U.S. President Donald Trump has proved himself willing to question and challenge many of the conventional wisdoms embedded in contemporary American foreign policies. During his presidential campaign, he questioned the utility of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that has formed the bedrock of American foreign and security policies throughout the Cold War. During his presidential transition, he rocked the foreign policy establishment by accepting a phone call from the Taiwanese President and hinting that he may no longer adhere to America’s long-standing “One-China” policy. In examining these early signals, many analysts anticipate that the foreign policies of his administration will be non-ideological, unconventional, and characterized by a business- like transactional approach emphasizing the costs and visible benefits of American policies and programs.
In early 2003, the Association of the U.S. Army and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released the final report from their joint, blue ribbon Commission on Post-Conflict Reconstruction (PCR) that had completed its year-long study in 2002.1 The PCR Commission had extracted lessons from U.S. and international stabilization, reconstruction, and transition efforts over the previous decade and distilled them into a framework intended to inform such efforts in the future. The United States did not have long to wait to put those lessons into practice; it entered Iraq just 2 months later.
Diplomacy has all but failed in Syria, and it is difficult to envisage when and how diplomatic efforts could be restarted in light of the continued difficulties between Russia and the West. With these difficulties, it is imperative to change focus and tackle the one area where the United States might still be able to have a positive impact: the humanitarian situation in Syria. The first priority in this regard must be the establishment of safe zones within Syria, where civilian populations who fear being targeted by either side can find safe refuge until the conflict can move toward some kind of resolution. Achieving this first priority will require a much more serious commitment than any Western power has yet been willing to make. Failing to do so will carry even higher costs over the medium and long term: the continued migration of refugees into Europe, where the political impact of the migration crisis so far has already had serious political and social costs; as well as the possible spread of the instability contagion to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and perhaps most seriously, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member Turkey.
The primary shortcoming of U.S. policymakers since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been a consistent inability to translate tactical and operational military successes into sustainable strategic political outcomes. This was objectively true for both former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as evidenced by the long and tragic history of the continued conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq that has yielded wholly unsatisfying strategic outcomes. It remains to be seen if President Donald Trump and his senior officials can successfully reverse this trend. Doing so will require a long-term strategy that first establishes realistic and attainable objectives and then skillfully marshals all instruments of national power—military and non-military alike—to accomplish those goals.
In the 2016 U.S. presidential debates, as on other occasions, the theme of Latin America and the Caribbean was remarkably absent. Important events in the region occasionally insert themselves into the U.S. consciousness through the mainstream media, including: the arrival of thousands of Central American child refugees at the U.S. border; the U.S. re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba; the impending collapse of Venezuela; and the Colombian public’s rejection, on October 2, 2016, of the agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Yet even with its geographic connectedness to the United States, and although Latin America eclipses even China and Asia as the U.S. principal foreign trading partner, and despite the fact that more U.S. residents have family in the region than any other part of the world, Latin America, and the Caribbean continue to be remarkably absent from the U.S. strategic and foreign policy discourse.
According to a Gallup poll conducted July 18-25, 2016, the 2016 presidential election campaign had set an inauspicious record: never before have so many Americans held such unfavorable views of each party’s presidential nominee. Among registered voters, 58 percent held negative views of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer immediate and accessible venues for the average citizen to express their support or displeasure on a host of political topics, especially during an election year. For most citizens, that commentary is a natural extension of their freedom of expression, but for members of the U.S. military, it should represent a “no-fly zone.”
In mid-September, European Union (EU) Commission President Jean Claude Juncker delivered the Commision's annual State of the Union address.1 Coming on the heels of the British vote to leave the EU, the address provided a roadmap for overcoming the challenges brought about by what Juncker termed an “existential crisis.” Among the key components of the roadmap were several initiatives related to defense and security. For example, Juncker noted rather bluntly that Europe could not rely on soft power alone and that it therefore needed to “toughen up.” This was music to Washington’s ears, particularly when Juncker went on to argue for Europe to stop “piggy-backing” on the military might of others (read: Washington). European countries already appear to be heeding his call. After years of flat budgets and defense austerity, there is a growing body of evidence that European states have in fact begun to increase defense spending over the last couple of years.2 Although some European states, such as Poland, have been increasing defense spending—if only slightly—for many years, evidence now indicates that such increases are broad-based, if perhaps uneven. For example, recent defense spending increases in Eastern Europe are greater than what is occurring in Northern or Western Europe. Regardless, Juncker was right to promote and encourage this emerging trend.
The American soldiers who returned home from the war in 1945 were greeted with joy and open arms. They were feted in parades, and celebrated in books, films, and songs. They were the heroes of the war that created modern America—wealthy, technologically-advanced, and sitting astride the world. Later they would come to be known as “the greatest generation”; it is a label that many of them eschew, but it speaks to the way they have been appropriated in American public memory and national identity. The soldiers who returned home from the war in the early-1970s came back to a nation that wanted nothing to do with them. Hostile stares, sometimes worse, greeted them on their arrival. American confusion, anger, and guilt about Vietnam were re-directed to its draftee army. After the war, the U.S. military adopted an all-volunteer force structure. For the services, this choice solved many of the problems of dealing with unpredictable civilian draftees and the sometimes-fickle population from which they were drawn. For the American people, it meant that their husbands, sons, and brothers faced very low odds of being asked to go to war. This shift, however, went far to sever the link between American civilians and the military that represents them, protects them, and does their bidding in the world.
There is a widely-shared view in China that the United States has ill will toward China and is always looking for opportunities to make trouble for China. The Chinese believe that this was the case when China was a poor developing nation; and they particularly believe it to be the case today as China is rapidly becoming a great power. The Chinese claim that U.S. influence on every aspect of Chinese foreign and domestic relations is so ubiquitous that they have a name for it: “U.S. factor/shadow/specter”. The Chinese view, however, is largely based on unsubstantiated speculations, erroneously-formed impressions, and poorly-staged analyses; and cannot stand up to close scrutiny. The Chinese assertion that the Philippines vs. China arbitration of 2016 is a U.S.-orchestrated, directed, and supported farce is an excellent example.
According to the Organization of American States (OAS) in its report on “Latin American and Caribbean Cyber Security Trends” released in June 2014, Latin America and the Caribbean have the fastest growing Internet population in the world with 147 million users in 2013 and growing each year.1 While having more users and more network connections are great advancements for traditional developing nations, they also represent a potential threat. Audrey Kurth Cronin points out that “insurgents and terrorist groups have effectively used the Internet to support their operations for at least a decade. The tools of the global information age have helped them with administrative tasks, coordination of operations, recruitment of potential members, and communications among adherents.”2 While much of the discussion regarding potential enemy attacks on U.S. cyber critical infrastructure mainly focuses on China,3 Russia,4 and Iran,5 the Americas have been largely ignored in the literature. Why are the Americas important? Why should we be discussing its place within the U.S. national security strategic goals?