WASHINGTON: If you want to understand why President Obama spoke so much about terrorism in his widely panned West Point speech, the head of Pentagon intelligence explained it pretty well today.
Terrorism is and remains the top threat to the United States, Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Mike Vickers said this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The most interesting, and some would say anomalous, threat assessment he offered: China comes in at number seven after Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Syrian civil war, Russian “revanchism,” Iran, North Korea and what he called the “persistent volatility” across South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa.
That’s right, China appears to come seventh when the Intelligence Community is planning and advising President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. It makes sense when you consider the long-range goals China appears to have set itself and the absence of a direct confrontation — so far — between the two powers.
Now folks in the Intelligence Community may well tut tut and profess that they examine each situation as it occurs, but budgeting requires prioritization and here it is.
What does all this mean in aggregate to the Intelligence Community and the Pentagon? Vickers said, “[as] senior intelligence officials, we haven’t seen this range of challenges on an administration’s plate in our careers.” Not only is the range of threats geographically enormous and conceptually varied, they are, as Vickers noted, “these are highly asymmetric challenges.” In Pentagon parlance that means the United States military isn’t necessarily well prepared to cope with them. And there are a lot of them.
Is Mike Vickers arguing that the Intelligence Community needs to remain very well financed, even in this age of declining defense budgets? Sounds like!