U.S. Strategy Built for New Threats, General Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2006 The U.S. military has sculpted its strategy to account for the different threats, cultures and circumstances posed by the global war on terror, the Joint Staff's chief of strategic plans and policy said in an interview here.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Victor E. "Gene" Renuart Jr. said that while the Defense Department does focus a great deal of effort on Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terrorism reaches well outside the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. "And each portion of that around the world has a different flavor and different requirements," the general said.
The key tenets of the strategy are protecting the United States from attack, finding and rooting out terrorist organizations around the world and finding ways to enable the voices of the moderates - especially moderate Muslims - to help counter the terrorist ideology, he said.
In different parts of the world, different portions of the strategy move to the forefront.
"Countering the ideology could be something as visible as the tsunami relief," the general said. The world rushed to the rescue when the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean area in December 2004. The United States sent sailors and airmen to shuttle supplies to the stricken areas of Indonesia. U.S. servicemembers helped airlift victims and clear roads in the country.
The shared experiences have helped the United States and Indonesia repair damaged relations, Renuart said. And the help the U.S. government, U.S. servicemembers and U.S. nongovernmental agencies provided Indonesia had a significant impact on the way the citizens of the nation viewed America and Americans.
The Indonesian government has begun to reach out in ways it has never done in the past, and the United States has reciprocated with elements of military-to-military, international and economic engagement.
"Some may say that's not part of the war on terrorism," Renuart said. "Actually that's at the heart of the war, because it is creating in the minds of those who might choose the extremist ideology the idea that the West really are forces for good and will come to their aid when they have a tragedy like that."
The general said it is a much better investment to create friends than it is to defeat an enemy. "It's certainly a lot less expensive in lives and treasure," he said.
The U.S. response to the earthquake in Pakistan is a similar example. "The idea that the No. 1 toy for kids in Pakistan is a Chinook helicopter speaks volumes about the change in perception (in Pakistan)," he said. The children American servicemembers helped may think twice before accepting the extremist view of America they could learn at certain religious schools.
Renuart said terrorist threat clearly is present in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Africa. These are centered on "ungoverned areas" - areas where the national and state governments are ineffective. He said groups like al Qaeda buy their ways into these areas - in effect paying hush money so the groups can train, plan and refit in the areas. Somalia could become one of those regions, as could countries in the southern Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa, he said.
In Africa, there is a dividing line between Christians and Muslims. "Finding ways to solve those problems prior to conflict are a critical element of the strategy," the general noted.
Small U.S. teams in the Horn of Africa and in West Africa work to build up the counterinsurgency effort of the nations. Other teams may dig wells or conduct medical exercises. These small projects, the general said, directly benefit the people. These are aspects that the U.S. military would traditionally have put into an unconventional warfare category.
"Today, we are doing it with Marines and soldiers - conventional soldiers trained to do these missions," he said. "Doing that helps build these governments and helps preclude growth of terrorism in those regions."
But one size does not fit all. Each nation has a different economic, political and military capacity. In many cases, the nations themselves do not "stand on a strong foundation," Renuart said. Conducting these recurring military activities with the governments helps the citizens to see the central state as a confident, competent, democratic entity, he said.
DoD works very closely with the U.S. State Department and the country teams in these nations, the general said.
The recurring nature of the events is important. "The countries need to see the United States as an ally who will not be here today and gone tomorrow," he said. "We need to engage with them on a routine basis for an extended period of time."
And Americans must remember, he said, that democracy can be messy. "Sometimes it won't go the way we hope," he said. "There are a lot of unforeseen circumstances out there. But the president's initiatives on freedom and democracy remain pretty consistent, and that is to give people the opportunity to choose a representative form of government. You have to acknowledge that sometimes the people who get elected may not represent exactly the position you have, but you continue to keep a dialogue."
Terrorism affects everyone in the world, the general said. This means that even countries that don't agree on many things can still operate and have discussions on the common ground of counterterrorism, illicit trade, counternarcotics and nuclear proliferation, he said. "We need to create relationships that can endure the ups and downs of political relations in the military-to-military contacts, humanitarian relief and so on," he said.
"We cannot focus on one part of the world so much that we forget about others," he said. "Every nation of the world has to pay attention to how deal with extremism."