EDITOR'S NOTE: General Hugh Shelton served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001. He is a member of the National Security Advisory Council of the US Global Leadership Coalition.
By General Hugh Shelton, USA (Ret.), Special to CNN
As our nation comes together to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we find ourselves with a poignant opportunity to reflect on the lives lost and the dramatic changes we have seen around the world over the last decade.
On that tragic day, I was serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military adviser to the President of the United States. I will never forget the personal sense of loss all of us felt as we processed the events of the day – devastation on a scale that had seemed unimaginable even the day before. But what I will also remember is what happened the day after.
In our first National Security Council meeting after the attacks, our intelligence and law enforcement leaders briefed the President, telling him that the attacks were planned and executed by al Qaeda. In the dramatic pause after this information was presented, all the eyes in the room seemed to turn towards myself and the Secretary of Defense. The silent question that hung in the air was obvious – what are we going to do about this?
But before we could respond, the President Bush himself interrupted. He said, we’ll get to the military tools, but first let’s talk about what we can do diplomatically and economically. This was an extraordinary statement, and I believe the first indication of the new, comprehensive national security strategy required in the post-9/11 world. In that moment, we saw for the first time it would take all of the tools in America’s foreign policy arsenal working together in order to keep us safe from terrorists and extremists.
As Chairman, I was a strong supporter of this comprehensive strategy, where development and diplomacy work alongside a strong defense to protect our nation. I had seen firsthand planning a previous operation in Haiti that in order to succeed, you need all the pieces working together. For that mission, we knew capturing and killing our enemies wouldn’t bring a lasting peace. We had to find a way to restore power to the cities and build up a civilian government with a justice system, a police force and a plan for delivering basic services to its own citizens. These are exactly the challenges we face today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our men and women in uniform are the strongest fighting force in the world, and they know how to win wars. But it takes more than just the military to succeed in the type of environment we find ourselves today. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are trained for battle. They are not trained to be development experts, nor should they be. As the President recognized on September 12 and from that day forward, we would need both military and civilian “boots on the ground” to achieve our national security goals.
Ten years later, our country remains under threat from terrorists and extremists and must contend with the problems of a complex and interconnected world. Weak and failing states, natural disasters, poverty and pandemic disease all feed the beasts that threaten our security. We have to be one step ahead of our enemy and that requires us to have the most effective and efficient civilian and military programs in place.
While budgets are tight, the one percent of the federal budget we invest in our development and diplomacy programs is essential in addressing the threats we face and ensuring America remains a leader in the world. To not provide adequate resources to these vital programs through our International Affairs Budget is to risk forgetting the lessons of September 12, 2001.