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Lt Gen Wilson On National Intelligence
"Know the Issues and Take a Stand: Possible International and National Security Complications During our Election Season"
Lt. General Samuel V. Wilson
(USA ret) Wilson Center Fellow
H-SC President Emeritus
Of the various necessary conditions underlying Madison's Republic, none is more important than the sine qua non of the informed and enlightened citizen. Our system of governance is not on automatic pilot--we have to work to make it work.
It is in this context that I raise the question: "Are we--the United States-- more vulnerable than usual to international machinations in the foreign policy and national security arena during the current presidential election season?" The answer is an unqualified "yes!" There are reasons for this conclusion, and it is worth examining some of them.
While the President of the United States is under constant scrutiny, there is probably no time when he is being more closely watched than during the period of a presidential election, especially by his opponents seeking political advantage. In the present election season, given the bitter partisanship prevailing between the Republican and Democratic parties, there is no question but that his every move is under intense scrutiny. Whatever he does is likely to be criticized. It is almost a case of "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't." How can he help being more cautious than usual as crises arise, whether on the domestic or international front and however minor they may be? He cannot avoid being sensitive to the fact that his every action is being studied under a political microscope for possible weaknesses or flaws, that everything he says or does--or even things he fails to say or do--may be lifted out of context and used against him. This factor inevitably has an inhibiting effect on presidential decision making.
Another significant vulnerability for a sitting administration facing a general election derives from the American practice of politically appointing individuals to positions of responsibility far down the bureaucratic chain of command. This results in every principal deputy secretary of "whatever" in the executive branch being a political appointee, i. e., the (principal) Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Secretary Affairs. If the sitting president is not re-elected, our P/ASD/ISA is going to be out of a job come inauguration day. Is his attention subject to being diverted to doing what he can to ensure the re-election of his president? Indubitably. As for the President himself, we can see for ourselves on daily evening newscasts how much time and attention is being taken from his primary duties as the nation's Chief Executive Officer/Head of State/Commander-in-Chief and devoted to political campaigning. The question inevitably arises: "Who's minding the store?"
The point is that mischief-makers and those who wish us ill in the international arena are fully aware of our dilemma in a general election year and are primed to take advantage of it by testing and probing wherever opportunities appear, knowing full well that our guard is at least partially down and that we may well be more cautious in our response to provocations. The list of potential hostile players in this regard is a long one and includes--in the short run--Islamist-Jihadist terrorists, North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan, among others. Of both short-term and mid-range interest is today's Russia. Now relegated to the role of a regional power, Russia is striving to regain the super-power status Moscow enjoyed for three-quarters of a century, up to the end of the Cold War. Under the leadership of a former KGB thug, Vladimir V. Putin, Russia is playing essentially a spoiler role on the international stage and attempting to upstage or thwart undertakings of the United States at just about every turn. The important thing for us to remember here is that the nuclear-tipped Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles that gave us dread during the Cold War are still there in their silos, ready for launch at a moment's notice. And then there is the Peoples Republic of China, strident and xenophobic, with a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, apparently seeking hegemony in Asia--particularly East and Southeast Asia and resenting American presence in the countries along the West Pacific rim. While China will represent a problem for us for at least the next fifty years, we can well expect mischief making from this quarter much sooner. For one, how might the United States respond to a Chinese takeover of the allegedly oil-rich Spratly Islands, ownership of which is claimed by five different nations? How does Washington react should the Chinese be caught red handed in cyber attacks against selected US computer systems or blatantly engaged in endeavors to cripple our intelligence gathering satellites. Possible examples are many.
While not intending to do us harm directly, our friends and allies are also more than capable of presenting us with crises in the foreign policy and national security arena. An Israeli air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would get our full attention in a hurry. So would the outbreak of hostilities between nuclear-capable Pakistan and nuclear-capable India. Further economic chaos in Europe, involving--for instance--several Euro-nations going bankrupt, with the Dow-Jones average dropping 650 points in a single day, would surely bring the President back off the campaign trail.
In light of all the above, it is more than logical to conclude that, while America preoccupies itself over the next next several months with electing and anointing its next president , we are more vulnerable than usual to international machinations and other developments that threaten our interests in the foreign policy and national security arenas.
This brings us to the bottom -line question: What does all this mean to the average US citizen? It says to him that there is a price for our system of representative government, and we must pay that price if we wish to keep it. That means, in turn, knowing the issues and taking a stand. We must work constantly to stay on top of developments by keeping track of the news and staying in touch with, making our views known to, and holding accountable those whom we have elected to represent our interests. Never in our history have we known the communications capabilities, primarily social media, that we have today. We need to exploit it fully in the interests of a "competent and decent democracy," to use the words of my esteemed colleague, David Marion.
"Know the issues and take a stand." This is a bedrock requirement for the citizens of Madison's republic. To explore the implications of this dictum further would necessitate another article, even a full academic course. Even then we would be facing an open-ended and continuing discussion, one that affects the very lifeblood of our freedom-loving, democratic system.