As promised, I live-tweeted the press conference with the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. A few quick comments, which are based on the press conference as well as the defense strategic guidance reproduced below.
1. I spent the months before Christmas meeting with some U.S. allies in the Gulf, who expressed their concern that a U.S. shift to East Asia would mean the United States was abandoning its security commitments to the Gulf. The president, the secretary and the guidance explicitly pushed back against that worry. So our Gulf allies should rest easier tonight. (One rare specific offered by Sec. Panetta during the press conference was the scenario whereby the United States fights a land war in Korea and also keeps the Straits of Hormuz open.) But I wonder how this will change if the behavior of U.S. allies make continued cooperation more difficult. If Bahrain continues its brutal crackdown on democracy activists into 2012, the United States will have a huge political problem on its hands -- as well as a potentially huge engineering problem as it considers other basing options for the Fifth Fleet.
2. Europe is so very 20th Century. The United States has a deep appreciation for its European allies, but those same allies are going to have to figure out how to fund and support their own defense. Because in terms of U.S. priorities, Europe ranks lower than ever.
3. Quoting the strategic guidance on counterinsurgency and stablity operations:
In the aftermath of the warsin Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.
This may surprise those of you who still consider me some kind of FM 3-24 fundamentalist (which I never was), but I feel really good about that guidance. If the United States has to fight another resource-intensive counterinsurgency campaign (and I pray that we do not), it is easier to design and build new brigades than to design and build new aircraft or ships. I am more concerned the U.S. Army and Marine Corps will abandon the doctrine, training and education wrapped up in preparing for counterinsurgency and stability operations.
4. A lot of folks remarked that Sec. Panetta's ideal force sounded a lot like that of Sec. Rumsfeld. True. But the latter tried to continue to build that force while ignoring the needs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. role in those conflicts has now either ended or is in transition. Thom Shanker once told me that he always faced an up-hill struggle convincing his editors Don Rumsfeld wasn't wrong about everything.