SASC To Hold Hearing on National Defense Strategy

Sen. John McCain, shown here with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has repeatedly lamented what he views as a lack of a national defense strategy. DOD photo by USAF SSgt. Jette Carr.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to hold a hearing on Nov. 30 to receive expert testimony on “recommendations for a future national defense strategy.” The hearing comes after months of complaints from committee chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about the lack of a coherent defense strategy from the Trump administration.

In August, McCain released his own strategy for the US war in Afghanistan because, he said, “nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all.” A few weeks later, Trump announced a new way forward for Afghanistan, but McCain was not satisfied.

Two months later, McCain said that “so far we have not seen the details of a conditions-based strategy that will bring about an end to the conflict in Afghanistan,” and he revealed that SASC had been holding up the confirmation of Pentagon nominees because of the Department of Defense’s lack of communication on strategic issues.

That hold has eased in recent weeks since McCain declared himself largely content with a classified Pentagon briefing on the deadly Oct. 4 ambush of US Special Forces in Niger. Even so, he said unanswered questions remained about the US strategy in Niger.

As recently as Nov. 16, McCain complained that, “with a new administration, we thought we would see a clear and concise strategy articulated.” But on important threats like China, McCain said, “there is no strategy” to date.

With the Nov. 30 hearing, McCain seems ready to move ahead on his own once again to begin a conversation on what US defense strategy should look like.

Witnesses for the hearing will include Thomas Mahnken, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; David Ochmanek, a senior defense policy analyst at the RAND Corporation; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation.