism remains a
threat, but the geopolitical threat of a unifying Islamic power is not
going to happen.
Russia is a different matter. The Soviet Union and the Russian
empire both posed strategic threats because they could threaten Europe,
the Middle East and China simultaneously. While this overstates the
threat, it does provide some context. A united Eurasia is always
powerful, and threatens to dominate the Eastern Hemisphere. Therefore,
preventing Russia from reasserting its power in the former Soviet Union
should take precedence over all other considerations.
The problem is that the United States and NATO together presently do not have the force needed to stop the Russians. The Russian army is not particularly powerful or effective,
but it is facing forces that are far less powerful and effective. The
United States has its forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan so that
when the war in Georgia broke out, sending ground forces was simply not
an option. The Russians are extremely aware of this window of opportunity, and are clearly taking advantage of it.
The Russians have two main advantages in this aside from American resource deficits. First, the Europeans are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas; German energy dependence on Moscow is particularly acute.
The Europeans are in no military or economic position to take any steps
against the Russians, as the resulting disruption would be disastrous.
Second, as the United States maneuvers with Iran, the Russians can
provide support to Iran, politically and in terms of military
technology, that not only would challenge the United States, it might
embolden the Iranians to try for a better deal in Iraq by destabilizing
Iraq again. Finally, the Russians can pose lesser challenges in the Caribbean
with Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, as well as potentially supporting
Middle Eastern terrorist groups and left-wing Latin American groups.
At this moment, the Russians have far more options than the
Americans have. Therefore, the new U.S. president will have to design a
policy for dealing with the Russians with few options at hand. This is
where his decisions on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan will
intersect and compete with his decisions on Russia. Ideally, the United
States would put forces in the Baltics — which are part of NATO — as
well as in Ukraine and Georgia. But that is not an option and won’t be
for more than a year under the best of circumstances.
The United States therefore must attempt a diplomatic solution with
Russia with very few sticks. The new president will need to try to
devise a package of carrots — e.g., economic incentives — plus the
long-term threat of a confrontation with the United States to persuade
Moscow not to use its window of opportunity to reassert Russian
regional hegemony. Since regional hegemony allows Russia to control its
own destiny, the carrots will have to be very tempting, while the
threat has to be particularly daunting. The president’s task will be
crafting the package and then convincing the Russians it has value.
European Disunity and Military Weakness
One of the problems the United States will face in these
negotiations will be the Europeans. There is no such thing as a
European foreign policy; there are only the foreign policies of the
separate countries. The Germans, for example, do not want a confrontation with Russia
under any circumstances. The United Kingdom, by contrast, is more
willing to take a confrontational approach to Moscow. And the European
military capability, massed and focused, is meager. The Europeans have
badly neglected their military over the past 15 years. What deployable,
expeditionary forces they have are committed to the campaign in
Afghanistan. That means that in dealing with Russia, the Americans do
not have united European support and certainly no meaningful military
weight. This will make any diplomacy with the Russians extremely
One of the issues the new president eventually will have to face is
the value of NATO and the Europeans as a whole. This was an academic
matter while the Russians were prostrate. With the Russians becoming
active, it will become an urgent issue. NATO expansion — and NATO
itself — has lived in a world in which it faced no military threats.
Therefore, it did not have to look at itself militarily. After Georgia,
NATO’s military power becomes very important, and without European
commitment, NATO’s military power independent of the United States —
and the ability to deploy it — becomes minimal. If Germany opts out of
confrontation, then NATO will be paralyzed legally, since it requires
consensus, and geographically. For the United States alone cannot
protect the Baltics without German participation.
The president really will have one choice affecting Europe: Accept
the resurgence of Russia, or resist. If the president resists, he will
have to limit his commitment to the Islamic world severely, rebalance
the size and shape of the U.S. military and revitalize and galvanize
NATO. If he cannot do all of those things, he will face some stark
choices in Europe.
Israel, Turkey, China, and Latin America
Russian pressure is already reshaping aspects of the global system.
The Israelis have approached Georgia very differently from the United
States. They halted weapon sales to Georgia the week before the war,
and have made it clear to Moscow that Israel does not intend to
challenge Russia. The Russians met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad
immediately after the war. This signaled the Israelis that Moscow was
prepared to support Syria with weapons and with Russian naval ships in
the port of Tartus if Israel supports Georgia, and other countries in
the former Soviet Union, we assume. The Israelis appear to have let the Russians know
that they would not do so, separating themselves from the U.S.
position. The next president will have to re-examine the U.S.
relationship with Israel if this breach continues to widen.
In the same way, the United States will have to address its
relationship with Turkey. A long-term ally, Turkey has participated
logistically in the Iraq occupation, but has not been enthusiastic.
Turkey’s economy is booming, its military is substantial and Turkish regional influence is growing. Turkey is extremely wary of being caught in a new Cold War
between Russia and the United States, but this will be difficult to
avoid. Turkey’s interests are very threatened by a Russian resurgence,
and Turkey is the U.S. ally with the most tools for countering Russia.
Both sides will pressure Ankara mercilessly. More than Israel, Turkey
will be critical both in the Islamic world and with the Russians. The
new president will have to address U.S.-Turkish relations both in
context and independent of Russia fairly quickly.
In some ways, China is the great beneficiary of all of this. In the
early days of the Bush administration, there were some confrontations
with China. As the war in Iraq calmed down, Washington seemed to be
increasing its criticisms of China, perhaps even tacitly supporting
Tibetan independence. With the re-emergence of Russia, the United
States is now completely distracted. Contrary to perceptions, China is
not a global military power. Its army is primarily locked in by
geography and its navy is in no way an effective blue-water force. For
its part, the United States is in no position to land troops on
mainland China. Therefore, there is no U.S. geopolitical competition
with China. The next president will have to deal with economic issues
with China, but in the end, China will sell goods to the United States,
and the United States will buy them.
Latin America has been a region of minimal interest to the United
States in the last decade or longer. So long as no global power was
using its territory, the United States did not care what presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — or even the Castros in Cuba
— were doing. But with the Russians back in the Caribbean, at least
symbolically, all of these countries suddenly become more important. At
the moment, the United States has no Latin American policy worth
noting; the new president will have to develop one.
Quite apart from the Russians, the future U.S. president will need
to address Mexico. The security situation in Mexico is deteriorating
substantially, and the U.S.-Mexican border remains porous. The cartels
stretch from Mexico to the streets of American cities where their
customers live. What happens in Mexico, apart from immigration issues,
is obviously of interest to the United States. If the current
trajectory continues, at some point in his administration, the new U.S. president will have to address Mexico — potentially in terms never before considered.
The U.S. Defense Budget
The single issue touching on all of these is the U.S. defense budget.
The focus of defense spending over the past eight years has been the
Army and Marine Corps — albeit with great reluctance. Former Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not an advocate of a heavy Army, favoring
light forces and air power, but reality forced his successors to
reallocate resources. In spite of this, the size of the Army remained
the same — and insufficient for the broader challenges emerging.
The focus of defense spending was Fourth Generation warfare,
essentially counterinsurgency. It became dogma in the military that we
would not see peer-to-peer warfare for a long time. The re-emergence of
Russia, however, obviously raises the specter of peer-to-peer warfare,
which in turn means money for the Air Force as well as naval
rearmament. All of these programs will take a decade or more to
implement, so if Russia is to be a full-blown challenge by 2020,
spending must begin now.
If we assume that the United States will not simply pull out of Iraq
and Afghanistan, but will also commit troops to allies on Russia’s
periphery while retaining a strategic reserve — able to, for example,
protect the U.S.-Mexican border — then we are assuming substantially
increased spending on ground forces. But that will not be enough. The
budgets for the Air Force and Navy will also have to begin rising.
U.S. national strategy is expressed in the defense budget. Every
strategic decision the president makes has to be expressed in budget
dollars with congressional approval. Without that, all of this is
theoretical. The next president will have to start drafting his first
defense budget shortly after taking office. If he chooses to engage all
of the challenges, he must be prepared to increase defense spending. If
he is not prepared to do that, he must concede that some areas of the
world are beyond management. And he will have to decide which areas
these are. In light of the foregoing, as we head toward the debate, 10
questions should be asked of the candidates:
- If the United States removes its forces from Iraq slowly as both of
you advocate, where will the troops come from to deal with Afghanistan
and protect allies in the former Soviet Union?
- The Russians sent 120,000 troops to Afghanistan and failed to pacify the country. How many troops do you think are necessary?
- Do you believe al Qaeda prime is still active and worth pursuing?
- Do you believe the Iranians are capable of producing a deliverable nuclear weapon during your term in office?
- How do you plan to persuade the Pakistani government to go after the Taliban, and what support can you provide them if they do?
- Do you believe the United States should station troops in the
Baltic states, in Ukraine and Georgia as well as in other friendly
countries to protect them from Russia?
- Do you feel that NATO remains a viable alliance, and are the Europeans carrying enough of the burden?
- Do you believe that Mexico represents a national security issue for the United States?
- Do you believe that China represents a strategic challenge to the United States?
- Do you feel that there has been tension between the United States and Israel over the Georgia issue?
George Friedman is chairman and CEO of Stratfor, the world’s
leading online publisher of geopolitical intelligence. This article was
first published on the Stratfor website.