Breitbart News spoke with Robert “Bud” McFarlane, who served as National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, about the threats we face as a country today, including the Islamic State and the advances of Russia and China.
McFarlane served two combat tours in Vietnam, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after 20 years of military service in the Marine Corps. He is now CEO of McFarlane Associates Inc, and serves on the boards of a number of premier national security and foreign policy organizations.
Breitbart News: President Obama said “We don’t have a strategy yet” when it comes to the Islamic State. What’s your take on that statement?
Robert “Bud” McFarlane: Its astonishing for a Commander-in-Chief who has at hand intelligence resources to identify threats to our country and to plan in advance to deter or overcome them. Awareness of the steady gains made by the Islamic State, and of how well-financed, well-armed and ruthless they are should have triggered focused planning and the development of a strategy going back several months. For the president to acknowledge that he doesn’t have a strategy at this stage represents a serious dereliction of duty.
The military plans constantly and I’m sure they have been developing their own alternatives for ways of coping with the Islamic State. The president’s responsible as Commander-in-Chief is to oversee that strategy, reach decisions, and approve the measures that will be needed to carry it out. He also needs to go garner support from the American people and Congress, and our allies overseas, but that just hasn’t happened.
Breitbart News: Why hasn’t president Obama chosen that route? Why hasn’t he made the case to the American people and Congress?
McFarlane: It seems to me that he may not have a clear understanding of what our interests in countering terrorism are in the Middle East, and specifically, in countering terrorism.
An understanding of how serious this is as a new source for the growth of a well-financed, well-armed, and well-trained center of terrorist operations. It puts people at risk not just in Erbil and Baghdad, but also in Chicago, Washington, and throughout the United States.
Breitbart News: Does the Islamic State pose “no credible threat” to US national security interests, as the FBI and DHS recently concluded in a memo to law enforcement?
McFarlane: I would emphatically disagree with that assessment. One only needs to consider that last week, the Islamic State took control of Tabqa air base in Syria a facilty that stores MANPADS, or Man-portable air-defense systems. These are the kinds of weapons that can bring down a commercial airliner. The Islamic State has said that they intend to attack the United States. That could very well happen through an attack of a commercial airliner departing for America from Dubai or other Middle Eastern points-of-origin.
The Islamic State could also breach our very porous borders in the South and take down an airliner at DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth airport) in Texas. The group represents a serious threat to the American people, and it requires an urgent focus that has been absent for too long.
Breitbart News: How do we defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?
McFarlane: Given the advanced capabilities of the Islamic State, as evidenced by their agility, speed, tactical sophistication and understanding of the local culture and terrain in consolidating control over territory in Iraq and Syria, there are several options we could implement moving forward.
We must first contain the problem, and then squeeze IS forces until they are destroyed. This starts with promptly annunciating a strategy founded on the military goal of containing the Islamic State within its current footprint in Syria and Iraq, and calling upon Iraqis, Kurds, and other regional allies to help. This includes Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, and Israel. Its going to take a lot of heavy-lifting for the president and going to those countries to engender the establishment of a standing regional security body.
These countries need to be engaged, and properly through sending our Secretaries of State and Defense to bring those parties together. We must talk about the nature of the threat, and the steps needed to put together the forces necessary to contain this barbarism, the degenerate IS group that we are facing. This cannot be done without American advisors on the ground to assist the Iraqi, Kurdish, and other volunteer military elements in a coordinated military containment strategy. In parallel, an expedited training program needs to be put in the field, so we can get boots on the ground from other Arab countries, working side by side with our advisors. We need a significant number of advisors and special operations forces, in the thousands, to first contain, then roll back, the Islamic State and finally destroy it.
We also need to get the Europeans engaged in a parallel planning process. Its going to take heavy-lifting with our top officials engaging in a sustained way to point out the obvious: we are all at risk. Whether its through the immediate possibility of the MANPADS that were captured, to the resident populations of IS members in the UK, France, Germany, elsewhere.
In short, we are at war, and the parties that are threatened in this war by the Islamic State, which include the US, Europe, and other Middle Eastern and North African countries, have a major challenge. The response doesn’t have to be all-American. It has to be American-led, but must involve the regional parties, and must be launched promptly.
Breitbart News: Are any particular countries more vulnerable than others as the Islamic State’s next target?
McFarlane: Jordan is extremely vulnerable, as are Kuwait and Lebanon. These countries do not have great strength military.
Breitbart News: It appears as if Russia has invaded Ukraine. President Obama has already weighed in and declared no military action will be taken. What should we be doing to support Ukraine?
McFarlane: Show leadership. The NATO alliance and the United States have been collecting a “peace dividend” essentially since the end of the Cold War. We have assumed too easily that the victory in the Cold War would lead to peace, democracy, and reconciliation.
We need to begin to task NATO to formulate a plan to increase the defense spending among member countries. We need to focus upon a quick reaction force that can focus on responding once it is trained and properly equipped. It needs to be made clear that the United States is going to be there for its allies. We would often move entire divisions and associated aviation support to Europe in two exercises named REFORGER and CRESTED CAP for more than 20 years during the 60s and 70s, to practice for multinational drills, and to make clear that the NATO alliance is going to maintain sufficient strength to deter, or to prevail against any challenge from USSR. We should do so again.
This is also important for new members, including Poland, Bulgaria, the Balkan States, and others. Through combined planning and shared intelligence, NATO can become a more effective deterrent towards this outrageous behavior by president Putin.
In addition to the military dimension, I would urge the president to focus on the vulnerability of Ukraine and why they are susceptible to being coerced by Russia. They have a major reliance upon Russian energy.
But in fact there are huge reserves, particularly of natural gas, in Ukraine. The US and private companies ought to begin to organize in the West to help Ukraine develop those resources. There are more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the eastern part of Ukraine.
Breitbart News: China is aggressively on the move. How do we deal with a China that is continually broadening its reach in the far East?
McFarlane: We need to try and engender better understanding between the US and Chinese military to understand each others purposes and procedures. When you read the writing of chinese military leaders, they portray the United States as imperialistic, as determined toward a confrontation, and that war is inevitable. While this has no legitimacy in fact, this misconception can only be overcome by having our militaries engage in periodic dialogue so that these misrepresentations are put behind us. The political leadership in China can help move this forward. The US could and should offer assistance to our ASEAN nations, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, and Philippines, and even Vietnam. The argument over the disputed islands could lead to confrontation and chaos. However, all parties can benefit from the development of rules on how they engage with one another peacefully, both in the air and at sea. Over time, as we did with the Soviet Union, we can establish ground rules which both sides will come to understand, so as to avoid incidents on land, in the air or on the sea. The process may take years to play out, tackling each of the Islands that are in dispute, but it must be done in order to avoid anything that could get out of hand and lead to an escalation in violence.
Breitbart News: Israel’s Iron Dome and the Patriot missile defense system are said to be descendants of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which the American liberal media openly mocked as “Star Wars”, a missile defense program that you were the lead architect of. The Iron Dome has arguably saved thousands of innocents from indiscriminate rocket fire from Islamists in the Gaza Strip. Are Iron Dome, Patriot, and other systems proof of SDI’s success?
McFarlane: It was vital and foreseeable 30 years ago that countries would develop ballistic missiles as well as guided missiles that would be able to attack our country, Europe and the Far East. We needed to be ready for the day when Iran and other emerging powers would have these capabilities. It was prudent to create programs such as Iron Dome, Patriot, Patriot-3, as well as other ground and space based defense systems.
Breitbart News: “Peace Through Strength”was the phrase used by your former boss, President Ronald Reagan,to describe how America should conduct its foreign affairs. What is Peace Through Strength and how is it different from our current administration’s policy?
McFarlane: Peace Through Strength is a sound foundation for developing a political-military strategy for any country. The point of it is not to be warmongering, but to recognize a simple truth: to deter others from threatening your country, you must make it clear that you have the means to respond to a threat from them and that the cost to them will be unacceptable.
Beyond that however, its not to say that you sit in your bunker and rely upon strength alone. If you recall a speech President Reagan gave in 1984, he espoused three principles derivative of Peace Through Strength.
- Acknowledge that all countries in the world have interests. In the case of the Soviet Union, we were never going to come to agree ideologically. However, accept realistically as the first tenet, that these difference exist and always will.
- The importance of America’s strength. Not only must we be able to deter any plausible scenario of a foreign country attacking the US, we must also be strong economically and politically and have strong alliances. Economically, we must stimulate sustainable growth to demonstrate that we are a country that has a steadily rising standard of living and continued innovation.
- Finally, Realism, the tempering of strength with dialogue. For Reagan to sit in the White House and let his term run out would have been irresponsible. His mandate was to conclude treaties and agreements that would last beyond his tenure. He invited foreign leaders into the White House for dialogue on the full range of disagreements between us so as to promote better understanding on both sides. He traveled to Moscow and spoke to the Russian people. He gave them a sense of what democracy and free enterprise are all about.
Peace Through Strength, based on these three derivative components, was Reagan’s policy and he executed it successfully through his eight years. Peace Through Strength ended the Cold War, brought down Marxism, and reduced nuclear weapons quantities for the first time in history. A pretty good record.