Michele Flournoy, the second most powerful person at the Pentagon nowadays, gave a fascinating talk to Army officers yesterday, and I am not saying that just because she used to be at the think tank were I hang my hat, CNAS.
She likes the rule of law. "The United States must exemplify respect for the rule of law. We have to stop invoking American exceptionalism and return to our historical role as champion of the rule of law both domestically and internationally." Nice idea, but I am not sure how get we from here -- where torture was made national policy -- to there. There is a lot of "do whatever it takes" disrespect for law embedded in the last seven years of American history that the administration doesn't seem very interested in cleaning up.
She also is hot to trot for multilateralism. I think the test of this will be the first time we do something unpopular at home because our allies really really really (as my daughter would say) want us to. I don't know what that might be. Maybe sign up to the International War Crimes Tribunal?
She has an interesting take on "the commons," and the role the U.S. military should play in policing it. "We see increasing tensions in the global commons: the sea, space, cyberspace and so forth. These are really the connective tissue of the international system and of our global society. And we must ensure access to these shared resources remains open." Are you listening, Navy and Air Force?
One Army colonel posed an interesting question: Okay, what would you call this strategy? It's a good question. Flournoy didn't have an answer, and neither do I. Basically, it sounds like a plan for a mature national security policy.
I expect Robert Gates to step down as defense secretary about a year from now. Might he be succeeded by Ms. Flournoy?
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.