Best Defense

3 former national security officials sum up the changes of the last decade

By Rickisha Berrien Best Defense department of catastrophic change Here’s how three former officials — one from the world of intelligence, the second from the Pentagon, the third from the State Department — see how the world has changed since 9/11. –Former Acting Director of the CIA John McLaughlin, speaking at the commemorative event at ...

By Rickisha Berrien
Best Defense department of catastrophic change

Here’s how three former officials — one from the world of intelligence, the second from the Pentagon, the third from the State Department — see how the world has changed since 9/11.

–Former Acting Director of the CIA John McLaughlin, speaking at the commemorative event at Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS), said he believes that within the last decade the intelligence community has faced the greatest period of change since the height of the Cold War. The decade before 9/11 was characterized by an emphasis on peace, and in the years before the attacks the ranks of the intelligence community were cut by about 23 percent. After the attack, McLaughlin says that it became evident very quickly that the war would be an intelligence war. This new kind of war necessitated key changes within American intelligence. First, within the last decade we have had unprecedented integration of intelligence and the U.S. military, providing us with new and powerful capabilities that we didn’t possess 10 years ago. This new integration culminated in the takedown of Osama bin Laden. Second, since about 50 percent of the intelligence community today was hired after 9/11, we now have an intelligence workforce that has been trained and socialized during a time of war. This has not been the case since the time of the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, during World War II. We do not know the ramifications that such change will have on the community in the years to come.

–Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, addressing the same event, called a decade free from a domestic terror attack an “incredible achievement.” The United States has succeeded in many areas in our War on Terror: al Qaeda is on the run and state sponsorship of terror organizations has greatly diminished. However, two major national security challenges still lay ahead of us: the emergence of new nuclear-armed states and the rise of China. Though we have had limited positive accomplishments in curtailing the nuclear threat, there is still a long way to go. Both Iran and North Korea are still rogue nuclear threats that the United States has yet to deal with successfully. Furthermore, the expansion of the Chinese military looms as an underappreciated threat to American influence in the Pacific. Edelman noted that the bipartisan defense panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review that he took part of last year came to the conclusion that “the ability of the United States to operate in the Western Pacific in the face of some anti-access and area-denial capabilities that China has developed has been called into question”. This undercuts the ability of the United States to maintain the balance of power in Asia and Europe as it has since WWII.

–Former Counselor of the U.S. Department of State Eliot Cohen discussed whether the war on terror was indeed a war, and if so, what kind? He questioned the term itself, arguing that the U.S. government made a mistake by “casting this very broadly as a war on terror, which would be a little like the United States declaring war on dive bombers after Pearl Harbor. Terror is the tactic, not the enemy.”

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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