The recent withdrawal of Vincent Viola from his nomination to be Secretary of the Army denies our nation the services of a great American at a time when the Army could really use his talents. One can never fully know the machinations of the internal vetting process that worked to undo Viola’s nomination, but his credentials are remarkable: West Point graduate, entrepreneur, and a generous donor to research efforts at West Point. It is difficult to imagine a system that denies someone this talented the opportunity to take another step to serve his country.
Foreign policy, Walter Lippmann wrote, entails “bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation's commitments and the nation's power." If a statesman fails to balance ends and means, he added, "he will follow a course that leads to disaster."
Today, America is hurtling toward such a disaster. Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has possessed uncontested military dominance and enjoyed it at bargain-basement prices. Now, however, America confronts military challenges more numerous and severe than at any time in decades—just at the moment its military resources are showing the effects of prolonged disinvestment in defense. American politicians boast that the nation has the finest fighting force in the history of the world. But the brutal truth today is that the United States is slipping into what Samuel Huntington—building on Lippmann's ideas—termed "strategic insolvency." American military power has become dangerously insufficient relative to the grand strategy—and international order—it must support.
From the mid-1930s through the Cold War, Europe was critical to U.S. strategic thinking, which developed around the assumption that foreign domination of Europe was inimical to U.S. national security. With the end of the Cold War, the United States sought to forge a Europe that was “whole and free.” However, since Putin has returned to office, he has launched a determined effort to reassert Moscow’s influence in areas formerly under Soviet control. Russia’s objective is to overturn the European security order that emerged after the end of the Cold War. As Russia continues to invest aggressively in modernizing its military, many NATO countries continue to pursue policies of disarmament, divest themselves of key capabilities, and struggle to meet NATO’s 2 percent of GDP defense spending requirement. Europe’s political disunity, lack of leadership, and absence of appetite for confrontation with Russia, as well as the weakest United States military presence in Europe since World War II, allow the Kremlin to exploit its growing military capabilities along its periphery. The dwindling presence of NATO forces is now running the risk of failing to deter Russian aggression.
The Trump administration has inherited a military that, while engaged worldwide in defense of America’s interests, has been suffering from the combination of high operational tempo and the corrosive effects of sequestration.
There is excitement at the Pentagon over President Trump’s pledge to undertake a buildup of the country’s military. Support for the new president’s defense agenda is also found among many on Capitol Hill, with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain proposing to add roughly $430 billion to the defense budget over the next five years.
The United States will soon reach a crossroads in its struggle against terrorism. The international coalition fighting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has driven the group out of much of the territory it once held and, sooner or later, will militarily defeat it by destroying its core in Iraq and Syria. But military victory over ISIS will not end the global war on terrorism that the United States has waged since 9/11. Some of ISIS’ provinces may outlive its core. Remnants of the caliphate may morph into an insurgency. Al Qaeda and its affiliates will still pose a threat. Moreover, the conditions that breed jihadist organizations will likely persist across the greater Middle East. So the United States must decide what strategy to pursue in the next stage of the war on terrorism.