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Joseph Blady, M.D. Headshot

The National Defense and the President

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Now that the election is behind us and the president has the luxury of a second term, it is time for him to show the courage of a man who will not need to face re-election in dealing with our national defense.

The most immediate issue is defense spending. This will be directly affected by the possibility of sequestration and whether a budget compromise is achieved before the new year, but, in reality, there's enough wrong with the process that will be there with or without sequestration.

Too many weapons programs match outdated strategies. For example, the Marine Corps insists on the ability to make forced entry from the sea, its historical trademark. Currently, where and under what circumstance this should be necessary is unfathomable, but billions were, and continue to be, wasted on amphibious assault vehicles for just such a mission. Other programs have simply been mishandled and defy every established tenet of procurement. These programs include the Littoral Combat Ship and the F-35 and F-22 fighters, all at some point well over budget and behind schedule. It will take a huge effort on the part of a courageous president to revamp Pentagon procurement while making Congress and hard-lobbying defense firms understand that the federal budget isn't a piggy bank for questionable job creation and bloated profits.

Then there's foreign policy. The president should get us out of Afghanistan faster than the current 2014 timetable. A recent Economist article advocates that we not blow the progress we've made there. This so-called progress is ephemeral, and is based completely on coalition funding and military support for a government run by the worst American ally since Vietnam. Whenever we leave, everything will evaporate or be co-opted by elements we oppose.

Our strategy for Afghanistan is blurred by our appreciation for our military. The accolades are completely justified, but should be directed most at the men in the field, and not used as an excuse for persevering just because we can. We have made senior military members into rock stars in spite of their having pushed strategies, especially counterinsurgency, which have failed. The president should acknowledge reality, tell Congress to end the hero worship in its committee meetings, and bring our people home.

Israel is one of the third rails of national politics. Only a president who does not have to account to Jewish political action groups and voters can address the issue. We have suffered for decades because of our support for Israel, but we should not give up the relationship. At the same time, the Israelis have always maintained that, in the end, they can take care of business without anyone else's help. This is nonsense. Without American defense cooperation, American private contributions, and American markets, Israel would be in desperate straits. It is time to leverage these facts of life to push Israel toward a proper two-state solution with the Palestinians, and we should include security guarantees to sweeten the pot. The main aim should be to take the Palestinian cudgel out of the hands of Islamic governments who add the issue to every discussion. It would also make us more credible players in nuclear and Arab Spring debates.

Iran is suffering mightily under the weight of a well-crafted sanctions regime. Whether it will be adequate to stifle Iran's nuclear program remains to be seen. Under no circumstances should military action be considered beyond the threat of it. Israel should understand that we are utterly opposed to unilateral military action on its part. We have made it clear that an attack on Israel will be avenged. That should be sufficient, because the Iranians aren't nearly as crazy as people make them out. The president should continue to resist congressional hawks who think that every problem can be solved with U.S. troops and bombs.

Our new focus on China and the Pacific includes reorienting military assets into the area. Why? What provocation will justify war? Our arguments with China should be economic, not an attempt to iron out regional differences based on nebulous claims to this or that island, and certainly not to resolve underlying hatreds that have roiled the area forever, and have lost little intensity since World War II. oes anyone seriously see us going to war over Taiwan, treaties notwithstanding? The president should continue his diplomatic efforts and reduce the level of saber rattling.

As for Syria, the insurgents are disorganized and just as vicious as the Assad regime. Figuring out whom to help is clearly beyond the abilities of our beleaguered intelligence community. The president should resist pressure to do more than he's doing.

There will be plenty more. Africa is a full-time job on its own. Libya and Iraq are coming apart. Our relationship with Turkey stinks. Russia will try to regain control over Europe. On and on. The electorate will want the president to get down to the business of fixing the economy and making jobs, as well he should. But the world goes on, and defense-related matters have a huge impact on both our security and our finances. It would be nice to ignore one area to concentrate on the other. Unfortunately, the president does not have that luxury.