CSIS: What to Do

By Marjorie Censer / November 5, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Sen. Barack Obama, who will become a wartime president on his first day in office, will face pressing national security challenges and be forced to make critical decisions early, according to a report released today by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The document -- written by well-known defense expert Anthony Cordesman -- says Obama will have to determine how to handle the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how to reshape the fiscal year 2010 budget, how to deal with “the cost-containment crisis in defense procurement” and how to restructure deployment plans to reflect needs in Afghanistan.

“The new President elect is not going to have the time to meditate, have task forces examine broad changes in strategy, and think conceptually,” the report says. “As of January 20th, he will have to deal with the inheritance of ongoing wars and crises in many aspects of defense.”

While acknowledging the challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cordesman also zeroes in on the problems with defense programming and budgeting.

“There will be an immediate need to compensate for nearly eight years of conceptual strategies decoupled from force plans, and budgets, poorly structured wartime budget supplementals, a grossly mismanaged procurement effort in every military service, and a failure to contain the cost of U.S. defense spending,” he writes.

Immediately and for some time, Obama will have to reshape the Defense Department as well as national security policy to rebalance the structure and missions of the active and reserve components, address recruiting and retention problems and control costs, among other issues, the report says.

In the long-term, he will need to create forces able to perform both “hard” and “soft” functions, establish effective defense planning structures and cycles and ensure that procurement plans are “real and affordable,” while also addressing many other challenges.

The question, Cordesman concludes, is the degree to which the Obama administration will be realistic. He calls on the new presidential team to make “hard trade-offs without abandoning key options,” accept “the fact that the U.S. status as 'superpower' was always severely limited and these limits will grow” and look to create integrated and affordable plans and budgets that are tailored to major missions and regions.

“The extent to which the Obama Administration acts on this basis, rather than the basis of the ideological extremism and failed management of the Bush Administration, will determine much of its success and the state of U.S. national security,” Cordesman writes.