Daniel Gallington is the Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Most everyone has a "short list" of things to do before the end of the year. Here are my suggestions for Washington —specifically, for whoever has "equities" in the specific matter under consideration—and that would be all of us.
Go over the "fiscal cliff." It's a lot more realistic—and far more responsible—than any of the goofy proposals we're hearing from either side. We are simply spending (and borrowing) way too much money while almost half of us pay no income taxes at all. And, to "fix" Social Security and Medicare is simple—and has always been simple: Increase the payroll taxes for both and eliminate the wage caps. In fact, only the "cliff" will cause the parties to start talking from realistic positions. Meanwhile, returning to the Clinton era tax rates (not such a bad time as we may remember) will produce the tax revenues needed, while just "taxing the rich" will not—that liberal mantra is meant only to class-divide us. Just as important: There isn't a government function alive that can't manage—just fine—with a 10 percent budget cut. How can this be? Easy—at least that much "fat" is automatically built in to every department's budget—every year—in anticipation of cuts, and everybody in Washington knows it. Come on man!
Shoot down the North Korean "satellite launch." This should be done if the vehicle makes it off the launch pad and into international airspace. Why? It's simply a ruse for an intercontinental ballistic missile test—and, the very last thing the politically perverted "little Kim" needs (with the exception of deliverable nukes) is a workable intercontinental ballistic missile.
Begin NATO planning for taking down the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. It's quite simple: The Iranians will soon build nuclear weapons unless they are prevented from it—and, once they have them they will use them. Also, how many times do the Saudis have to tell us to "cut the head off the snake" before we actually do it? Accordingly, the Saudis should (also) plan to pay for it and the Israelis should stay out of it, if they know what's good for them—and it looks as if they might.
Get serious about cyber security. Especially for our critical infrastructure (which, in our country, is mostly private sector) the president should continue to issue executive orders enabling a far more active role for the National Security Agency. Congress's favorite cash cow—the Department of Homeland Security—will only waste the "pork" money given them to do it. And, because our Congress can't help themselves when it comes to pork, it's also why the president needs to continue to issue executive orders assigning basic missions and functions for our cyber security, consistent with who can do them best.
Allow Egypt to implode. It looks like the Egyptians need to "discover"—the hard way—that absolutely no form of radical Islam in government is consistent with democracy: It never has been and never will be. Realization of this may take years of urban violence—at least when the radicals are killing each other they aren't fomenting jihad somewhere else.
Assist Syria to implode. And, cut off Assad's escape routes so he can be dealt with by a successor regime. If Assad starts to move his chemical weapons around, NATO should take overwhelming military action to secure and destroy the chemical weapons—and take down the Assad regime.
Propose arms control talks with the Chinese. We have far more in common, i.e., capitalism and trade, with the Chinese than we ever did with the Soviet Union and should be exploring various forms of arms control with them—provided we assume that they will cheat (at least on the margins) on any agreement we make with them, as did the Soviets. However, arms control should only be part of a program of "new engagement" with China, including monetary reform, human rights, and electronic media freedoms. Whether they realize it or not, China is in the beginnings of a massive transition to and an assimilation of the West, and we should help them make the right choices as they progress toward some form of political democracy.
Establish a "select committee" to investigate the Benghazi terror attack. This is for our Congress to do. It will disclose that the director of National Intelligence (ironically, because the director of National Intelligence was established by the Congress) or the National Security Council staff probably "changed the story" given to them by the CIA —simply because of the timing of the 9/11 attack to the election. This won't surprise anyone who understands the "political process" in Washington; however, it may cause Congress to be more aggressive in insisting on more timely information (even some kinds of tactical information) from the intelligence community. This, in turn, might also require further amendment to the National Security Act.
Reinvigorate our public diplomacy mission. We are simply losing the war for the hearts and minds of the unsettled political world, and it's because of our insistence on the traditional "public affairs" approach to information—and giving it a bureaucratic advantage over more aggressive operations. Required is a legislative revamping of Cold War era laws and policies prohibiting blowback of information intended to influence public opinion overseas. These prohibitions make absolutely no sense in today's instant information centric world and where social media reigns supreme.
This list should keep us busy—at least until the end of the year!