The 10 Most Important Military Stories of 2014

Looking back over the last year, here are the stories that we will probably still be thinking about in the years ahead. In some cases these headlines will be recalled as warnings of the troubles to come. Others are reminders of the one constant advantage America holds—that every generation of Americans is the greatest generation. We are blessed by the men and women who every year put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard us.

10. Farewell Robin Williams.

Remembering the service and sacrifice of those that serve is important.  The comedian and actor Robin Williams, a staple of the USO circuit, lived that commitment. After 9/11, for example, Williams toured with the USO a half-dozen times, visiting 13 countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. During one memorable performance in Kuwait in 2007, he started the show early and had to stop when retreat was sounded. All the troops snapped to attention, facing away from the stage. Afterward, Williams quipped, “I am not going to forget that. I’ve never had an entire audience say, ‘Forget you.’” The troops will miss him.

9. Sony Hack.

One of my predictions for 2014 was “North Korea won’t be ignored.” Kim Jung Un came through for me right at the end. Not that anyone in the Pentagon needed reminding, but China and North Korea continue to make Northeast Asia a troubling part of the world that the armed forces must continue to worry about.

8. Bergdahl Swap.

Of course, every American agrees that the U.S. has an unshakable obligation to bring every son and daughter home. No one disputes that. But how our leaders accomplish that duty matters as well. Even now months after, the exchange that  swapped Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders raises more questions than answers about the integrity of the administration and propriety of its action. Meanwhile, after an investigation the Pentagon has referred the Bergdahl case for consideration for court martial over his actions in Afghanistan.  

7. America to Stay in Afghanistan.

The “zero” option, taking all the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, was never a good idea, but that was the direction the White House really wanted to go. In 2014, however, President Obama announced that the U.S. would leave a residual force in the country. Still, the future of Afghanistan and the American effort to prevent a resurgence of a safe haven for global terrorism remains an open question.  The president’s decision is a turning point—we just don’t know which way events are going to turn.

6. The Rise of Islamic State.

President George Bush warned against the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Obama didn’t listen. He declared Iraq a safe and stable country, and completely pulled out. In 2014, the terrorists came roaring back.  The U.S. military has been sent back in to try to help and turn back the Islamic State. 

5. Obama’s West Point Speech.

The president delivered a triumphal foreign and defense policy speech at the United States Military Academy graduation ceremony. The major problem he foresaw for the armed forces was grappling with climate change. Obama’s remarks revealed how deeply out of step the White House had become with the reality of what was going on in the world. In the months following the speech, a series of crises erupted in the Ukraine, Iraq, Gaza, and Afghanistan. Obama dealt poorly with all of them.


4. Quadrennial Defense Review Bombs.

During President Obama’s tenure, the Pentagon has delivered four major reviews of defense needs—each declaring the American military could do more with less. Even before the last of these, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), was delivered congressional leaders suspected it would be rubber stamp for more defense cuts. They were right.

3. National Defense Panel Blames Obama.

After the QDR came out, an independent bipartisan review of the QDR commissioned by Congress delivered its report.  The commission’s assessment concluded Obama’s defense cuts were “self-defeating” and a “serious strategic misstep.”

2. The Battle Against Ebola.

The president pretty much botched the response to the Ebola outbreak. Sending U.S. troops to help stem the outbreak in Africa, however, was the right step to take. The task, however, did put a further strain on an increasingly overstretched armed forces.

1. Hagel Gets Dumped.

Firing Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense and replacing him with the former deputy defense secretary made big news, but it won’t make much of a big difference. Most of the bad news for the U.S. military in 2014 resulted from bad policies from the White House. That suggests 2015 could just well bring more of the same kind of setbacks America saw in 2014.


image illustrations via shutterstock /