U.S. General To Economists: What I Learned In Africa

U.S. General To Economists: What I Learned In Africa

Countries where residents feel they have opportunities – for themselves and their children – enjoy more stability and security, have the best governments, and generally respect human rights, says a retired general who led the U.S. military in Africa during U.S. airstrikes in Libya.

Gen. Carter Ham, who stepped down in June after heading the U.S. Africa Command, addressed economists at the National Association for Business Economics in San Francisco, according to a WallStreetJournal report.

His was a different perspective from the norm for the crowd of professors and business economists, the report said.

“I’ve learned in Africa, security and stability in many ways depends a lot more on economic growth and opportunity than it does on military strength,” he said.

Retirement has freed him to speak his mind, Gen. Ham said. It gave him the opportunity to criticize openly across-the-board spending cuts that hit the federal government in March.

While slashing 10 percent from the Defense Department’s budget would be “painful,” Gen. Ham said he’s convinced it can be done. But the wide-ranging cuts left little discretion to agencies, limiting the way the military could reduce expenses. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed this summer, with civilian Defense Department employees taking six unpaid days from work.

Defending against cyber-security fears should be the Defense Department’s top focus, Gen. Ham said. It is not only the most significant threat to the U.S. military but to the nation. Missile defense should stay high on the list, he said, as well as homeland defense.

“I worry that the national debate has focused more on the individual – close this base, don’t close this base; buy 100 airplanes, buy 50 airplanes; be in this place overseas or don’t be in this place overseas — without asking the big question of, ‘What is our national defense strategy?’” Gen. Ham said. “And that is the question we ought to be focused on.”