Mike Rogers

American Leadership and Global Stability

April 12, 2016  |  Blog

While the President and Congress agreed to dramatic military budget cuts, the threats against the U.S. and our interests continue to grow.

As we’ve drawn back our forces in recent years, cutting troop numbers and whittling funding, Russia has invaded Ukraine, China has illegally claimed islands belonging to its neighbors, and built new ones out of thin air, and ISIS has committed 70 terror attacks in 20 countries, including here in the United States.

President Obama recently told a reporter, “very little is accomplished in international affairs without U.S. leadership.” That is a change in mantra from leading from behind during the Arab Spring in Libya, or watching as Russia took an outsized role in the Syrian conflict.

It is time for the U.S. to act on the president’s declaration, and lead. We need a strong, trained, funded, and modernized military force to do that. We have seen what happens when the U.S. military, the most powerful force for good in the world, perhaps in history, withdraws as a global presence; just turn on your television. When we disengage, our enemies and adversaries see a vacuum and exert their own interests, to the long term detriment of the U.S., and usually to other peace-loving democracies.

A stronger military and broader U.S. presence is in fact a way to ensure peace, not destabilize it. As we attempt to save funds by cutting our military, we in fact empower forces that will cost significantly more to deter or combat in the future.

The Taliban now controls more of Afghanistan than at any point since the U.S. invasion. Iraq collapsed without U.S. guidance, pressure, and force protection. Troops in Syria were the first overt use of Russian military forces outside the former Soviet Bloc in twenty-five years. Iran signed a favorable nuclear deal, and immediately seized U.S. sailors at gunpoint and then tested ballistic missiles against U.N. resolutions.

It is estimated that by 2020 China will have 350 naval vessels, while the U.S. Pacific Fleet currently numbers only 80 surface ships. Today we are seeing the South China Sea regional nations boost their own defense spending to counter Chinese growth, purchasing hardware they have never had before. A stronger U.S. presence in the area is needed to prevent dangerous miscalculation that could spark an escalation in hostilities.

Toe-to-toe, U.S. military capability is unmatched, but we have yet to invent a ship that can be in two places at once. As Admiral Scott Swift, head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said at a conference in Southeast Asia, there is a “palpable sense that might makes right.” As we have seen in recent years, it not just in the Pacific that might is making right. We are now less able to deter our adversaries than ever.

General John Paxton, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps testified before Congress saying “I worry about the capability, and the capacity to win in a major fight…” He argued, as did other services, that after military budget cuts, training has suffered for those units not deployed to action. Paxton also said that “all of our intelligence and communications battalions… would be unable to execute their full wartime mission requirements if called upon today.” He worried about the state of Marine aviation, a department that has suffered from funding problems, with 80 percent of units lacking the training and response aircraft they need to fulfil their mission. Paxton was not alone in his concerns.

Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said the Army is ready to fight terror threats, but added, “when we talk about risk, we’re talking about great-power war with one or two countries: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.” The Acting Army Secretary recently said that the budget for next year was minimally adequate: the Army has lost fourteen combat brigades in the last five years.

The Secretary of the Air Force testified that she has 79 fewer fighter squadrons than were available twenty five years ago. This comes at a time when Russia has flown more bomber aircraft patrols outside Russian airspace at any time since the Cold war, and while flights in the English Channel surpass those of even the old Soviet Union, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command.

With the budget deal this past fall, Congressional Armed Services Committee chairmen McCain and Thornberry have said the military is still operating $18 billion under budget, cutting, among other systems and programs, 24 Blackhawks, 50 Joint Strike Fighters, and five Navy cruisers.

A strong defense should be our nation’s number one priority and the U.S. must return its military to its proper footing. We are at war with ISIS abroad while it attacks us at home, and we are being tested by our greatest adversaries and other rogue nations. Nations that do not align their national security interests with the U.S. or our allies will fill the void we leave in global leadership. This will only further destabilize the world- something dangerous to our security and our prosperity.

It is the responsibility of Congress to increase defense spending to at least the baseline proposed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in his Fiscal Year 2012 defense budget, and ensure those funds are used appropriately. The ancient Roman maxim still holds true today: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

National security is too complex and too important to boil down into a brief list, but I propose we start with the following ten items for immediate action:

  1. Strengthen military pay and retention programs to retain our servicemen and women, ultimately leading to a larger, stronger standing army, rather than letting our forces continue to decline.
  2. Expand the Navy’s fleet by a few dozen ships, including more attack submarines and a new aircraft carrier, to keep pace with the growing tensions in the Pacific, and to meet the mission set by military and civilian leaders.
  1. Expand and modernize the Air Force’s aging aircraft assets by funding additional Joint Strike Fighters.
  1. Prioritize upper tier missile defense systems: increase interceptor inventory and build upon current hit-to-kill technology as North Korea threatens us with nuclear annihilation and Iran laughs off U.N. sanctions to perform its own ballistic missile tests. With these dangers, the president’s plan to cut more than $600 million in Missile Defense Agency funds does not make sense.
  1. Restore funding for cruise missile defense technology at home and abroad through airborne aerostats with sensors and radars that improve interceptor capability, like the Joint Land Attack Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS).
  1. Halt to using Overseas Contingency Operations funding for non-emergencies.
  2. End the type of Congressional pet projects that support home district military facilities, but don’t necessarily provide realized security, wasting limited defense dollars that could be better allocated to more vital assets.
  3. Boost training, modernization and maintenance budgets to prevent a lull in troop and equipment readiness, post Iraq and Afghanistan. For years now we have been on a war footing, but not matching that stress on our troops and equipment with proper war readiness.
  4. Modernize and grow the National Guard and further expand its training to provide the Guard and the Reserves more flexibility in filling resource gaps in specialized areas like cyber, information operations and infectious disease outbreak management.
  5. Prioritize hardening of our capabilities and infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattack from adversaries like Russia and China, including our GPS infrastructure, as well as building and outfitting the Department of Defense Cyber Mission Force.
Matt Roti

Weak Foreign Policy May Lead to More Terrorist Safe Havens

March 7, 2016  |  Blog

Discussions continue on correcting an arguably failing strategy against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Recently the UN Syrian peace talks began, quickly stalled and then agreed on a ceasefire. However, we are seeing ongoing violent breaches. With all of the press that Syria and ISIL get, we should not forget about the several other failed governments in that region which pose an equal national security and foreign policy threat. Much of the western world is now attempting to correct the mistakes made because of the poor decisions, or indecisions, of this administration.

The choice was made in the U.S. in 2008 to focus predominantly on domestic agendas and dabble in foreign policy. The result: now more of our attention, resources and national treasure must be spent correcting this mistake. America withdrew its troops and attention from the fights it was engaged in, hoping to perhaps cut our losses, but this administration learned very quickly that it is not that easy. It also learned that merely dabbling in world affairs has serious effects that can domino out of control.

Take for instance the Arab Spring. In December 2010 a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia named Mohammed Bouazizi publicly immolated himself, in protest of an oppressive Tunisian regime and a poor economy. This was the credited event that sparked what became known as the Arab Spring. That incident and the local Tunisian reaction incited protests and riots across Tunisia and quickly spread to other countries.

From Egypt in January 2011 to Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya in February to Syria in March 2011, it seemed that no long-standing regime was going to be safe from the anger of the people. Since then, Tunisia and others among these countries have cast away their old leaders and have attempted to institute new governments. The Libyan people, with the help of a Western coalition, killed Col. Gaddafi and toppled that regime. In Egypt the people deposed their leadership and have since seen multiple political iterations, continuing to transform today.

As with many other countries involved with the Arab Spring, in Tunisia the economic grievances were among the main flashpoints. Tunisia’s unemployment was nearly 20% in a country of 10 million people and nearly 50% of the population was under the age of 30. The people were essentially in a race against poverty, fighting bad odds. Since the uprising, their economic fate has teetered, possibly influenced by global oil and food prices, increasing slowdown in the economy, threats to the tourism industry, and further stress on the country’s banks.

Recent reporting indicates that the political unrest and economic problems have not improved. Organized protests resumed in late January 2016 despite the best efforts of the current government to increase security and reinvigorate the economy. Unemployment has remained high and will likely stay that way due to extremely low economic growth.

The security situation in Tunisia is also politicized, causing the interim government to struggle on implementing meaningful and lasting reforms that strike a balance between the need for security and demands for liberty. Terrorist networks like Al Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and associated group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) pose a great threat to the Tunisian government, as well as western interests inside the country, and may fill any gap created by the lack of a strong system of government.

With a nervous, fledgling government, already accused of killing and injuring Tunisians during recent protests, the situation is primed for AQIM or AAS-T to continue to pressure a delicate situation with future attacks. There are no credible indications that either terrorist organization has aspirations for setting up a government of its own. However, a tumultuous environment, where the U.S. and other western countries can be forced out due to lack of security, allows for improved terrorist freedom of movement – similar to Libya.

As with Benghazi on 11 September 2012, where we lost Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other brave Americans, the intelligence agencies are faced with serious, if not specific threat streams and potential for an attack. The political atmosphere and civil unrest in places like Tunisia are ripe for an attack on a yet another U.S. Embassy, with major regional repercussions on western interests and terrorist organizations’ respective brands.

Foreign Policy and defense will remain an incredibly important topic during this presidential election. As in countries like Tunisia, the current policies and focus of this administration have not made the U.S., our allies, or interests abroad any safer than eight years ago. Electing another inexperienced president focused solely on domestic issues, when they are the leader of the most powerful and influential nation on earth, will only make matters worse. There is too much at stake for the U.S. to continue taking a back seat in the world. Think of who might jump into the vacuum and you’re presented with a cast of ethically dubious choices.

Danielle Pletka

The world after Mubarak

February 10, 2016  |  Blog

Five years ago, Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his de facto position as Egyptian president for life. At the moment, at least for those fighting to wrest back their vote from one of the Middle East’s most entrenched dictators, it was a fleeting high point in an Arab Spring that has torn apart the Middle East, reshaped the map and the politics of the region and roiled governments oceans away.

Without rehearsing the sad course of events in Egypt, including the failure of secular liberals to capitalize on the popular movement unleashed in Tahrir Square just over half a decade ago, it is nonetheless not too soon to ask whether overthrowing Mubarak (not to speak of Qaddafi, Assad, Saleh et al.) was the best choice, particularly for secular liberals and minorities.

I would argue yes, though the ranks of dictator nostalgics have grown apace as millions have fled their homes, Sunnis have turned on Shi’ites (and vice versa), and hundreds of thousands have died. Why yes? There seem to be so many indications that the region was better off under the tyrants we knew so well. Simply this: Hundreds of millions cannot live under a yoke of oppression without consequence. The world’s great democratic powers cannot be complicit in tyranny without paying a heavy price, morally for sure, but also practically. Whether it is Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany or the many other vile dictatorships that now lie on the ash heap of history, all must eventually fall. And if they must fall, it is inevitable there must be a period of transition. That is where we are today.

Efforts to stuff the genie back in the bottle, whether by the Saudis with their new Mubarak — General Abdel Fattah al Sisi — or John Kerry and his newfound tolerance for Bashar al Assad, will not work. They are only a short expedient to take us back to where we began, with the instability wrought by oppression. Still, those of us in the West and the Middle East who continue to believe in the imperatives of political and economic freedom, against the backdrop of nightmares now playing out across the Arab and Persian world, are engaged in an almost Sisyphean fight. The region’s leaders have successfully framed the future as a binary sort between Islamist terrorists and secular despots. Decades of assaults have decimated the ranks of liberals, and they are no match for the Sisis or the ISISes.

What to do? The prerequisite for success, notwithstanding the parrotlike claims of Barack Obama and team, is to defeat our enemies. That means stepping up the fight dramatically against ISIS and al Qaeda. The second step is to restore the faith the people of the region once had in the fundamental morality of American leadership. That means doubling and tripling down on the humanitarian fight, particularly but not only in Syria, including (yes, I’m saying it again), a no fly zone, safe zones and more.

The long term fight, however, is the one for the sustainable future of the Middle East, the future that does not drag the United States back into periodic wars or invidious partnerships. That requires a vision for what lasts — not simply an American vision, but a shared vision. A vision that recognizes there are only a few real elements to lasting peace and stability: political and economic freedom. The economic piece receives all too little attention and must be addressed. But the political piece too is a must. One will not last without the other.

How do we get there? First, we must want to. Second, we must make choices that put American power on the side of those who share that vision. Third, we must leverage our might to help a transformation take place over decades. It will be slow — the Soviet Union stood for seven decades — and it will be hard. Still, there is no credible case to be made that either religious or secular dictatorship works. The change has begun. How it continues is not simply up to the Arab and Persian worlds. It is also up to us.

Mike Rogers

National Security First

February 1, 2016  |  Blog, Honorary Chairman Mike Rogers, News

On Monday as you go to caucus, remember that the first duty of your pick for president is as commander-in-chief of our military.  The threat matrix arrayed against the United States is as bad as I have ever seen it, and our relationships around the world with our allies are the weakest they have been in years.  The name of the candidate you write on your caucus ballot may soon be leader of the free world, so remember that without safety here at home, and peace abroad, our prosperity cannot be assured.

After leaving Congress last year, I founded Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security (APPS) to educate Iowans on vital issues of national defense, and urge presidential candidates to go behind campaign talking points and deeply discuss the threats facing us.  APPS has hosted 26 forums in four early nominating states, eight in Iowa alone.  We have had 14 different candidates talk with thousands of politically active Americans who are asking tough questions of those men and women seeking to be our next president.

We have also reached out to thousands of caucus goers and voters through social media and digital engagement, because we know that national security is the most critical issue we face today.  Iowans agree.  In a recent polling commissioned by APPS, 44% of Iowans see national security as the most serious issue in this election, with 60% citing terrorism as the biggest threat this country faces.  Be sure that as you caucus, national security is your first priority; choose a candidate that has the temperament and experience to lead us through dangerous times.

Recent attacks in San Bernardino, Jakarta, Istanbul, and Paris, and continued threats from terrorism make this an issue of global importance.  Instability in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq provide safe havens for terrorists to plan, recruit and finance operations.  Our current strategy to fight ISIS is clearly not effective enough, and the next president must have a detailed plan to address this failing.

The Iranian nuclear deal has incentivized an arms race in the Middle East, and freed billions in frozen assets for the Ayatollah, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Quds Force.  Iran is the world’s largest state exporter of terror and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of our troops in Iraq by providing IED materials to militias.

The threat from terrorism is great, but our “peer competitors” are also advancing their own interests, at the expense of the United States, our allies, and the neighbors of those aggressors.

China is expanding beyond its coastal waters, building island fortresses in an area claimed by its neighbors, and its naval publications talk about creating a blue water navy to project more power outward.  To that end it is building its second aircraft carrier.  China is also establishing its first overseas military installation in the horn of Africa.  Meanwhile, the Chinese army and intelligence services steal billions in American intellectual property through cyberespionage, and then turn those products over to Chinese companies to directly compete against us in the international marketplace.

Russia has proven itself willing to invade and occupy its neighbors to expand its military reach, seizing vital waterways by annexing Crimea, and increasing its territory in the country of Georgia a few years ago.  Putin has expanded his presence in Syria, and shown a willingness to attack Syrian and American interests directly by bombing U.S. trained rebel forces.

The next president will have a world to help repair, while defending us here at home.  It is your responsibility to help choose that next commander-in-chief.  Think “national security first” as you exercise your duty on Monday.

Mike Rogers is host of the Westwood One radio program “Something to Think About,” a CNN national security commentator, a Distinguished Fellow at the Hudson Institute, and is the past chairman of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Originally appeared in The Iowa Republican: http://bit.ly/1P98Br7

Mike Rogers

Securing our GPS infrastructure

February 1, 2016  |  Blog, Honorary Chairman Mike Rogers, News

Today Americans use GPS to casually find the closest Starbucks, or in instances as complicated as plotting shipping lanes amid changing channels. However this vital system is in dangerous disrepair and worse, susceptible to cyberattack.

The forebear to our GPS technology today was originally designed for the Department of Defense to scrutinize military movements, but evolved into the navigation and mapping tools we all now enjoy.

This once classified military technology was released to the public more than two decades ago and was quickly adapted and widely disseminated for civilian use. It has become second nature to use Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, and other apps contingent on GPS technology. Not only are GPS-based tools convenient, we are increasingly reliant on them; try to find a bi-fold paper map at a gas station today.
However, this vital tool is in danger. Not just from Chinese missile systems, which are capable of targeting the GPS network of satellites, but increasingly from our own gross mismanagement and under investment. A Government Accountability Office report from a few years ago said it expected GPS satellites to begin crumbling as early as 2010.

In the last year we have also seen a slew of prominent cyber thefts and destruction of digital property by hackers, both in the government and private sector. The GPS system is as susceptible to these threats as our other government networks and remains largely “unhardened” to these attacks. While the Air Force has begun the development process to rectify the cybersecurity issue with its GPS OCX program, it has fallen behind schedule and over budget.

While that tune is familiar in Congress and the Pentagon, this program should not be dismissed out of hand. Too much of our economy is at stake to allow the GPS system to be disrupted by an attack. Whether it seems to present a challenge to hackers, or is a necessary prepping of the battle space by a future adversary, a halt in services to the GPS system would damage the U.S. economy and our way of life.

We saw the Russians use cyberwarfare to damage Georgian systems prior to their invasion in 2008. They have prepped the battle space by diminishing Ukrainian capabilities as well. The Chinese, North Koreans and Iranians have all used cyberattacks to intimidate political opponents or punish enemies.

Military use aside, the American economy would be extremely challenged by an attack on our GPS capabilities, and our government, pressed by many critically underfunded programs, has let one more slip through the cracks. But unlike the Joint Strike Fighter or a list of other over budget military programs, GPS is directly used by a majority of Americans, and by multiple industries. The financial services sector even uses GPS to manage part of its computer systems responsible for timing trades, something critical to Wall Street and main street businesses.

The GPS OCX program will help protect our country’s prosperity and security moving forward. Air Force General Roger Teague, the director of Space Programs acquisition, said it would be “the most hardened information assurance system ever delivered by the Department of Defense.”

Next time you’re finding the route to your grandmother’s for Christmas, remember why GPS was developed, and at great cost. Today our country needs functional, cyber-hardened GPS services more than ever. The Air Force must maintain funding for this infrastructure, ensure appropriate management of those resources and continue the development of the GPS OCX program. Abandoning the project halfway through is a further waste of money, sends a dangerous message to our nation’s adversaries, and could be a potentially perilous decision for our future.

Rogers served in the House from 2001 to 2015, and was chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He is host of the Westwood One radio program “Something to Think About,” a CNN national security commentator, and a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Originally appeared in The Hill: http://bit.ly/1nIOnOB

Hillary Seegar, New Hampshire Board Member

Giving Isis too much credit doesn’t at all serve our interests

December 21, 2015  |  Blog

To The Daily Sun,

In the latest 007 film, the British secret agent faces a formidable adversary — a global crime syndicate with informants, agents and influence all over the world.

Given the string of violent attacks and discovery of cells in Egypt, Lebanon, Paris and Brussels, it might looks like ISIS is a real-life Spectre: a global, far-reaching, uniform movement with tentacles in every conflict, carefully managed by a small group of men.

The reality is very different, and what makes ISIS so dangerous, and so hard to track and disrupt. It is far from a centrally controlled hierarchy, and a good portion of the violence and terror in the last year has in fact been done by self-radicalized adherents, not foreign fighters. ISIS is not responsible for all insurrections and insurgencies we are seeing, but it does have a growing hand in many.

Click here for the full article.

Ted Fienning, South Carolina Board Member

Voters need to vet military policy

December 19, 2015  |  Blog

When the United States announced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were over and that our troops were coming home, the declared end of hostilities must have felt supremely ironic to the highly trained and heavily armed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines still preparing to deploy (or re-deploy) to those harsh environments.

Despite naively optimistic rhetoric from the Obama administration in the face of new attacks, the world continues to be a dangerous place where enemies of individual freedom train daily to subdue their neighbors, marshal resources and prepare for the day they can show their might by attacking us at home. The discussion about how our country should best navigate this complex reality of hostile thugs, self-proclaimed caliphates, and terror-sponsoring nations must remain a focus of the presidential primary process in spite of the media’s focus on candidate personality.

Comparing successful conflicts like the original Desert Storm (with clear, limited objectives and a sound post-conflict political solution) to Vietnam or the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of the past 14 years, one can see that having the strongest military in the world is only at its most effective when the leadership, orders and vision of our civilian government are clear.

Click here for the full article.

Mike Rogers, Chairman APPS

Don’t base policy on false narrative: Opposing view

December 15, 2015  |  Blog

To deny our intelligence services the tools needed to keep Americans safe is shortsighted and naive.

The challenges to our national security have never been greater. From international organized crime selling dirty-bomb materials on the black market, to sophisticated terrorists recruiting and planning attacks in America, the challenge to get our national security right is daunting.

The debate about what our intelligence services were and are doing on the subject of surveillance continues to be based on inaccurate, misleading accounts, sensationalized by the news media and some politicians, leading the public to believe a false narrative.

The phone records “metadata” program did not and does not collect the content of conversations, just the “to” and “from” billing data routinely provided by companies. The NSA contractor who leaked program details helped create a false narrative and led terrorists to change tactics.

The narrow metadata program stored anonymous information for a machine to run matches against known terrorists’ numbers, following a court-approved process. To call that storage invasive belies the reality of, and restrictions on, its use. Additionally, critics gloss over 38 terror plots in the U.S. and Europe the program helped prevent.

The program was recently changed so that telecom companies, rather than the NSA, hold the data. The companies store the data for different time periods, in different formats — creating a challenge for the FBI in an emergency. The attackers in San Bernardino, Calif., for example, could have been in touch with other operatives in the USA unknown to the FBI. The data needed to quickly identify a terrorist network is no longer immediately available to the FBI.

Though intelligence is not an exact science, our intelligence community has successes every day. Most of these accomplishments are never made known. To deny our intelligence services the tools needed to keep Americans safe is both shortsighted and naive.

The program was created after 9/11 when an intelligence gap was discovered. In light of San Bernardino, the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the program should be strengthened.

Mike Rogers

Can Special Forces defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

November 19, 2015  |  Blog

(CNN) President Obama said his current strategy on ISIS is working and that the death of 129 people in Paris is a “setback.” He also said ISIS is contained, despite ISIS claiming credit for the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt, the death of dozens in a bombing in Beirut, and the other 31 successful global attacks by ISIS and its affiliates this year.

The recent announcement by the White House that not more than 50 special operations forces will be dispatched to help coordinate the fight against ISIS was heralded by some as evidence of the administration’s seriousness on the issue. As CNN reported, this represented “the most significant escalation of the American military campaign against [ISIS].” Unfortunately, enthusiasm must be tempered by reality. Though it was a very small step in the right direction, it does not represent a grand strategy.

Time after time, military advisers have said special operations forces are not a cure-all. And we have bombed ISIS in Syria for over a year, yet three of their deadliest attacks have happened in the last three weeks.

To understand how special operations forces are properly used, and where they can be successful, it’s necessary to rewind the clock and examine Iraq at the peak of special operations-led actions there in the mid-2000s.

Under Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command developed a system that linked forceful action with immediate processing of intelligence and real time analysis. Special operators launched missions at dusk and continued all night; hitting one safe house after another, analyzing the information gained in one strike and launching subsequent raids based on what they found, in hours.

How was this operational tempo achieved? First, the United States was working with the full support, consent and backing of the elected Iraqi government. The U.S. dominated the battle space, there was relatively sizable local support, and these teams enjoyed full air support, including medical evacuation, in the event an operation went poorly.

Read full piece at CNN.com here: http://cnn.it/1S7bFXe

Matt Strawn, National Advisor

Iowans, the world is watching after Paris

November 16, 2015  |  Blog

“I thank God that I was born to the gridirons of the Middle West and not to the battlefields of Europe.”

— Nile Kinnick, remarks to the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City, Dec. 6, 1939

Like many Iowans, my Hawkeye football pre-game routine includes a visit to the statue of Iowa’s only Heisman award winner that towers outside the south end zone of the stadium that bears his name.

This weekend was no exception, but as I stood alongside Kinnick’s 20-foot bronze likeness, it wasn’t reclaiming Floyd of Rosedale or continuing Iowa’s improbable climb in the college football rankings that occupied the space in my mind. With Friday’s Paris terrorist attacks not yet 24 hours old, I was struck by my surroundings.

Iowans, as far as the eye could see, were eating, drinking, listening to music, hanging out with friends, and looking forward to forgetting about the stresses of life for a few hours while cheering on their beloved sports team. In other words, Iowans doing the very things thousands of Parisians were doing when terror struck.

Standing there, Kinnick’s quote flashed in my mind. It is one many Iowans know by heart and serves as a stark reminder of the reality of his times and of the changed reality of our times. The battlefields have changed.

Today, we are the battlefield. Not just where we live, but how we live. Yes, this battlefield was forever changed on Sept. 11, 2001, but Friday’s attacks, though a continent away, strike at the heart of all free people and western civilization.

How do we respond as Americans, as Iowans, to this changed battlefield, beyond changing our Facebook avatars or tweeting out #PrayersforParis? In Iowa, part of answering that call means engaging in the presidential Caucus process and demanding candidates answer tough questions about their national security principles and policies.

In less than 11 weeks, Iowans have the privilege and bear the responsibility of initiating the process that will produce America’s next commander-in-chief.

In recent presidential debates, a leading Democratic candidate for president cited climate change as America’s most pressing national security concern, while some Republican contenders advocated policies that ranged from allowing Russia to lead in Syria to dramatic drawdowns of foreign engagement all together. One of the campaign’s strongest voices on national security and foreign policy was not even invited to participate in the most recent Republican debate.

All this comes at a time when, according to Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, “the next president will confront the most varied and unstable national security threat matrix of my lifetime.”

It is against the backdrop of these threats that Iowans must take the lead in vetting our presidential candidates to ensure they are prepared to lead. Throughout history, Iowans have answered the call and shouldered responsibilities far beyond our borders. That time has come again.
It was Iowa that sent more of her sons per capita to fight in the Civil War than any other state in the Union. It was an Iowan from Cresco named Norman Borlaug who sparked the Green Revolution saving millions of lives around the globe. It was Iowa, under the leadership of Gov. Bob Ray, who first opened America’s doors to refugees fleeing religious and political persecution in Southeast Asia.

And it will be Iowans, understanding of our rich history and unwilling to accept the new normal of these changed battlefields, who must lead the way to make sure the next leader of the free world understands the stakes and is prepared to lead from day one.

Matt Strawn is an Ankeny businessman and serves as a national advisor to Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security (www.peaceprosperitysecurity.org). He served as chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa from 2009-2012. Contact: mnstrawn@strawnco.com