Senator Webb Knows DoD Should Define Each Operation’s Vital National Interest, Role, Plan for Future

What have we learned from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya?

At a Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing this week, I questioned Department of Defense officials about past and future strategic models for addressing threats to the United States and how military force is applied.

If we look at the models of the past 10 years — how we have struggled with this issue — we ought to have a better idea of how we are going to move into the future.

In Iraq, we ended up an occupying force in the middle of sectarian violence that followed our invasion. We have spent well over a trillion dollars and have seen the empowerment of Iran in the process.

In Afghanistan, we have assumed the risk and the expense of nation building. It is costly, it is casualty producing, and I, quite frankly, do not know what the outcome is going to be. If the country is to have the patience with respect to fighting a long war, it is going to be even more important to define very clearly what is the vital national interest in terms of our current operations in Afghanistan.

In Libya, we have seen unbridled presidential discretion in terms of the decision when to use military power beyond all normal historical precedent. We have a definition of a humanitarian mission in order to unilaterally introduce the American military into a theater of operations.  It is a vague and worrisome standard, and we ought to think hard about the implications down the road.

So what I come back to is what have we learned from this?  What is the model now in terms of how we define the existential threats to the United States and how we apply military force to them?

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responded, “Senator, you have raised some very important issues and this is really a very appropriate time to raise those questions.  As we’re in the process of trying to trim over $450 billion from the defense budget, we have to look at larger strategies here as to what kind of defense system we need to build as we confront those challenges and as we look to the future.”

Click here to read more from our exchange.

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