In accepting the Association of the United States Army’s highest award, the George Catlett Marshall Medal for service to the nation, former Secretary of State James Baker said, "The number one threat [facing the United States] is our economic and political dysfunction."
Speaking Wednesday, Oct. 24, to 3,000 attendees at a dinner concluding AUSA’s three-day Annual Meeting and Exposition, he said, "If we can’t cure these, the consequences will not be good" over a broad range of national issues, including security.
Baker said an important lesson to be drawn from Marshall’s life as Army chief of staff during World War II and as secretary of defense after the war is "the importance of alliances."
"[Marshall] understood that power is finite, [but an] alliance could play a critical role" in checking the Soviet Union with NATO.
"That is no less true today." He warned against "over-stretch" when considering military action in the future.
Adding, "The next president should be wary of ‘wars of choice,’" [and] before acting "should wherever possible seek allies" before engagement as President George H.W. Bush, also a Marshall Medal awardee, did in Desert Shield/Storm in the early 1990s.
"Alliances are critical for flexible response," Baker said.
"The American people have little taste for going it alone," he emphasized.
Looking to the future, Baker said, "I don’t believe that conflict with China is inevitable. I sure as hell hope not."
He worried that bipartisan compromise is endangered especially in the upcoming struggle in Congress to avoid the automatic cuts in defense and other federal programs and entitlements like Medicare called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
This would occur if Capitol Hill and the White House cannot agree on a way cut the deficit and balance the budget.
"Politics are a fact of American life, and they should be," Baker, who also served as a White House chief of staff, said.
But now, he added, "It has become a fight to the death," brought in large part by congressional redistricting making more and more districts safe for one party or the other.
"I hope we will get it done in the aftermath of the election."
The possible cuts take effect at the start of 2013.
"Compromise seems to have become a dirty word in this city [Washington] and the nation," he said.
Baker added that was not what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they wrote the Constitution.
"We need authentic leadership [that] can put aside ideological differences" in reaching a solution on important political issues.
He said Marshall had those qualities and should be a "model for military officers and those who serve in political office. He remains the standard."