[Viewpoint] A new grand strategyNine years ago, then U.S. President George W. Bush decided to start the war against Iraq, and it is probably the mistake of the century. The war cost $1 trillion, contributing to emptying the state coffers. The Pentagon needs to cut $487 billion from the defense budget for the next decade, and Congress is mulling over another $500 billion cut. In total, the amount is nearly $1 trillion.
Bush justified the war with the democratization of Iraq, but there seemed to be a long way to go. As the Arab Spring shows, democratization of the Middle East cannot be forced; it rises up from the bottom. Bush’s religious convictions and the neoconservatives’ thinking blinded their views on the future. If they believed in the advancement of history and freedom and the power of information revolution and globalization, Bush’s war probably stopped in Afghanistan. The two simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the peak of the 21st century United States and the starting point of its decline.
Let’s focus on the Middle East. The situation didn’t go as expected by the “neocons.” The overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, dominated by the Sunni Muslims, created a new power in the region - Iran, led by the Shia majority. Iran is trying to become the Middle East’s leader and took a step closer to becoming a nuclear power.
Iraq, now led by the Shiites, has become a supporter of Iran. The check and balance between Iran and Iraq has been the axis of the U.S. strategy in the Middle East. At the time of Iran-Iraq War in 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, who later served as Bush’s secretary of defense, was sent to Iraq to meet with Saddam Hussein as the special envoy of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and discussed mutual cooperation.
At the end of last year, U.S. President Barack Obama completely withdrew American troops from Iraq. U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan will return home by 2014. So Obama has ended Bush’s two wars. And he also gave up the current doctrine, calling the amount of U.S. troops currently in the Middle East sufficient to fight two simultaneous wars in two different regions by unveiling his new defense strategy. It will serve as a blue print for the American forces by 2020.
“Even when U.S. forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region, they will be capable of denying the objectives of - or imposing unacceptable costs on - an opportunistic aggressor in a second region,” the report said. Does this mean that he won’t give up on the strategy of fighting two simultaneous wars?
The changed position, however, is much clearer when the new strategy is compared to the Quadrennial Defense Review from two years ago. A requirement for “deterring and defeating two regional aggressors while maintaining a heightened alert posture for U.S. forces in and around the United States,” disappeared in the new defense strategy. Instead, Obama emphasized that “Our military will be leaner, but the world must know: The United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”
It was clear that the ability to fight two nearly simultaneous major theater wars has disappeared. In fact, it was more honest to say that Washington is not capable of keeping the requirement.
In his last official speech as Pentagon chief, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, included an honest confession. “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or onto the Middle East should have his head examined,” he said.
The new U.S. defense strategy, in other words, is the declaration of the era of the G2 - the United States and China.
It is ironic that the Rumsfeld doctrine is revisited at this point. Rumsfeld had remodeled the U.S. military to make it smaller and leaner. Combat soldiers, units, carriers, fighter jets and drones were grouped into one network. Overseas bases were transformed from fortresses to stopping points. It resembled an attack by a swarm of bees.
Afghanistan and Iraq were the experiment fields of Rumsfeld’s modern warfare. The enemy regimes were quickly dismantled, but Rumsfeld’s wars were not successful. The Taliban came back as a monster while Iraq suffered from extreme instability.
Obama’s new strategy shows the destructive power and the limit of Rumsfeld doctrine simultaneously. How will the change in the paradigm of the U.S. defense strategy impact Korea?
An increase in the defense burden will be unavoidable. The Korea-U.S. alliance is a deficit for Washington. Although the United States will keep its 285,000 troops stationed in Korea, the command and control system linking the Pacific Command and the U.S. Forces in Korea and Japan will be slimmed down.
A decade ago, Korea experienced internal turmoil over its national security when Rumsfeld pushed forward the transformation of U.S. troops. We must avoid it this time.
More serious is how the new U.S. strategy will play against the growing uncertainties coming from the rise of China and the start of the Kim Jong-un reign in North Korea. The time has come for us to search for a new grand strategy to make North Korea a new frontier while preventing the permanent division of the peninsula.
*The writer is the editor of international news at the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Young-hwan