The Bayonet

Wednesday, Jan. 08, 2014

Departing Pentagon policy chief reflects on term

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WASHINGTON — Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China and the shift to the Pacific — all of these issues and more have been on the plate of James N. Miller during his tenure as undersecretary of defense for policy since May 2012.

Miller leaves his post Wednesday and reflected on his term during a roundtable discussion with reporters Monday.

The war in Iraq officially ended shortly before Miller took office. Iraq has continuing problems, Miller said, and the United States will continue to work with the Iraqi government to solve them. Still, he added, the United States will not deploy troops to Iraq to combat a resurgence of al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists. The Iraqi military can cope with that problem, he said.

“Iraq is being affected by spillover from Syria, as well as from its internal dynamics,” Miller said. “We are continuing to assist the Iraqis and looking for ways in which to do that effectively, but we are not looking at redeploying military forces.”

After more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, the transition to Afghan-led operations was completed in 2013, the outgoing Pentagon policy chief said. The transition to Afghans assuming full security responsibility continues, he added, and will be completed this year.

A key to success in the country is Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s signature on the pending bilateral security agreement between his country and the United States. The agreement would allow a much-reduced number of American troops to remain in the country to train, advise and assist Afghanistan’s national security forces and would allow for Americans to conduct certain counterterrorism operations.

“With the BSA and international involvement, there are very good grounds for optimism,” Miller said. Without the agreement, he added, the United States would have to begin planning for the “zero option” — no troops in Afghanistan in 2015.

“It is not desirable for Afghans or for others, but ultimately, this is up to the Afghans,” Miller said.

U.S. national security strategy is based on global engagement, and the rebalance of U.S. strategy to the Asia-Pacific region is recognition of this fact, Miller said, noting that the United States is strengthening alliances and partnerships in the region.

“Japan’s recent announcement on the Futenma replacement facility is a big deal,” Miller said. The governor of Okinawa cleared the way last month for relocation of a Marine Corps air base to a less-populated area of the Japanese island.

Engagement with China is a central part of the rebalance, Miller said. “While the military is not the only element, … increasing the percentage of our forces and the quality of our forces that go to the Pacific are key elements,” Miller said.

Sustaining global leadership also means sustaining global presence in other regions, the undersecretary said, and building the capacity of partners in the Middle East and Africa is an important aspect of U.S. military engagement.

Miller said the U.S. military partnership with Israel has never been stronger, and America continues a presence in the Persian Gulf. Support for French troops in Mali last year and continuing efforts to build counterterrorism capabilities — most notably in Yemen and Libya — are good examples, he added.

The United States needs to continue to engage with Russia and also increase engagements with other rising powers, such as India and Brazil, Miller said.

The Obama administration has emphasized a whole-of-government approach to national security, which some people call “smart power.”

“Having a strong, capable, ready military is critical to that — hard power is integral to smart power,” Miller said. “We’ve worked hard to guide our military posture and our programs — including the drawdown — strategically.”

Miller noted that as a number of studies have unfolded during this decade — the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a strategic guidance study under then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the recently concluded strategic choices management review, and now the run-up to the next Quadrennial Defense Review — the administration has continued to implement and adapt previous reviews. These include the nuclear posture review, the ballistic missile defense review, and the space policy review, and the administration also has been formulating cyber policy, he said.

“Details will change, but the basic strategy — defend the homeland, engage with friends and allies — will not,” Miller added. The policy chief did not ignore the budgetary effect on the department, stressing that Congress has to be part of the solution.

“Congress needs to work toward reasonable compromises on our budget,” he said. “I think, over time, we need to get back to more bipartisanship on policy, programs and budgets. In order to be credible as a nation, we’ve got to be able to work together. We’ve got to do better at working across the aisle and working between the administration and Congress.”

The undersecretary said he has no immediate plans for a follow-on job, and that he intends to get reacquainted with his wife and five children.

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