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United States Security and the Strategic Landscape

May 15, 2008 
By Newt Gingrich 
Business Executives for National Security
 Senior Fellow Newt Gingrich
American Enterprise Institute 

The United States is facing the greatest crisis in the preservation of government of the people, by the people and for the people since the decades of the 1850s and 1860s.

The failure to think through and implement the necessary reforms of the 1850s led to the bloodiest and most difficult war in American history in the 1860s.

A case can be made that the crises we are drifting into are comparable to the combination of the rise of the dictatorships during the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, the relative scale of the American economy and the underlying strength of American patriotic belief made it likely that the United States would in fact ultimately triumph first over the Nazi Germans, Fascist Italians, and Imperial Japanese and then 50 years later over the Soviet Empire.

That margin of economic power, cultural strength, and institutional professionalism has eroded over the last generation. 

At the same time that America has become less capable, our potential opponents have multiplied in numbers and dramatically increased their capabilities.

Our military capabilities actually mislead us into vastly overestimating our strength relative to potential opponents. Our military capability is a lagging indicator reflecting the capital investments of the past in technology, equipment, and training.

In our recent novels, Pearl Harbor and Days of Infamy, Bill Forstchen, Steve Hanser, and I have begun to describe an active history interpretation of how much worse things would have been if Admiral Yamamoto had led the Japanese Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. An aggressive, technologically advanced, risk taking leader would have damaged the United States much more than the Japanese actually did.

In researching the late 1930s in Asia, the most astounding reality is the degree of British self deception. The plans for protecting Malaya and Singapore were ludicrous and impossible. The resources needed to offset the rising Nazi German threat in Europe made it literally impossible to provide resources for the defense of British interests in Asia. Yet the British defense bureaucracy and political leadership found it literally impossible to confront the rising Japanese challenge and intellectually to think through either a dramatic change in strategy or a dramatic change in resources. The result in the opening weeks of the war was a catastrophic and humiliating defeat in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. The failure to be honest about security threats and the realistic resources needed to meet them led to one of the greatest strategic humiliations in the long history of the British Empire.

Today America is decaying toward a decisive defeat comparable to the British in 1941.

Strategic requirements are much more than immediate military power.

Strategic requirements have to include intellectual power, economic strength, a clear understanding of what threatens America and what needs to be done to meet those threats, and institutional systems defined by achievement and professionalism rather than by process and bureaucracy. On every one of these fronts, the United States is decaying and there is no sign that there is any significant reform effort in sight.

Strategic planning for a great country should reach out to a 15 to 25 year time horizon.

In the Hart-Rudman Commission on which I was privileged to serve and General Boyd led so ably as executive director, we looked out 25 years in a fundamental effort to understand what needed to be done. That report, released in March 2001, stands the test of time as an analysis but the efforts to adjust since then have been weak and ineffective.

The greatest strategic threats to the United States come from:

  • a rising Chinese system of economic, scientific, and military power;
  • a resurgent autocratic Russia using energy wealth to rebuild military power in a decaying and declining population base;
  • an aggressive and dedicated effort by the Irreconcilable wing of Islam to defeat the West, eliminate Israel, and impose a fascist Islamic dictatorship;
  • a growing number of rogue regimes eager to acquire weapons of mass murder, mass destruction and mass disruption to protect themselves against the democracies and enable them to impose their will on their neighbors; and
  • an emerging system of pseudo-legality sustained by a bureaucratic international elite which weakens the democracies, protects the vicious and the evil, and absorbs the energy of decent countries into endless maneuvers of utter impotence and dishonesty.

These five threats are evolving in parallel and sometimes in synergistic coordination with each other.

Any American grand strategy would have to take into account all five threats and would have to be designed to overmatch all five.

One of the tragedies of the the last two administrations has been their unwillingness to confront how large and how difficult the challenges to American security have become.

The current American efforts are too small, too unimaginative, and too timid.

America needs a deep and fundamental debate about the challenges we face, the threats which could destroy America, and the strategic options which must be explored.

Either America has to reduce its strategic goals to accept a declining place in the world or America has to reform fundamentally its systems to enable it to achieve its worldwide goals. Equivocating in between these two choices will risk disaster.

Let me be very clear:
America faces the very real risk of a Chinese system more scientifically advanced, more bureaucratically effective, and with a larger economy capable of focusing more of its resources on national instruments of power.

America faces the very real threat of the Russian autocracy supplying advanced weapons to every nation and movement interested in eroding American power and eager to form alliances against American power on an opportunistic basis.

America faces the very real danger that the forces of both Shia fanaticism (largely Iranian funded and led) and Sunni fanaticism (largely Saudi and indigenously funded but with increasing coordination with the Iranians) have gained a strategic momentum both politically and in military-terrorist capabilities. 

America faces the extraordinary danger that rogue states and rogue movements will acquire nuclear, radiological, biological, and computer systems that can impose enormous damage on America and her allies.

America faces a growing problem of a pseudo legality sustaining an impenetrable, unaccountable, and often corrupt international bureaucracy which has actually made it harder to solve problems in Rwanda, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other zones of terror, murder, kleptocracy, and brutality.

Faced with these large, systemic challenges, the current generation of leaders in both parties are refusing to deal with the scale and the urgency required for continued American prosperity, safety, and freedom.

Education is a key component in sustaining American strategic power. In 1983, 25 years ago, A Nation at Risk reported that our schools were so bad that if a foreign power did to our children what we are doing to them it would be considered an act of war. Seven years ago, in 2001, the Hart-Rudman Commission warned that the failure of math and science education and the failure to invest in science was a greater threat than any conceivable conventional war (and actually was the second greatest threat to American security exceeded only by a weapon of mass destruction going off in an American city, probably from a terrorist attack). We are nowhere in modernizing our systems of learning and we will almost certainly decay unless this quiet crisis is confronted. Education is a profound national security problem strategically.

Economic strength cannot be sustained in a system of litigation, regulation, taxation, bureaucracy, and health costs that are simply unsustainable. The recent purchase of Jaguar by Tata is a powerful symbol of the shift in world economic power. The Chinese launch of a commercial aircraft building company is another indicator that the superiority the West has had for the last two hundred years is now over. For America to be the most dynamic economy in the world for our children and grandchildren, we will have to undertake a fundamental and powerful reform of our domestic systems.

In World War Two we defeated Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan in less than four years measured by American entry into the war. From Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 to the surrender of Japan in August 1945 was three years and eight months. Today it takes 23 years to add a runway to the Atlanta Airport.

The Department of Energy recently announced that it would not complete a clean coal experimental plant it had announced in 2003 for completion in 2008. Now it is planning to launch a new version of that project with a 2016 completion date. The Chinese have announced they will open such a plant near Beijing in 2009. The technology to be licensed worldwide will probably be Chinese and not American.

The Department of Commerce announced that a $1.3 billion handheld computer project had failed and it was now going to undertake the 2010 census with 600,000 temporary workers using paper and pencil at a cost of $15 billion (up from $6.6 billion in 2000).

The gap between the world that works and the world that fails was captured in my recent book, Real Change, and on YouTube in a video entitled "FedEx versus Federal Bureaucracy."

The decay of our economy and our education system make it harder and harder for us to compete with China and Russia.

The failure to fully fund a global system of national security makes it impossible to recapitalize the American military. Because we have too few people and too few resources we are stealing from the future to prop up the present. We are relying on our multiple competitors to be timid, cautious, and unimaginative. Historically that is a very dangerous bet.

We find ourselves crippled by political correctness and incapable of having honest conversations about meeting the threats around the world.

Portions of the recent guides prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center that instruct officials to avoid using Islamic terms in referring to terrorism are enormously self-destructive. If we cannot have an honest discussion about the nature of the threats against us we cannot develop strategies to meet those threats. It is simply suicidal to treat the al-Qaeda network as simply "an illegitimate political organization, both terrorist and criminal" while ignoring the radical religious foundation underpinning this and other groups that constitute an Irreconcilable Wing of Islam. Anyone blind to this should be dismissed from working in National Security.

The failure of the American intelligence and diplomacy system to detect that the North Koreans were apparently lying to us for years while helping the Syrians build a nuclear reactor in secret should alarm every American.

After a year of effort and more than $500 million of aid to the Lebanese Army, we stood helplessly by as Hezbollah showed its capacity to intimidate and dominate the Lebanese government. After all the talk about going after the Syrians for assassinating Lebanese politicians, after all the promises in the United Nations about dismantling Hezbollah in return for Israeli restraint, it is the Syrians and Iranians who are winning in Lebanon and America and democracy who are being defeated.

The consolidation of Hamas in Gaza is another victory for terrorism and defeat for decency and democracy. How our diplomats can talk about seeking peace between terrorists and Israel while the forces of destruction and evil gain momentum is one of the mysteries of our time. Only the willfully self deceptive can look at what is occurring and believe we are not running larger and larger risks.

In the poorest nations in the world a decade long campaign against scientifically improved food has led to a catastrophic decline in the food supply. In dictatorships, the absence of the rule of law diminishes the desire of farmers to produce. While the Europeans and their anti-science liberal friends attack scientifically improved agriculture, the poor pay with their lives for this anti-science fetish.

In the absence of a profound and serious national energy strategy, the United States has allowed supply and demand for energy to become decisively unbalanced.

This year more cars will be purchased on mainland Asia than in the United States. This historic first marks a dramatic increase in demand for energy as Chinese, Indian, and other people become wealthier and desire better lives.

The only practical answer in the next decade is to dramatically increase supply.

In the long run there are many potential technological breakthroughs but none of them will have an impact in the next few years.

The fact is there is a lot of energy to be found if politicians will allow it to be found.

In the last 18 months Brazil has found two large oil fields in the Atlantic.

These two fields are so large they will make Brazil a major oil exporter.

Today it is illegal to look for oil and gas in the Atlantic off the United States.

It is illegal to look for oil and gas in the Pacific off the United States.

It is illegal to look for oil and gas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

It is illegal to look for oil and gas in northern Alaska.

This is an irrational and dangerous policy.

At $20 a barrel Americans can afford to ignore their own resource potential.

At $100 a barrel it is dangerous for the economy and for national security for the United States to adopt a policy of deliberately allowing foreign dictators to define the world energy system.

Very expensive oil makes dictators more secure, more powerful, and more aggressive.

Very expensive oil weakens the economies of the democracies and strengthens the economies of dictators and autocrats.

Very expensive oil gives Russia and Iran a lot more resources with which to invest in competing with the United States.

Very expensive oil gives the Saudis much more money with which to subsidize Wahhabist extremist propagandizing on a worldwide basis.

The absence of an effective American energy policy is a strategic failure second only to the collapse of education in its long term implications for weakening America and making us more vulnerable.

Finally, because nuclear, biological, and information weapons are going to continue to spread, the danger of American being hit in a disastrous way are going to continue to increase.

We badly need a reality oriented, practical exercise hardened Homeland Security system sized to handle three nuclear events in three different cities on the same day. Our current Homeland Security efforts are too small, too bureaucratic, and too out of touch with the hard reality of implementation in a crisis.

These are among the key discussions we need if we are going to have the scale of reform we need to give our children and grandchildren the best possible chance to live in the most prosperous, freest, and safest country in the world.

This is a hard road of many fundamental reforms.

The road of self deception and self deception leading to strategic defeat is much harder.
This speech was orignally prepared for Business Executives for National Security
View the complete video HERE and Newt's media center HERE
More on Newt Gingrich can be found at
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.
Related Links
Related book by Gingrich: Real Change 
Related AEI Press book: Ground Truth

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