for ePluribus Media
America's warfare-centric approach to foreign policy is turning us into a one-trick superpower, and the trick is losing its magic.
Since the early 20th century, war has proved to be a progressively counterproductive means of achieving America's national aims. Granted, some of our modern wars produced good things. Some were unavoidable. Many were noble. But without exception, they also produced unintended and unfavorable results.
Termination of World War I, "the War to End All Wars," laid the foundations of World War II. "The Good War" led to the decades-long Cold War and the third-world proxy wars that accompanied it. More than 50 years ago, we fought North Korea to a tie. Today, though North Korea can barely feed its own people, it still manages to give us security fits. And our 2004 presidential election showed that America still suffers from the aftershocks of Vietnam.
Whatever Brave New Math the National Counterterrorism Center is using to measure global terrorism these days, it's clearly on an uptick. Iraq has become the international center for terrorist recruiting and training, and its progress at establishing a constitutional government has been, to put it kindly, less than confidence-inspiring.
Afghanistan, the "crown jewel" in the GWOT, is once again a haven for the Taliban and has turned into a narco-state, hence a major source of terror funding.
The "democratic domino effect" on the rest of the Middle East has transformed terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas into legitimate, popularly elected political parties.
And the tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by a president of the United States is still at large. If that's winning the war on terror, I'm glad we're not losing.
Sticker Shock and Awe
The worst news to emerge from this war is the demonstrated obsolescence of armed force as an instrument of national power. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform have been nothing short of magnificent, and yet....
The "best-trained, best-equipped" force in history did not defend America against the 9/11 attacks, nor did it deter them; and in Iraq, it is presently bogged down by a numerically inferior force of insurgents armed with handheld and improvised weapons.
According to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. military spending has increased 40 percent since 9/11 (and that doesn't include the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan). The Congressional Budget Office projects that the combined costs of basic military funding and the expense of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will be nearly $500 billion in 2006, a figure that will match the military expenditures of the rest of the world combined.
"These increases are needed," Secretary Rumsfeld says. "And, as a nation, we can afford them."
But one has to wonder how much America can afford to spend on a force that doesn't defend the homeland and is at best only so-so when it comes to achieving our aims overseas.
These are fiscally challenging times. America's dominance over the global economy is slipping. The European Union's gross domestic product has caught up with ours, and China's is growing at an eye-watering rate. Combined, their economies are half again larger than ours, and they're not bleeding half-a-trillion dollars a year on defense spending.
We face historic national debt. The once-almighty dollar struggles to keep pace with the formerly laughable euro. The price of oil had already gone through the roof by the time Hurricane Katrina came along.
No one knows for certain what the Katrina recovery effort will cost. Some "experts" put the tab at $175 billion. Others think it will go even higher. Whatever the amount turns out to be, it will not pass "go" on its way to the balance of the U.S. national debt.
What Kind of Gentler Nation?
Empires rise, empires fall. Some land softly, some crash into the back pages of other civilizations' history books. Almost without exception, empires that ended badly failed to understand that the military power that established them was not, in itself, sufficient to sustain them.
If America is to persist as a "first nation," we will have to make some tough decisions about what kind of military we need, how much we need to pay for it, what kinds of wars we need it to fight, and why we need it to fight them.
And we should make these decisions sooner rather than later.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired), is a freelance writer in Virginia Beach, VA. His articles on military and political affairs have appeared in Proceedings, The Navy, Jane's Fighting Ships and other periodicals. Several of his essays have been required student reading at the United States Naval War College. Read more of Jeff's commentaries at Pen and Sword.
ePluribus Contributors and Fact Checkers: standingup, Sue in KY, JeninRI, and DEFuning