National Security Experts


Gordon Adams

Biography provided by participant

Gordon Adams is a specialist on national security policy-making and resource planning. He has served in the executive branch as Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, where he had responsibility for resource planning across the full spectrum of the U.S. international engagement - military, foreign policy and intelligence. He is widely published, appears frequently in the media on national security issues, and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.

Recent Responses

May 7, 2012 08:21 PM

The House Armed Services Committee will do its usual thing this year, exacerbated by the ideological campaign Chairman McKeon is running as part of the Republican battle plan in an election year. Fortunately, nobody is listening and the outcome will likely be pretty much what the Congress agreed to in the Budget Control Act last August. No need to hyperventilate here.

The usual thing is to mark back into the bill all the "stuff" the members of the committee want, but was taken out in the Administration's request. We'll see money for hardware, mostly - M1-A2 and Bradley upgrades the Pentagon doesn't need; a new site for missile defense the nation doesn't need, a UAV version that is too expensive. It is all stuff made somewhere - a collection of the normal pet rocks. And he will try to roll back the decision to reduce the size of the Army and Marines back to a bit more people than they had in 2001.

McKeon made room for it by increasing the budget above the Administration's request (with the ideological support of Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan). Tha

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February 13, 2012 09:38 AM

The defense budget for FY 2013 is already on ice. The deal was done last August, so the FY 2013 defense number has already been accepted, by the Congress and by the White House. There is not likely to be a lot of debate about it; maybe there will even be an appropriation before the end of the next fiscal year.

The McKeons, McCains, and Grahams of the world have been tilting at the long-term defense plan for several months now. They want to protect defense for a sequester, due in January next year. They have even introduced a bill to do so, which was immediately swept aside where it matters, in the Senate, by the Democratic leadership. Tilt as they will, their effort is doomed to failure this year.

It is doomed because this is an election year and the budget and the economy are what is on people's minds, not the defense budget. A deal on the budget awaits the election outcome. Once that is clear, all the elements of a deal are waiting in the wings: the payroll tax extension, the need for further growth in the debt ceiling, the immanent expiration of the Bush t

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January 31, 2012 12:18 PM

There is no question that the defense budget is coming down. And not for the first time. Generally two factors lead to such a decline: a major international change that leaves us safer and attention to economic and fiscal issues at home. Both things are exogenous to the defense budget itself and have an impact from outside the defense stovepipe. And both are happening today.

First, the global change. Despite the fear mongerers, the US has never been as secure as it is today and its military forces have never been so dominant (with the possible exception of 1945, before we took 12 million out of the forces). The Cold War posed an existential threat; there is no such threat today. Terrorist organizations, which must be dealt with, pose a pin-prick threat (and there is precious little evidence that any of them have WMD). Fragile states and political change in the Middle East are certainly international problems, but the management tools only marginally involve the military.

The ambition of some Americans to remake other countries has floundered on the shoals

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September 7, 2011 10:14 AM

Carafano is at it again. All bad things lie at the feet of Bill Clinton.

Seriously, the Iraq war went on so long and cost so much because the Bush administration made a bad decision at the start - to invade a country it did not understand. The Clinton administration left in place a perfectly capable and ready military; it took down Saddam Hussein like his forces were a speed bump. Having announced in advance (the campaign) that all that silly Clinton "nation-building" stuff was history, George Bush then decided nation-building was a central task, and had to spend a lot of money trying to do it (and failing, one might add). And having made that bad decision about Iraq, the Bush administration ended up giving the real problem - Afghanistan - short shrift, which has led to even more spending (and an equally unhappy outcome).

Then he makes this allegation: "What’s worse is that this time it will work even worse than it did the last time. Clinton inherited a robust military. Obama did not. Most of the boost in defense spending in the last dec

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September 6, 2011 04:41 PM

Washington has lost its reason on defense. Blow-hard-ism seems ascendent; common sense is lost. On the eve of the 9-11 anniversary, the purveyors of fear are on the loose, worrying us about losing our edge, hollowing the force, at the brink of disaster, falling behind other rising nations, and the like, if one dime of the defense budget (as forecast over the next ten years) is eliminated.

This is all optics, made for TV and the blogosphere, creating issues where there are none. And we will be bathing in it for the next two weeks (around the 10th anniversary), for the next three months (around the shadow play that is the super-commission), and the next 13 months (through the election). There will be flag-waving, disaster mongering, Washington monumenting galore, and too many people - voters, members of Congress, and the media - will take it too seriously.

It will be reported, blow-by-blow, as if something real had happened. And it will be almost impossible to avoid the tidal wave of optical manipulation.

There are, in my mind, two basic truths to which

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August 29, 2011 12:23 PM

Let's call the Libyan intervention a "success." If you supported the policy of protecting the civilian population and removing Kadafi, providing air power and a minimal amount of assistance on the ground (largely by the Europeans) was enough to let a rebel force, on a steep learning curve, hive off an unpopular dictator.

The art of minimalism and the importance of the indigenous commitment are both key to this success. As in Afghanistan, the NATO powers did not send ground forces, beyond US special forces in a spotter and advisor role. And a local military capability was absolutely essential to carry it off.

Let that lesson be learned in the aftermath, though I fear it will not be. Already, the stalwart advocates of "nation-building" are afoot, from Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations to Max Boot of we-are-an-empire-let's-act like-one fame. The cottage industry of American nation-building, with support from some Europeans, is all too eager to thrust NATO ground forces into Libya in order to "stabilise" the

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August 15, 2011 11:21 AM

The impact of the panel's work on defense is up to the leadership, who named them. The Master's Voice is what matters. This is not Simpson-Bowles, not a cross section, not an independent commission. It is a creature of the appointers.

If the leaders want a deal, there will be a deal. Everything is on the table, including defense, which is likely to be reduced more than the President has proposed. As Alice Rivlin has said, the defense number will be a top line projection. It will be a residual number: how much does the commission need from defense to get an overall deal.

The commission will not provide program details; those will be up to the appropriators, once the number is set.

But will there be any such number? Seems to me there is no incentive for a deal. The Administration may have slightly more incentive than the Republicans, but both would rather duke it out next year. The commission's work will be driven the the race to November 2012, not the race for a deal.

Fear not the dreaded sequester. Even if the commission fails, which is li

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August 9, 2011 04:08 PM

I don't expect a sequester to ever happen. I, like Claude Rains, am "shocked" to discover there is politics going on in this place. This debt deal bought another four months of wrangling, to be followed by the next debt ceiling increase and more wrangling, to be followed by the next Obama budget request and more wrangling, to be followed, oddly enough, by a national vote, in which the wrangling will feature.

If the commission fails to agree, there will be a sequester, but not until January 2013, at which point the electoral dust will have settled, and the parties left standing will either wrangle some more or craft a different deal.

Sequesters are a terrible way to run any department of government, including defense. But 1) defense is not sacrosanct from resource constraints, never has been, despite the piteous cries that our national security has no price; it always comes with a price. As Bernard Brodie put it in 1959, "strategy wears a dollar sign."

2) A planned reduction of $1 trillion in DOD's projected resources over the next ten

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August 1, 2011 10:16 AM

I do not see a trend in the three isolated incidents of muslim soldiers; the actions tell us nothing about trends, which depend on a deeper analysis of the experiences and beliefs of muslim soldiers in the US military.

But I am struck that we are discussing the trend in just one religion in the military. There is far too much evidence now of a trend toward extremism on the christian side of the military. After multiple incidents and discussions of proselytizing, norm imposition, and mistreatment of non-fundamentalist soldiers by fundamentalists in the military academies and in the field, I think we need to step back and ask a more fundamental question: why would we foster religious extremism of any kind in the services?

And even larger: how do we help christian, jewish, and islamic cultures to move toward understanding and away from conflict. Far too much death and destruction has been carried out in the name of religious belief, especially extremist belief, whether it is practiced in terrorist organizations in the name of religion or by those who would bludgeo

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June 14, 2011 09:19 AM

Once upon a time, in the heady days of the Cold War when everything about security seemed clear to everyone (even if it wasn't) and the Soviets looked like the worst menace available, it was possible to wrangle over who paid for what and how much they ought to spend.

This is not the Cold War anymore. So the "burdensharing" issue is miscast, simply available as a cudgel for everyone from the right (Carafano) to the left (Brenner) to use to beat up on the "feckless" Europeans. Even Barney Frank, who wants to cut the US defense budget, beats up on the Europeans.

The underlying reality for the Europeans is not their mismanaged economic policies, pace brother Carifano. (The Germans are doing better economically than we are right now, and they are certainly a target of this kind of American bomb-throwing about the defense burden.)

The reality is that the "threats" to global security are not seen the same way across the pond. Certainly the Europeans are concerned about the risk of terrorist attacks on their own countries. But the

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May 3, 2011 09:25 PM

Respectfully, I disagree with Sidney. We blew Vietnam because we are bad at this kind of war, especialy when we choose it. And choose Vietnam, we did.

It takes about 30 years for policy officials to lose their memories and choose it again, as we did in Iraq. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were "inevitable." Both were wars of choice and the Bush regime chose them. And got burned.

Having failed 30 years ago, we are relearning that we are still bad at wars we choose, with regime change in mind, followed by an insurgency we helped stimulate, in countries we cannot change. Iraq is no victory. We are lucky to be leaving with a shred of dignity. Communal hatred continues, our economic reconstruction programs have been largely wasted, and governance will be up to the Iraqis, however it comes out. And while the jury may be still out in Afghanistan, the debates are already transparent - a corrupt regime, failing USAID projects, a continuing drug trade, political discord, all continue.

Sidney has said: "Wars that combine guerrilla tactics, hear

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May 2, 2011 06:40 AM

The new appointments suggest that the war is coming to an end and that the defense budget should be a big focus, right away. But they also suggest that it will be hard for this team to prioritize missions the way they should.

First, the war. Allen and Crocker are able, experienced, and could be excellent stewards of the process of withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Panetta’s budget experience, strong hand at agency management, and credibility with the Congress are going to be of critical importance in disciplining the Pentagon and carrying out the defense build down now under way. He’s been there before, especially as budget director in the early 1990s.

What is worrisome is the problem of missions. The Pentagon is getting under way an ersatz exercise described as a mission review. It will go too fast to be a real mission review. More worrisome, it will be based on the scenarios used for last year’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which failed to set mission priorities, make tradeoffs, or engage in a realistic assessment of acceptable risk

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April 20, 2011 04:07 PM

It may shock Sydney to hear that I largely agree with him, but, and there is always a "but," O do not fully agree.

On ground forces, the only reason we went up 92,000 over the past ten years was to accommodate two US-chosen regime-changing invasions that turned into occupations. Since I don't think we will face a larger rotation than the Balkans any time in the next decade (and I am prepared to argue the case and take that risk), we can return to at least the previous ground force base, and probably less. I say probably less because I believe the counter-insurgency mafia at DOD will dissolve over the next two years and the over-ambitious mission of fighting insurgents and building nations will go with them. Mission is part of that decision and my recommendation.

On bombers, it is clear the USAF wants to keep the B-1 from public appearances. They argue O&M costs, but I think it may have more to do with wanting a new bomber. And the B-2 fleet is plenty young and adequate for long-range strike missions. We can delay any sudden new start on a long-

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April 18, 2011 06:41 AM

Obama’s proposed additional cuts in security spending are another step toward a defense build-down. It is time to start thinking about how we manage a build-down, instead of a fruitless argument about trying to continue to increase the defense budget.

The build-down is an inevitable consequence of the growing economic risks posed by large deficits and a growing national debt, and of the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is clearly time to rethink our international engagement strategy, starting with the role of the military.

Obama has taken the first step, and it is actually pretty easy to implement. Calculations we have done at the Stimson Center (available at show that the President’s goal can be reached simply by starting with the FY 2011 level for defense funding and providing the Department with inflation growth over the next 12 years. The Pentagon would not even lose purchasing power, but this trajectory would yield $428 billion in savings!

But Obama&

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January 14, 2011 06:05 PM

Shared respect for Sidney as a writer and reporter on this subject, but it might have helped had he actually read the Foreign Affairs article, which is available in full at, the Stimson Center blog, with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

To suggest that I have no interest in insurance because I think we are buying far too much of it misses the mark entirely, as the article discusses. I buy it at home, for the car, and for myself, but I shop around. As a nation we have not been "shopping around" for insurance, we have been buying multiple, redundant, and excessive packages of insurance.

As my comments suggest, we could buy a lot less and be equally, perhaps even more safe than we are today (which is, by the way, pretty safe in historical terms).

Equally important, Freedberg seems to buy into the argument that America is a helpless victim of whatever troubles occur in the world. We have no choice, he implies, but to be dragged into every international conflict, trouble, terror attack, civil war, interna

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January 12, 2011 11:35 AM

Secretary Gates' budget plan has made only a small step in the right direction. Much, much more remains to be done. Over the next ten years, we can safely reduce projected defense budgets by $1 trillion from the currently projected plan, retain a staggering global military superiority, and contribute to solving our most critical security problem - our fiscal and economic crisis - as my colleague Matt Leatherman and I detail in our "Toward a Leaner and Meaner Defense" in the latest Foreign Affairs.

Despite the scary scenarios Dan Goure spins out, America has never been safer and has never had the degree of global military superiority it has today. That is not just the legacy of the past decade, it is a longer legacy, that includes the investments made by the G.H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even the Ronald Reagan presidencies. We are the only country with a globally steaming Navy, dominant air power, globally deployable ground forces, special forces that are larger than the entire militaries of more than 100 countries, technological superiority (one new

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November 18, 2010 03:42 PM

'Tis the season for deficit reduction and debt control. And not for the first time. From 1985 to 1998, defense resources went down 36% in constant dollars, procurement funding dropped 50%, 700,000 military left the force, and 300,000 left the Pentagon's civil service. And for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, the remaining force was globally superior and took down the Iraqi military in weeks. Deficit control was only possible if everything was on the table; and a political deal was only possible with everything on the table.

Look for Congress to shilly-shally for a year or so, then get serious, because it is time. And don't expect Republicans to automatically support higher levels for defense or to exempt defense from deficit reduction. The last big defense budget cutter wasn't Bill Clinton, it was none other than Dick Cheney, at the end of the Cold War. In fact, every build down has been done by a Republican. And the Tea Party is going to give the old war horses a run for their money; there is enough waste and slush in defense to make t

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October 25, 2010 04:51 PM

The British defense cuts, preceded by announcements of French restraint and German reductions all point to an urgently needed reexamination of US strategy and military missions. They do not point to a larger defense burden for the US, but rather, to the need to take a close look at what is meant by the "burden" itself.

For too many years, US strategic planners have concealed the need for this fundamental review behind the notion of burdensharing. If the allies ponied up, they were sharing the burden. If not, they were not sharing the burden. And even critics of US defense policy, like Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, would defend their call for a smaller US effort by calling for others to "share the burden."

In the old days of NATO, one could assume that the burden meant defending Europe, for that was NATO's mission. The new reductions point toward a more fundamental problem: since the end of the Cold War, it has not been clear what the burden was, nor whether all NATO allies shared it.

The world has changed and is changing even more

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August 11, 2010 08:19 PM

Secretary Gates' efficiency reforms are hard to question. But they do not even scratch the surface of the problem he will face in the next year, should he stick around. Deficit reduction and a decline in public support for our forward deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan (even public inattention) are combining to bring on what he fears most, as he publicly stated: a real decline in the defense budget.

This is nothing to be feared. When the Secretary worried Monday about a sharp decline in the defense budget, he compared historic defense budgets to "an EKG of a fibrillating heart," with sharp peaks and valleys. He announced his reforms as a way to prevent a new fibrillation.

He misapplied this metaphor. Instead of arriving at a steady heartbeat, he wants to halt the fibrillation at the top. That would be an unsteady heart, and an unsupportable and unnecessary level of defense spending.

Instead, the Secretary should be looking to a leveling off and decline of defense budgets to a peacetime norm, well below the level of today's budgets. In

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August 5, 2010 12:21 PM

There is a request for some kind words about Perry-Hadley. Having been highly critical of the report, which I am, it does re-enforce the need for greater attention to two subjects.

One subject - "whole of government" - it gets wrong in my view. But the topic is important. What Perry-Hadley get wrong is the assumption that "whole of government" means a juvenile soccer scrum on DOD's definition of the mission - global counter-insurgency and stabilization. That is a dangerous course on which America should not set, but it is the dominant vision at DOD and even has advocates at State. It is the wrong lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan, which we are still learning, sadly. Our ability to "build" nations, "reconstruct" economies, and "win" hearts and minds is demonstrably small and ineffective, though it is soaking up immense resources.

We should not be organizing the entire government around such an enterprise, especially not linking such a capability to US military deployments. It is unclear when we will next und

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August 2, 2010 07:58 AM

The Perry-Hadley report, for all its detail, is a great disappointment. It betrays the continuing "suspension of disbelief" already painfully evident in the report the panel was created to critique: the Quadrennial Defense Review. Instead of bringing realism and discipline to defense planning, the report simply "doubles down" on the QDR, calling for even more forces and more spending. The report willfully avoids three pressing national security realities. The first is our looming fiscal crisis, which JCS Chairman Mike Mullen has called "our biggest national security threat." The report simply waives this issue aside; DOD planning, it seems to argue, must be done outside this context, as if budgets and the need for restraint did not exist. Second, the Perry-Hadley report, like the QDR, assumes that all military missions are a priority, all are urgent, and the forces must grow to perform all of them. From counter-insurgency/stabilization/occupation/nation-building on the one hand, to a massive expansion of the for

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July 19, 2010 05:16 PM

I can do no better than re-post here a post I did for Huffington on July 6. The arrival of a new military leader will do little to change the realities we face in Afghanistan. For all the sound of trumpets and clash of cymbals, the central government is weak, the tribal forces are the only hope for interim order, and our ability to "remake" the country staggeringly limited:

"Once upon a time, we went into Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government and eliminate a training ground for our friends from Al Qaeda. Mission accomplished.

Then we decided to stay around to "fix" the Afghan regime so it would be more "democratic" and to help stimulate the economy, so that Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) would never come back. Mission incomplete, in part because we took our eye off the ball and went to war in Iraq, instead, pulling Special Forces and civil affairs units out of Afghanistan in the process.

Then Iraq became the "bad" war, for the new administration, and Afghanistan became the "good" war. And, in the mea

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June 4, 2010 04:26 PM

The defense "cuts" proposed today by Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn are largely notional, not a major change of course. The targets for the first two years are so small as to be meaningless in a $700 b. budget. As the cuts do not include Overseas Contingency Operations accounts, they leave unaffected the 2/3 of the funding in those accounts that is fungible O&M monies, hence a backfill for any O&M cuts in the base budget. In the out-years the cuts are meaningless, as the budget will vary widely after 2013. And that wide variation is likely to be on the down side, as we leave Iraq and Afghanistan and deficit reduction efforts step in to bring defense budgets down more seriously than the Secretary now contemplates.

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June 3, 2010 04:55 PM

This decline is different. We may have the "largest economy," but this is less and less relevant today for two reasons. One is that a lot of other "economies" are rising at a rapid rate. More seriously, one cannot use "the economy" as a tool in international relations. Those days are gone. The "economy" we have is not in the hands of anyone, is more integrated into the global market for goods, capitol, and labor than ever. The administration cannot "whip the economy around" so it helps our influence in global terms. The economic tools are simply much more limited, and now in the hands of everyone (and no-one - see the global flow of capital and bids against currency fluctuations for evidence."

And the costs of our military in economic terms are simply not part of the argument. Sure, it is (with Energy, VA, interest costs) something like 7-8% of GDP (not 3-4%), but even that does not shake the economy. But it does shake the deficit, and once we are on a slope of deficit reduction and debt control, defense will

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June 1, 2010 07:10 AM

Our economic and fiscal weaknesses have significant indirect and direct consequences for our national security position and international leadership. They reflect a changing position of the US in the global economy and are ushering in an era very unlike the dominance the US had in the global economy or in the international system during the Cold War years.

The most immediate source of the problem is our unprecedentedly high deficits and debt. The latter is forecast to reach 80-100% of our Gross Domestic Product by the end of the coming decade. As the report from the Peterson-Pew Commission pointed out last year, yawning deficits and growing debt bring increased risks of inflation, a decline in the value of the dollar, slowing demand for Treasury notes, with higher interest rates, slower economic growth, and flat or declining wages.

All of this has an impact on the US global role. In an interdependent global economy, the US becomes more dependent on the “kindness of strangers” for its well-being, the funding of its debt, the value of its cur

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May 26, 2010 03:27 PM

The flaw in the ODNI design was to allow the Secretary of Defense to retain virtual total control over that part of intel resources that fell into the DOD budget. That was a Rumsfeld demand, reenforced by certain members of Congress. The flaw in implementation was the decision made at the start not to test the limits of the budget authority provided in the statute. One year, then two years of delay in testing this authority and the game was largely over. The job would be one of coordination, at best, and the addition of a bureaucratic layer over the existing layers.

The problem may be unsolvable now. Moving it to the White House, but stripping away accountability to the Congress and budget authority over the agencies, condemns the post to near-irrelevancy. Dissolving it rewards agencies that made it impossible for ODNI to succeed in the first place. Keeping it, but appointing a strong leader, with the full backing of the President, and testing the authority over personnel and budgets is probably the least bad route, but certain woe to the poor leader who takes

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March 8, 2010 11:24 AM

The question gives rise to the need for serious alternative thinking.

Perhaps the Europeans are on to something. If the new QDR is any indication, the US is prepared to expand military missions and military budgets as far as the eye can see. This will come at perilous cost to our role in the world, the acceptability of US foreign policy, and our federal budget.

Perhaps the Europeans don’t need to do more; and perhaps that does not mean they are “free riders” on the US, but are moving to a different view from that of the US about what international security requires, and the role military force provides in bringing security and stability.

Unlike Jim Thomas, I do not assume that a US strategy of “doing less” should be intended to incentivize the Europeans to “do more.” Perhaps we need to “do less” in our own interests, regardless of what the Europeans think or do. And perhaps they do not need to “do more” to ensure their security, if by “doing more” we mean “spending more on

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February 26, 2010 05:10 PM

Let me propose an intervening variable: say the United States actually pushed toward a second United Nations Security Council Resolution, and Saddam came clean to the U.N. inspectors. We would have discovered that he did not have nukes, as the inspectors knew already but were unable to convince President George W. Bush. Today Saddam would likely still be in power, still bloodthirsty, but the international sanctions would most likely be relieved. In that scenario the Iraqi people are (marginally) better off, and the region is somewhat more stable than it is today.

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