06/25/2015 01:36 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2016

National Defense Strategy

There is an old saying that if you don't know where you are going, any road is as good as another. The Obama administration's self-confessed lack of a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, not to mention the varied assortment of other terrorist organizations -- such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- leaves our military in a conundrum. Given such diverse threats in a volatile arena, and our limited resources, the military needs a strategic plan. To succeed at anything, you must first have at least some idea of what success would look like.

The current policy of feeding in small contingents of "advisors" is unlikely to have much effect. We have already provided Iraq with vast amounts of military resources, much of which has already been captured by the Islamic State. The root source of the conflict is the age-old quarrel between Sunnis and Shiites. Both sides routinely castigate the United States and Israel, but their primary rage is against each other. Until such time as reasonable leaders should emerge in the Islamic world that would lay that ancient grievance to rest, there can be no lasting peace.

In the meantime, the president and Congress must keep in mind that while this intractable conflict in the Mideast is horrific, it is not the primary concern of our military. By far our biggest challenges are:

• Nuclear deterrence. We like to think we laid the nuclear genie to rest when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the Russian dictator Putin is a character straight out of the Cold War and he has a huge nuclear arsenal at his command. Already he has much of Europe on edge requesting our military aid. He poses a much greater threat to our national security than Islamic terrorists.

• Control of the seas. Our ability to flex our military muscle depends on our ability to project power around the globe. But the evolution of advanced rocketry poses a real and present threat to our carrier groups. The Chinese are rapidly building up their naval forces and are flexing their muscles in the South China Sea. Our allies in the region are looking to us for protection.

• Freedom of space. The skies are filled with satellites, some transmitting civilian and commercial communication, and others our military communications. Many nations have the power to shoot satellites out of the sky. A major disruption of global communications would have potentially catastrophic consequences.

Our military leadership is striving to persuade the administration and Congress to focus on our top priorities, but the media obsession with terrorism is distracting them from the military's core mission -- which is national defense. We have put many boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and derived precious little from our efforts. In the absence of a coherent strategy, it makes little sense to send more of our precious people in harm's way over there. We need to stay focused on the big picture.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.