"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, January 09, 2012

Death by a thousand cuts redux: only off by $490,000,009,000

Yeah I said I'd be on hiatus until deployment. My blog, my rules. Deal with it.

So, in a proud moment last week, with all the service chiefs and secretary of defense present, it was announced to the nation - and the world - that the American military would no longer be able to do what it's planned to do - and done - for the last ten years. Money's tight, wars are winding down, we need to get "leaner", etc. This is not the first time we've been down this road, and to a certain extent it's understandable. Yes, the economy sucks; yes, we've "ended" one major conflict and are trying to "wind down" another; yes, there's "fraud, waste, and abuse" we can always cut down on to save cash; yes, everyone needs to take a haircut (more on that in a second) and the military, with all its expensive toys, should not be exempt.

But, as I said in my last post on the topic, let's go down this road with both eyes open and cut the bullshit. Making us "leaner" does not make us better. We are admitting, to friend and foe, that our military is surrendering its capacity to do what it's done over the last ten years: namely, fight two major conflicts simultaneously, while retaining the capacity to handle any 'brushfire' problems that might arise. If you think we haven't been doing this over the last decade, you're wrong. We've had a large footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still done other things like fight pirates, keep an eye on things in Yemen, police the sea lanes with our Marine Expeditionary Units and carrier groups, and found time to kill bin Laden. No longer; now, it's win one major conflict while "spoiling" another. If you're North Korea and, say, Iran is already the big show, this is good news; otherwise, I don't see anything to celebrate. We are imposing our own limits on ourselves. This may be necessary, but let's not pretend it's great.

Let's also not forget that, contrary to nobly "turning the page on a decade of war", our enemies still get a say in world affairs, and this reduces our ability to deter and influence the extent of that say. We abolished war once, if you'll remember - the Kellogg-Briand Pact, 1928 - and unfortunately Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini didn't get that memo. War and conflict do not end because we say they do, and we can no more "turn the page" on armed aggression than we can on poverty or crime. It's a part of living in a world of imperfect men. All you can do is prepare, or react, to unforeseen events. With the "two-war" strategy, we prepared; with "win-spoil", more and more we'll be forced to react, and it won't be pretty.

Don't think so? Let's look back on other times we decided to 'turn the page' on war and cut back our military. We did it after World War I, and entered World War II with a small, technologically inferior, and poorly trained force that suffered some embarrassing setbacks (Kasserine Pass) before finally dominating the battlefield. Then we drew down after World War II, and when North Korea invaded the south in 1950, all we had to oppose them was a (wait for it) small, technologically inferior, and poorly trained force that was either slaughtered (Task Force Smith) or forced to retreat to a tiny perimeter until more men could be scraped together from across the ocean to counterattack. After Vietnam, we were tired of war and again dismantled and emaciated our military, and men died in the darkness and sand of Desert One. Then the Iron Curtain fell, and we spent another decade blissfully reducing our military, until 9/11 rolled around and we found ourselves scrambling to recruit and train more boots on the ground. We've seen how this movie ends over and over again, and the ultimate victory at the end makes us forget the bloodiness of the beginning and that, if we'd just kept the team together from the LAST war, we might not have gotten hurt so badly in the opening round.

To counter the drastic cuts - in the tens of thousands - of those boots on the ground from the Army and Marine Corps, we're told that an increasingly robust, unmanned, and advanced Navy and Air Force will continue to project our power around the world. Except . . . we've seen this movie too, and how it ends. Again, since World War I, there's always been the 'next big thing' that will supposedly reduce or eliminate entirely our dependence on the grunts. Between the world wars, it was air power. After World War II, it was nuclear power. After Korea, it was special forces. After Vietnam, it was precision weapons and stealth technology. After 9/11, it was unmanned aircraft, satellite imagery, and precision weapons that were even more precise. Yet every single time, the next big thing could not replace the need for a man and a rifle to defend that trench, hold that ridge, storm that beach, or take that hill. Nothing will ever replace him, nothing; and now, we'll have a hundred thousand fewer of those men to defend that trench or storm that beach. And in the next war, someone in Washington will throw up their hands and angrily demand why we didn't have enough men to accomplish our objective; and some family will wonder why their loved one didn't come home because he died trying to accomplish that objective against all odds.

These cuts may yet be reversed; but until then, we've still advertised to the assholes and shitheads of the world that whatever it is they're thinking right now, they might be able to get away with it, especially if our attention is diverted elsewhere. Get ready for a more dangerous and less stable world.

P.S. Having the entirety of military leadership on display when telling them that what they've accomplished over the last decade won't be repeatable in the near future was a nice touch. I await the day when the secretaries of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, the EPA, Commerce, and the rest are hauled in front of the cameras for a similar announcement. I have this nagging feeling I won't see it.

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