The Wheatley Institution

US National Security Priorities After the Election

Michelle Flournoy
November 1, 2012

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Ms. Flournoy delivered this address shortly before the 2012 presidential election.

Thank you all for coming tonight. I have never had a chance to visit BYU before, but I have heard so many wonderful things about it. It is an honor and a great pleasure to finally get a chance to be here. Even though I left my last job in the Pentagon with the hope of traveling a little less, since I do have three kids (which are the most important part of that bio), I found myself traveling a little over a week ago down to Florida for the presidential debate on foreign policy. I am sure many of you watched it on television. After the debate was done, my job was to go out and be available for the Press to answer questions and comment on what had taken place. I found myself, because of my former position, being the honey for the bees coming from the foreign press. I found myself explaining our process to a lot of journalists from other countries and trying to answer their questions. What really struck me about these journalists from other countries was that their questions were very fundamental. What was the U.S. role in the world going to be in the future? What will our policy towards Asia be under these two candidates? What about the Middle East and the turmoil there? Will there be a conflict with Iran? These were the questions they were asking. They are also the very questions that our next president, whether it is President Obama or Governor Romney, will have on his desk when he walks in the door. They touch on some of the issues I want to discuss with you tonight. When the next president is sworn in, he will be sworn in at a very consequential and challenging moment in our history. He will face a daunting trio of challenges that will profoundly affect our national security.

The first challenge is the international environment itself. It is extremely complex, dynamic, and volatile. We are coming out of more than a decade of war in Iraq and now Afghanistan with a transition plan in place for 2014 on the horizon. We are seeing fundamental shifts in the balance of power in Asia, with the rise of China and India and all of the knock-on effects that is having in the region. We see persistent threats, like the threat of terrorism from al-Qa'ida as it morphs into a set of regional affiliates around the globe. We see dangers of continued nuclear proliferation, most urgent of which is Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon and the potential that could spur further rounds of proliferation in the Middle East. We see both promise and, frankly, peril associated with the revolutions that have been sweeping across the Arab world. We see technological change and state power change that is leading to increasingly congested and contested global common. So the maritime, air, space, and cyberspace domains are becoming more contested areas that will pose new challenges for U.S. freedom of maneuver and freedom of action. I could go on and spend the entire lecture going through that list. It is a very daunting set of international challenges.

The second part of the trio is that the next president will have to address these challenges in an era of budgetary austerity. We have come through a period where we narrowly avoided another Great Depression. We have been through the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. We have seen, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, more than a decade of deficit spending, and we see mounting national debt. We, as a nation, know that we have to get our economic house in order. This has become a national security issue as well as a domestic issue. That is going to involve some very hard choices about where to set priorities and where to accept and manage risk, particularly when you are dealing with that myriad of international challenges I just went through.

The third part of the trio of challenges for the next president is that he must address all of this in an era of unprecedented political polarization, polarization that has essentially brought governance in this country to a virtual standstill. The poster child of this paralysis was the super committee's failure to reach a deal on reducing our national debt. Given the stakes involved for our country, this failure to reach a pragmatic compromise really casts harsh light on a different kind of deficit. That is the deficit of political courage, vision, and classic American pragmatism, the kind of pragmatism that has always been what makes our democracy work. These qualities are sorely needed at a time when ideological display has too often trumped other nobler forms of discipline that have made this country great in our history.

Beyond the negative impacts here at home, this situation has actually generated what I would say is a very pernicious narrative abroad, and that is the narrative of U.S. decline. When you go abroad to places like China and the Middle East, people ask you whether the U.S. will be a reliable ally in the future, whether we have the staying power to deal effectively with the challenges and to sustain our unique and indispensable leadership role in the world. I strongly disagree with the basis of this narrative. Far from being a nation in decline, I believe that America's standing in the world remains strong and our ability to lead the international community is unmatched. Even as other powers rise and the distribution of power become more diffuse, the U.S. remains the indispensable power in the international system. No other nation compares to our power and influence, whether you are talking militarily, economically, or in terms of soft power. The American economy is still by far the largest, the most developed and dynamic in the world. With a sustained positive growth rate over the last 60 years, it represents nearly a quarter of global GDP compared with less than 10% for China, approximately 18% for the nations of the Eurozone combined. Our military is still the largest and most capable in the world. It is battle tested and has been proven able to adapt and innovate to meet a very complex and broad rate of challenges. Our potent and very influential network of alliances and partnerships around the world is unique and it ensures that we very rarely have to act alone. Our soft power is reflected in our influence—the influences of our values, the influence of our cultural landscape, our influence of international institutions, both public and private. It reflects the sustained appeal of America's ideal of freedom, human rights, and democracy.

So to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of America's demise are greatly exaggerated, but that is not to say that sustaining our unique leadership position will be a given. It is not. It will require tough choices to revitalize the foundation of our national security: our economy, including bringing government spending and revenues into balance, controlling healthcare and entitlement costs, and increasing long term investment in what are the drivers of our economic competitiveness. Things like education, infrastructure, and innovation. Sustaining our leadership position in the world will also require smart engagement abroad to ensure the very conditions on which our economic growth relies, things like stability in key regions and uninterrupted trade flows. In some ways we are, as President Obama has said, at a strategic inflection point, a time when we have to begin to shift our gaze from the recent past—the demands of the last decade of war—to focus on how we are going to shape the next ten years. The next twenty years? The next thirty years? How are we going to secure the drivers of our economic prosperity and our security long term? So it is in this context that the next president, whoever it is, will have to give priority to five key challenges to advance our national security.

The first you can guess from what I have already said. In my view, it is breaking the domestic and political gridlock and getting to a budget deal that unleashes our economic growth. Setting the parameters of our tax policy, our government spending, and freeing up private sector investment—that is what is going to unleash the economy and create jobs. If we believe that our economic strength is the foundation of our national security (and I do believe that is the case), then this is a national security imperative as much as a domestic one. It is also critical to putting a stop to this very pernicious narrative, an erroneous narrative, of U.S. decline. The Australian prime minister recently said something that I really liked. She said, "The United States is just one budget deal away from restoring its global preeminence.' I would agree.

The second challenge that the next president will face in terms of urgency is preventing Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon. President Obama has been clear that he is committed to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon and that all options are on the table. Governor Romney has been very clear that he endorses this goal. So many people ask, "Why prevention and not containment? Containment served us well all those years in the Cold War.' My answer is because even if some element of nuclear deterrence could be established with Iran, the broader negative effects of a nuclear Iran could not be adequately contained. There is the potential, first and foremost, for others in the region to feel compelled to also pursue a nuclear weapons option in response, creating a cascade of proliferation in the most volatile region of the world. There is also the potential that Iran's proxies, like Hezbollah, would feel more emboldened to undertake destabilizing activities across the region, to undertake terrorism covered by Iran's nuclear umbrella.

So what is the right strategy for stopping Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon? I think it is many of the steps that we are pursuing and need to continue to pursue. First, putting together an international coalition that has put in place the most crippling sanctions in the history, sanctions that have devalued Iran's currency by 80% and have virtually stopped its oil exports. Second, keeping all options on the table, including military options, and making sure that we take the necessary steps to make those real. That means planning and exercising. It means posturing our forces in the region. That has been done. We need to make it clear to Iran that the door to negotiations is not open forever. Third, we need to try to seek to change Iran's calculus and negotiate an outcome using diplomacy that brings Iran back into compliance with its non-proliferation obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Meanwhile, we have to do our best to continue to reassure our ally Israel that the U.S. has an unshakable commitment to its security. Despite whatever we hear in the rhetoric of our elections, that commitment has been fully bipartisan and shared across numerous administrations since Israel's founding. It has been supported of late by historic levels of security systems, by U.S. investment in Israel's rocket and missile defenses, and by the largest bilateral defense exercise ever in our history. This should be true no matter who is elected president. As I said, this has been a bipartisan plank of our foreign policy for decades. In my view, it is ultimately far better to resolve the situation using diplomacy without the resort to force, if at all possible. Striking Iranian nuclear facilities would, in the end, only be a delay. It is a move that one of my colleagues called "mowing the grass.'  The day after that happens, you have to be in a position of international unity to try to continue to prevent Iran's pursuit. So the only ultimate resolution is to get them to actually agree to some constraints.

The third challenge on the next president's plate is ending the war in Afghanistan responsibly while continuing to sustain our focus on al-Qa'ida. This administration has refocused U.S. policy on a very clear set of objectives: disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qa'ida, and denying its safe haven wherever it takes root. This is our strategic objective in Afghanistan. It is a limited objective, but it is a strategic one. We are now on the path to transition with the Afghans stepping into the lead for security across the country by 2014. That timeline has the full support of the Afghans. It has the full support of 49 ISEF partners who are there with us on the ground. We will bring the bulk of our troops home at that point, but it will not end our commitment. We will not walk away from Afghanistan. We have seen that movie before. A small residual force will stay in place to do joint counterterrorism operations with the Afghans and also continue to train and support them as they develop as a military. Plus, there is a larger strategic partnership agreement that has been put in place to ensure continued cooperation and economic development assistance.

Here is the challenge, though: we have put a huge amount of effort into creating a better security situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the various elements of Afghan leadership and society have not used that time and space as effectively as they might have to make political progress, to get towards real reconciliation between the different factions on the ground. I still think there is time for that to make progress, but if it doesn't change, it will increase the level of risk associated with sustaining our gains after 2014. In having made eight trips to Afghanistan in my three years as Under Secretary and gone to virtually every province, the good news is that the real progress in Afghanistan—from the bottom up, in terms of local governance and local development—is real, and that is sustainable in many parts of the country. Even though you hear of some very tragic and disturbing violence between some of the Afghans and their trainers, the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) are now in the lead for more than half the country, securing half the country. Where they are in the lead, for the most part, they are doing so quite successfully. So there is some good news there.

As the United States, we need to stay focused on our strategic objective of denying Afghanistan as a future safe haven for terrorists. Beyond Afghanistan, we need to evolve our counterterrorism strategy as al-Qa'ida evolves as an organization. Certainly we need to keep pressure on the core of al-Qa'ida, which is the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. We have made tremendous progress in decimating their leadership ranks there. We also need to put greater emphasis on building the capacity of our partners in countries like Yemen so they can secure their own territory and reduce the terrorist threat to us. We also need to continue partnered counterterrorism operations wherever possible, with a host nation in the lead. There will almost certainly be times in the future where unilateral U.S. operations against eminent threats are necessary when our partners are either unable or unwilling to take care of the threat for us.

I did want to pause for a moment and share an anecdote that makes some of this real. I had the opportunity to witness this president work through the decision of whether or not to launch the raid against Osama bin Laden. While it may, in retrospect, seem like it was a no-brainer presidential decision, it was not at all clear at the time. At the time, all of the intelligence we had was purely circumstantial. The presence of a former al-Qa'ida facilitator at the compound, unusual security measures and unusual architecture in the compound, but there was no direct, hard evidence that bin Laden was actually there. When it came time to advise the president with recommendations, his advisors were divided. Some said, "You should wait. Take more time, gather more intelligence and be more certain.' Others said, "You should do this from the air, conduct an air strike, but don't put Americans on the ground in harm's way.' Others said, "We have these wonderful new technologies, these stealthy drones, and you should use those. Take out the compact.' Finally, you had others who said, "This is what special operations were created for. The only way we are going to absolutely know it is him and have the evidence to show that is through using special operations.'

All of this involves serious risks. There is the risk associated with putting U.S. lives in harm's way, the risks of the potential strains that it could put on our relationship with Pakistan, and the risk of, what if we were wrong? What would that do to U.S. credibility and standing, in that part of the world and more broadly? My point is, if you take this as a case of presidential decision making, we know that the next president, whoever he is, will have to make similar tough calls of one kind or another. Calls that will require leadership, judgment, fortitude, and a very strong moral compass. One last impression that I would share from that night was the most memorable moment, when then the raid actually occurred. Some might think it was when the helicopter went down, some might think when the Geronimo EKIA, the bin Laden code name, came over the radio. But for me, it was walking out of the White House Situation Room at midnight, hearing singing, stopping, listening, and realizing that hundreds and hundreds of Americans had gathered spontaneously on the park across from the White House. They were singing the national anthem. I realized that this was a moment of national closure after 9/11. That was the real importance of this event.

The fourth challenge that the next president will have to deal with is protecting our interests in the Middle East in this period of revolutionary change. As you all know, students of international relations, the U.S. has many vital interests in this region, from ensuring the free flow of oil to international markets to ensuring our own access to critical trade routes and international waterways like the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal. We also have a deep interest in this region becoming more democratic and free. The only path to stability, in my view, is through further political and economic reform. I think the U.S. chose to be on the right side of history when we chose to support these revolutions. In Libya, we led an international coalition that included not only our traditional European partners but the Arab League to prevent civilian massacre of tens of thousands of Libyans by their own government and create the conditions for the Libyan opposition to pull together and actually overthrow a brutal dictator. In Egypt, we called for Mubarak to step down. We worked behind the scenes to press the Egyptian military not to make the revolution violent, not to oppose the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and to ensure a peaceful handover of power.

In Syria, we have been very clear as the United States that Assad must go. We have been providing humanitarian assistance, non-lethal assistance, command and control to the opposition on the ground, and assistance to the parts of Syria that are now free and out from under Assad's control. We have been working intensively behind the scenes to try to unify the opposition so that they can become a viable alternative and so they can articulate a platform for transition going forward that would guarantee minority rights and allow the Alawites to abandon Assad and switch sides. That is what will tip this situation in Syria. As these revolutions unfold, we have to be very careful that as we support the democratic process, it doesn't bring non-democratic elements into power. In Libya and Egypt, for example, we have to continue to work to shape the decisions of new leaders there and help them understand that U.S. assistance and international assistance depend on their willingness to abide by their international obligations (such as the Egyptians' commitment to the peace accords with Israel) and to international norms (such as protection for their own minority populations). We must expect that there are going to be very significant ups and downs as these historic events unfold. These revolutions will unfold over the course of a generation or more. This is a very long book. Think War and Peace, and we are in the very early pages of the first chapter—and, frankly, the pen is in the hands of the populations in these countries.

The fifth and final challenge I will highlight for the next president is rebalancing more of our attention and resources toward Asia-Pacific. Some of you have heard of this notion of "the pivot.' I don't use the word "pivot' because pivot sounds like you are turning your back on other parts of the world, which is not the intention.

As you think about our long term future, no region in the world will be more important to U.S. economic prosperity and growth than Asia-Pacific. It accounts for half the world's population and GDP and nearly half of the global trade. Plus, the shifting power dynamics we talked about earlier, with China and India on the rise, will greatly affect our interest. Since World War II, the United States has played a unique stabilizing role in this region, and the stability that has been created is what has allowed for tremendous economic growth in the region, tremendous growth in global commerce, and our own prosperity.

As I said, rebalancing does not mean turning our back on the Middle East or walking away from our NATO allies. What it does mean is putting relatively more emphasis on Asia diplomatically. First of all, you have to show up. You actually have to go to the various regional meetings, be a consistent presence, and play a leadership role. You have to invest in modernizing your traditional alliances with countries like Japan, South Korea, and Australia. You also have to invest in new and critical partnerships, like India and the countries of Southeast Asia. And you have to try and play your part to lead in certain multi-lateral fora to reinforce the rules-based order that will ultimately reduce the risk of conflict with these shifting power dynamics. Economically, it means bolstering our bilateral investment and trade with these countries. It means pursuing free trade agreements like the TPP. Militarily, it means adjusting our posture so that a little bit more of our naval and air forces are rotating through the region, providing more presence, more access, more training, and more exercising with our partners in the region while also ensuring that we protect investment in the very capabilities that will ensure our freedom of action in the increasingly congested and contested global commons.

I would like to conclude my prepared remarks with a note of optimism, because any of you who know me know that I am unfailingly optimistic. One of the reasons why I believe that we will ultimately see a sustained period of American leadership is that throughout our history, when we have encountered times of difficulty, times of challenge as a nation, we as a people come together. We come together to pursue our broader national interests. I very recently experienced a coming together of this nature that no one thought was possible. When the Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, by a bipartisan majority, they told the Pentagon to find $487 billion of cuts over ten years—almost half a trillion dollars. Normally, when that kind of direction comes from the Congress, it is like pouring lighter fluid on the fire of inner service rivalry. The gloves come off, the knives come out, and people are protecting their share of the pie.

What was extraordinary this last time around was that that didn't happen. The president invited the Secretary, the chairmen, all of the service chiefs, and all of the combatant commanders to first one, then two, then three multiple hour sessions at the White House. He basically said, "I want all of you to come first as Americans, and second as part of a corporate body that is responsible for the defense of this nation. This is what our Congress has told us we have to live within. How are we going to keep this country safe? Can we keep this country safe? How do we do that? So take off your parochial hat, put on your national security corporate board of directors hat, and let's work through this together.' They worked iteratively for many hours and came up with a strategy that is now the strategic guidance of the United States. It is the strategy that has driven the FY13 budget.

The fact that that could happen in these circumstances gives me hope that we can actually be our best selves in these very challenging times. It was an example of the strategic and of the national interest trumping the parochial. So the question I have is, can the Congress and the next administration rise to the occasion, given the polarization and parochialism that has so dominated our recent political discourse? Protecting this nation's security in these consequential and challenging times will require all of us to look beyond the narrow interests of any particular office, department, party, state, region, service, or special interest group. There are those who believe that we have lost the ability to do this, but the process that generated that strategic guidance gives me hope to think otherwise. The truth is, we must transcend the partisan and the parochial to protect our national security for the future. Thank you.

Question and Answer

Question: I want to ask you about the silent war, which is the drone war, going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is rarely mentioned. There was a recent Stanford-NYU study that estimated that between 1,400 and 2,600 people have died as a result of this drone war. They conducted over 130 different interviews and concluded that, of these deaths, only 2% were actually high-level targeted kills. Many of these were civilian deaths, children that have died. Many communities in Pakistan have been disrupted because of the drone war, and to them it is seen as a violation of their sovereignty. The study also cited the fact that the recruitment numbers are up and that the drone war is actually motivating violence. If we believe that presidents should have the power to execute and kill (including U.S. citizens) without due process, without any checks or transparency (and this was validated under the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve last year and is actually being challenged in many courts of law), where have we gone?

Answer: Let me try to work through this issue. First of all, I think that we have to have a comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism. Our preferred approach is working in concert with partners and allies who take the lead on the ground. We support them with capacity building; we support them in being effective. Where that is not possible, whether a government lacks a capability or lacks the political will to actually assert their will in a given area and deal with terrorists that pose an imminent threat to the United States (that is a key condition—active plotting that poses an imminent threat to the United States homeland), there will be times when we need to take unilateral measures.

I can't say a lot about the use of drones, but the one thing I can say is that there are a couple of misimpressions out there. One misimpression is that this is done without any regard to law or to authority. I can tell you that every single target is vetted with regard to the authorities that have been provided by Congress in the AUMF, legislation that was passed after 9/11. The second thing is that extraordinary care is taken to prevent civilian casualties. I will tell you that there is very strong evidence of substantial misreporting and misinformation on the civilian casualty issue, particularly in Pakistan. There may be U.S. observation that validates that absolutely no civilians were killed, and the next day the Press will say "200 people were killed.' So I think it is very difficult to adjudicate this using only open source material, and there are a lot of misperceptions out there.

The third point I would make is that I think there is a danger in overreliance on any one instrument, particularly one that is unilateral and kinetic. You have to look at this in the long term. That is, how do various approaches feed the cycle of radicalization, recruitment, and also, on the other end, taking people off the battlefield? I think we have to consider this as part of a broader strategy. I will tell you from personal experience that extraordinary care is taken. Extraordinary. At the highest levels, care is taken to be compliant with the law and to avoid, at very large costs, civilian casualties.

Question: First, I would just like to say thank you for coming to spend time with us tonight. We have seen the map in the Middle East reset by the Arab Spring, with fundamentally authoritarian regimes being replaced by regimes  that are perhaps weaker, perhaps even more complacent toward terrorist organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood being one in Egypt. With that lens, do you think the attack in Benghazi recently is an anomaly, or is it more of an indication of the expansion of terrorist activity and terrorist attacks throughout the Muslim world and perhaps the proliferation of al-Qa'ida or like-minded groups outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Answer: The U.S. has been targeted for attacks of this nature for as long as we have been in the Middle East. Think of the marine barracks in Lebanon and the attack on our air force facilities in Saudi Arabia, Khobar Towers. There have long been these elements, and there is always that vulnerability. I think what happened in Libya is a result of the fact that you have the very early days of a new nation emerging. The government does not yet have a monopoly on the use of force, so it has not managed yet to unify the different elements of these different militias, these different groups, into the military and police force that is cohesive and government-controlled. I think in that vacuum, despite a lot of effort and security assistance on the part of us, the Europeans, and others who had been involved in the intervention, they are still working down that road. In that vacuum, there are some extremist groups that are still operating inside Libya.

I think in the case of Benghazi, the intelligence picture in terms of what we knew and when we knew it has been evolving over time. Initially, there was some thought that perhaps there was a protest that was then hijacked by an attack. It now looks like this was a direct terrorist attack, but not one for which (to my knowledge) there was any advanced intelligence reporting. This was rather unpredicted. The president launched an investigation and said, "No interference whatsoever. We will get to the bottom of this. If there are lessons learned, if there are people to be held accountable, if there were mistakes made, we are going to find out what those were, and we are going to deal with it.' I think he has been very clear to send the signal that we are going to figure out who was responsible for this and bring those perpetrators to justice. I think credibility on that point will be strong.

This is an example of a phenomenon that we are going to have to deal with throughout this region going forward. I think it is going to raise a lot of hard tradeoffs about how we define our presence, how we secure our presence, and how we operate in the region effectively. We obviously need to be on the ground, but there are also real risks for being on the ground.

Question: In the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney spoke about making countries like China play by the rules. How do statements like this affect China and other Asian nations in the region? How do we change policy of the country with an average growth rate of 10% and the largest population in the world?

Answer: Actually, I think trying to integrate China into a rules-based order and have them be a responsible stakeholder has actually been a theme across both Republican and Democratic administrations, and it is something that U.S. diplomats are constantly saying to their Chinese counterparts. I think the argument for that change being possible rests on the belief that China has an incentive to be part of the global economy because the political lead in China, their ability to remain in power, depends on continuing to grow their economy and continuing to lift millions and millions of people every year out of poverty. The only way they can do that is to be fully integrated into that global economy.

To the extent that their behavior departs from international norms and isolates them in any way, constrains them, makes them the object of sanctions, labels them a currency manipulator, or subjects them to trade war, that hurts them. That is not in their interest. So there is some common interest in this. They are a rising power with a very proud history, and they expect to be able to influence that rules-based order to make it more to their liking. That is the friction that we are going to have to manage in the coming years, and try to do so without it resulting in any kind of open conflict.

Question: I want to switch topics and talk about immigration. Could you address past illegal immigration laws, how those compare to current laws, and how we can improve those laws?

Answer: Well, I am going to give you the award for challenging me outside of my area of expertise. What I will say is that I think immigration reform has become a strategic issue for this country. The system that we have had in the past is not serving us adequately now. I think when you look at U.S. demographics, when you look at what drives growth in our economy, when you look at what drives innovation and so forth, it is our national strength when we figure out how to welcome, integrate, leverage, and incorporate all of that wonderful energy and talent from around the world. We have got to do a better job of this. I think this is a very ripe issue for the next president in the next four years, but I can't exactly answer your question without getting way out of my own depth.

Question: I wanted to ask you about Pakistan. You mentioned strengthening our alliance with India and pulling out of Afghanistan. What does that mean as far as Pakistan, which holds nuclear weapons and is a volatile country?

Answer: That is a very important question. The stability of Pakistan will really determine the stability of that whole south Asian region in the coming years. Pakistan has a number of challenges. It has a very weak set of civilian institutions, a very strong set of security institutions, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, a population that is becoming increasingly radicalized in terms of its religious views, and whole swaths of its territory that are ungoverned and still at risk of becoming havens for terrorists or still are havens for terrorist. So it is a bit of a tinderbox.

I think if you were to ask many of the leaders of current national security team what keeps them up at night, it is scenarios involving Pakistan. We have made a strategic investment in that partnership. It has had great ups and downs. I don't think we have a choice of walking away from the relationship. When we have done that in the past, with sanctions and so forth, it hasn't turned out so well. It hasn't served our interests very well. In my view, in the long term, what will strengthen Pakistan's position more than anything else is stronger civilian government and stronger civilian institutions that actually can redirect the resources of the country towards meeting the basic needs of the population, as opposed to sort of fueling continued tension with India. That is a long term project, but we need to be on the right side of that effort, in my view.

Question: I have a question for you, returning to Benghazi. Do you believe the three requests on behalf of the U.S. Ambassador to beef up the security in Benghazi was a policy failure of President Obama's? What is your take on that?

Answer: I have not been briefed on the details of exactly what happened when, how far those requests went, and who at what level saw them. I don't know those details. I can't answer this specifically. I am concerned that, in general, one of the things that has happened as budget constraints have tightened is we have shortchanged diplomatic security in general. If you look at the State Department request for security and then what the Congress has given them in return, it tends to be hundreds of millions of dollars short of what they actually need to be securing their facilities abroad. I can't answer the specifics in this case because we don't know all the facts yet, and that is exactly what the investigation is going to get at.

Question: You earlier mentioned Julia Gillard, the prime minister of Australia who recently called the upcoming century an Asian century. Obviously, there is a huge debate there about whether or not this upcoming century will be characterized as more of an Asian one or American one, but in the context of our current commitments to the region carriers, air force assets, etc., do you see them being enough to continue the kind of regional stability you were pointing to in the Asia-Pacific region of the past sixty years? Or, with recent Chinese posturing and saber-rattling, do you see the U.S. needing to seriously realign troops and strategic assets in the near future?

Answer: I think that we are in the process of shifting our posture more towards Asia. Secretary of Defense Panetta has talked about putting 60% of our fleet into the Asia-Pacific region, with many of those rotations transiting the Middle East. So it is a twofer. The budget calls to build the navy to about 300 ships and then sustain it at that level from 2019 forward. More important than the number of ships, in my view, is what is being put on the ships and on the airplanes. One of the things that came out of the strategic guidance review was a very firm commitment to prioritize and protect investment in the capabilities that underwrite this new concept of Air-Sea Battle, which is ensuring that our air force and our naval assets, both navy and marine, can actually operate it in very contested environments, environments where another military was trying to deny us access or deny us an area.

So it is an investment in those critical capabilities that is really as important, if not more important, in my mind, than simply counting platform numbers. I think when you look at side-by-side comparisons between the U.S. and China, there is no comparison, navy to navy or air force to air force, in terms of quantity or quality. That is not the point. The point is, to the extent China challenges the military balance in the region, they are going to do so asymmetrically. So the real question is, do we have what we need to meet an asymmetric challenge? Certainly we need to invest as a nation to have the capabilities necessary to maintain our freedom of action and stability in the region. My hope is that we won't actually get to a point of direct competition and conflict if we play our diplomatic and economic cards right. This is a very important question for the future, shaping of the U.S. military. But with some of the hyping of this issue that has happened during the election debate, when you actually look at the analysis, it is overplayed. In a resource-constrained environment where you have to make choices, I think we have that about right in the current plan.

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