by Tom Andrews and Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. (USA, Ret.)
The media obsession over who's
in and who's out of consideration for the Obama Cabinet brings the
admonition on the famous "War Room" wall of Bill Clinton's 1992
presidential campaign to mind: "It's the Economy Stupid!" Those
of us eagerly awaiting relief from the debacle called the Bush administration
should avoid getting swept up the in DC parlor game of who is getting
what position in the new administration and focus instead on the fundamental
changes we need the Obama administration to start making. In short,
"It's the Policy Stupid!"
President Obama will begin
his presidency with enormous good will from the American people and
great hope from the world at large. It is imperative that he seize this
opportunity by quickly moving his campaign pledges into bold and decisive
action despite the opposition that surely awaits him.
Step one: End the US military
occupation of Iraq. Immediately begin withdrawing US combat
forces within sixteen months, clearly delineating the number and role
of any remaining troops to limited non-combat roles such as providing
security to the US embassy and training Iraqi security forces. Even
before taking office, President-elect Obama's message of change has
made a security pact with Iraq much more likely by assuring Iraqis that
the United States will respect their sovereignty and pull our forces
out. It has weakened Iranian opposition by increasing their confidence
that the US will not be occupying permanent military bases on their
neighbor's soil as a staging ground for attack
Step two: Change course
in Afghanistan. Responding to the Bush administration's failure
in Afghanistan by initiating an escalation of US combat troops could
be the next step into a quagmire that would be a catastrophe for
the United States, Obama's presidency, and the region. Changing course
should include support for the Afghan government's outreach to insurgent
forces, including elements of the Taliban willing to negotiate an end
to armed conflict; a robust diplomatic effort that reaches out to key
regional nations, including Iran and Pakistan; and a serious and sustained
commitment of humanitarian aid and development assistance that can bring
relief and hope to the beleaguered people of Afghanistan. Continued
military commitment should be limited and predicated on a clear exit
strategy that is linked to this comprehensive approach.
Step three: Engage Iran.
President Obama should declare that seeking regime change in Iran is
no longer the policy of the U.S. and initiate diplomatic contacts with
the Iranian government immediately without preconditions.
Step four: Make a just and
lasting peace in the Middle East a top priority by seriously arbitrating a settlement
of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and capitalizing on the common interests
of states in the region to prevent an implosion of Iraq and to establish
Step five: Replenish the
strength of our weakened military by cutting the number of troops that
are put into harms way and striking unnecessary and obsolete military
weapons from the defense budget. President Obama should reject calls
for an increase in military spending and combat forces. Troop levels
should be set not by reacting to the demands of militarizing our foreign
policy under George W. Bush, but by the requirements of a new national
security strategy. Additional levels of combat troops will be
necessary only if the United States intends to launch yet more counter-insurgency
campaigns by invasions and military occupations. The alternative is
a national security policy that buries the "Bush Doctrine," respects
international law, and restores America's place in the world as a
source of inspiration and hope, not outrage and fear.
None of these steps will be
easy. Hawks will echo Senator McCain's attacks during the presidential
campaign that President Obama will be snatching defeat from the jaws
of victory by changing course in Iraq. They will clamor for more troops
in Afghanistan without any semblance of an exit strategy while rejecting
meaningful diplomatic engagement with key regional players like Iran.
And, they will relentlessly pressure Members of Congress from both parties
to continue the gravy train of wasteful defense spending on obsolete
and unnecessary weapons and equipment. President Obama and Members of
Congress need to demand that, from now on, defense spending will be
based on the national security interests of our nation and no longer
on the political self-interest of politicians and the insatiable appetite
of defense contractors.
Undoing the incalculable damage
done by the Bush administration will require a fundamental reassessment
of how to achieve genuine national security and setting a profoundly
different course for national defense and foreign policy. The
election of Barack Obama opens an extraordinary opportunity for our
nation and the world. The stakes are too high to squander it.
Tom Andrews, a former Member of Congress from the first Congressional District of Maine, is the National Director of Win Without War. Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr.,Chairman of the Steering Committee of Vets for Obama, is a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a former President of the National Defense University.