Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Americans face an entirely new kind of warfare than the one posed by Germany in the 1940s, Korea in the 1950s, and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tanks, submarines, and missiles have been largely replaced by suicide bombers carrying highly destructive explosives and by cyber attacks that can immobilize our communications and transportation systems.

I was struck by a recent Washington Post Outlook story whose stunning title read: "Overwhelm. Divide. Spread. Bankrupt. Diversify: Al-Qaeda's New Grand Strategy" (Jan. 10). Written by Georgetown University professor George Hoffman, a specialist on international terrorism, he paints a grim picture of Al-Qaeda's plans to undermine the morale of the United States and Europe by training suicide bombers to create mayhem in major cities and inflict massive damage on our vulnerable economies.

The Nigerian suicide bomber who nearly destroyed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day is the kind of person Al-Qaeda trains and sends abroad to implement its plan for creating panic and causing governments to accept its objective: establishment of Taliban-type Islamic regimes in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

A second kind of new-age warfare was described in a New York Times story titled: "In Digital Combat, U.S. Finds No Easy Deterrent" (Jan. 26). Clearly inspired by the Obama administration, it describes on the Google Corporation's threat to cease operations in China unless its government stops interfering with its business operations.

The story also describes a series of cyber attacks on U.S. government computers that could be traced to Taiwan and possibly China.

Last month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Chinese government to investigate the attacks on Google's programs. This triggered a vehement denunciation by China's controlled media which accused Washington of gross interference in China's internal affairs. Clinton's inquiry regarding China's intentions in this matter may be the administration's opening salvo in a test of U.S.-China relations.

On the question of budget priorities, the Obama administration and Congress have been slow, in my view, in dealing effectively with the relationship between national security and this country's continuing financial crisis.

In his State of the Union address on January 27, the president said he would limit spending on domestic programs next year to current budget levels, in order to help reduce the ballooning national debt. But he exempted the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and the Central Intelligence Agency from that pledge. That may be politically expedient, but their large budgets also need to be scrutinized. Additional funding is probably needed to strengthen our intelligence agencies' ability to detect and disrupt terrorist training camps that are a threat to the country and to monitor more effectively the movements of terrorists seeking entry here.

Still, it is unfortunate that the president's otherwise well-crafted speech didn't suggest that some expensive weapons systems and large foreign aid programs might be reduced because they are not essential for the new kind of national security threats the country faces in 2010 and beyond. Funds saved could be used to support higher priority needs in the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The administration's FY 2010 budget request calls for defense spending of more than $700 billion. This includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does not cover an additional $33 billion The president needs to pay for the additional 30,000 troops he recently approved for Afghanistan. Since taking office a year ago, he has increased the U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000. Although he pledged to withdraw most of them by July 2011, the costs of supporting the Afghan government will continue throughout this decade.

The challenge for the president and Congress is finding these additional funds in the current defense budget, instead of adding to next year's funding levels. Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates made some headway last year in curtailing a few expensive weapons acquisitions, there is no provision in the FY 2010 defense budget for reductions in expensive weapons systems which may be desirable, but have s far lower priority during this time of economic austerity.

Mr. Obama seems receptive to Republican leaders' insistence that our government must be more serious about cutting the federal budget in order to avoid adding to a ballooning national debt. But it takes courageous leadership, by the president and leaders of both political parties, to persuade congressional committees and the public that many federal programs need to be reduced if this country is to regain its role as the leading economic power.

File last modified on Tuesday, 09-FEB-2010 1:14 PM EST

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