Richard Clarke's Security Challenges for 2007
In the Washington Post this New Year's Day, former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke has a compelling op-ed piece ("While You Were At War...") on the dangerous and rising opportunity costs of the Bush administration's Iraq fixation.
In a nutshell, Clarke argues that while President Bush and the U.S. national security apparatus have been focused like a laser beam on "grave and deteriorating" war in Iraq, other mounting security challenges have fallen off the radar. While the emphasis may differ, Clarke's warning is strikingly similar to my own expressed in June of 2004.
Clarke's thesis is straight-forward:
With the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.
National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" -- just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.
The threat posed by the Bush adminstration's "kids soccer syndrome" over Iraq is that nascent security challenges will grow and fester. By the time the United States begins to respond, he warns, it may be too late.
For Clarke, the top 7 looming threats start with global warming, with its potential for devastating environmental change and economic upheaval. Second, an increasingly aggressive, retrograde Russia under Vladimir Putin will poses strategic worries and diplomatic roadblocks for the United States. Next, the growing leftward movement of Latin American democracies threatens to undermine America's position even as South America becomes economically more important - and independent.
Africa, too, is threatening to spiral out of control, as AIDS, genocide in Darfur, conflict in Congo and Somalia, economic deprivation and environmental disaster combine to potentially produce instability and humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. Meanwhile, with Iran, North Korea and other nuclear threats going unchecked, the risk of WMD proliferation continues to grow. In addition, the expanding network of transnational crime syndicates involved in drugs, weapons and human smuggling may undermine the abilities of sovereign national governments combating them. And last but not least, the still simmering fire of the Al Qaeda/Taliban sanctuary along the Afghan-Pakistan border poses growing threats to the Musharraf government - and us.
If Clarke's alarm bells sound familiar to Perrspectives readers, they should. After all, in June 2004, I described the coming end of American unilateralism and the new 21st challenges the U.S. would face.
In "The End of the Unilateral Moment: Five Global Challenges for a New American Internationalism", I highlighted five priorities for U.S. policymakers that were being lost in the haze of Iraq. Beyond winning the war against Al Qaeda, these include addressing nuclear proliferation, managing the growing economic and military power of China, accommodating the rise of the European Union as an economic competitor, and adjusting to the realities of the new global economy. In 2004, I highlighted five key priorities for U.S. policymakers that were being lost in the haze of Iraq. Beyond winning the war against Al Qaeda, these include addressing nuclear proliferation, managing the growing economic and military power of China, accommodating the rise of the European Union as an economic competitor, and adjusting to the realities of the new global economy. As I wrote in 2004:
With American unilateralism disgraced and discredited [over Iraq], the United States can and must move on to a new internationalism to meet the five global challenges of the 21st century. In a time of global terrorist threats, the U.S. must rebuild its alliances, partnerships, and most of all, its reputation, to help ensure its security. In a time of new competition from the EU, China, India and others in the global economy, the U.S. must skillfully manage economic transition to maximize the American standard of living. At a time of rapidly growing Chinese economic and geo-political power, the United States must ensure that competition does not become conflict. And with the building threat of nuclear proliferation, the United States must work in concert with allies and international institutions.
With this as in so many other matters, Richard Clarke is helping to the point the way to the future. Hopefully, he'll get a better hearing from the Bush White House this time.