Nov. 12, 2015

New York Times reporter examines modern warfare

Lindsay France/University Photography
David Sanger speaks Nov. 10 as part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies’ Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.

In the eight years since New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger last spoke at Cornell, the world has experienced drastic changes due to the switch from the Bush to Obama administrations, he said.

Sanger highlighted some of these changes in a Nov. 10 campus lecture titled “What Happened to the ‘Light Footprint’ Strategy? President Obama and Interventions Around the World.”

He began by discussing the state of foreign policy at the time of the administration switch: “The Bush administration was leaving President Obama with a huge array of problems around the world, some of which bear resemblance to what he’s facing today, and some of which we couldn’t have imagined at that time.”

Overall, however, “If you take the world outside of the Middle East, the globe is largely more peaceful and stable today than it has been in many decades,” said Sanger.

Sanger narrowed his talk to the state of modern warfare, describing ways in which America has transitioned to what he calls the “light footprint,” which uses drone strikes, cyber attacks and special forces. “These were the new expressions of American power, and of American covert power … and frankly they are the future of American power,” Sanger said.

According to Sanger, the Obama administration sought to learn a lesson from the Bush administration’s failed invasion of the Middle East, and of other failed attempts to hold territories and “Americanize” societies. “The key was to not put troops into a country for eight or nine years, and than discover that their being there triggers enormous resentments among the global population,” said Sanger.

He continued by praising the Obama administration’s handling of the nuclear situation in Iran, stating that America effectively “diffused the Iranian [nuclear] threat for at least the next 10 to 15 years. Assuming that the deal that was struck in Vienna this summer holds for a number of years, the Iranians will not have in their possession a nuclear bomb for some time.”

He concluded with a remark on the state of cyber warfare on a global scale: “Cyber gives the least connected and the least powerful means for the least rich nations and terror groups to get a weapon which they can attain cheaply, and unlike nuclear weapons they can actually use.”

Sanger is the author of two best-sellers on foreign policy and national security: “The Inheritance, the World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power” (2009)and “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.”

The talk was part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies’ Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.

Scott Goldberg ’16 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.