I believe the new defense plans recently announced are logical and make a lot of sense. I salute President Obama for having the courage to make these controversial recommendations and for taking ownership of the policy, especially during an election year.
As I understand it, the new plans substantially scale back our ability to conduct a sustained ground war that involves many boots on the ground for a sustained period of time (it actually just reduces this capability to one instead of two at once). Instead, the country will expand its naval and air capabilities under the assumption that future military operations will involve long distant projections of power rather than traditional armed conflicts. I have believed this to be the correct approach for a long time now. (Even Donald Rumsfeld made similar recommendations prior to 9/11.)
Obama mentioned our recent engagements in Libya to support the new policy. I believe this approach was proven effective back in 1995 when NATO got involved in Bosnia, but only via the air.
I have often said that the Iraqi war was won in about three months. The “war” only lasted that short time until we chased Saddam into his tiny spider hole and his regime fell. It did not cost very many lives, as the U.S. military used overwhelming power and efficiency to crush the Iraqi army and bring down the dictator. Everything that came after that was not really a war, but rather an occupation. That did not go so well.
I believe that the U.S. military is the most powerful and technically sophisticated force the world has ever known. In terms of its ability to defeat another military, and bring down a government, it is very effective and even efficient. It should be. I support this ability, and agree with spending as much money as is required to maintain this level of dominance over our enemies, both present and future.
However, regime change and nation building are two different things. A war to topple a government is a completely different undertaking than occupying and pacifying an entire population. Our military should be equipped and trained to do the former, not the latter.
Put another way, if we do not plan to conquer a nation to annex it, and make it our own (which was the traditional purpose of “war”) then perhaps we should never put large amounts of troops in harm’s way via a full scale occupation. Of course, sometimes toppling a government will require some type of invasion with some troops on the ground. However, that situation will likely be more effective with a small amount of special forces working with the local population already on the ground. This type of engagement is essentially what took place in Afghanistan and brought down the Taliban in 2003. The President’s new policy fully recognizes and supports this approach.
Republicans immediately denounced the new policy and claimed it would make us weak. I disagree. I think it makes us wise. And in today’s high-tech world of information based economies, being smart will keep us strong!
I have often wondered if the following approach would be more effective, and also if might even be less expensive. What if we had come home from Afghanistan as soon as the Taliban fell and Al Qaeda was chased out? What if was had left Iraq immediately after Saddam’s regime collapsed? Surely these countries would have been plunged into civil wars and the situations would have been chaotic and destabilizing. I can not disagree or assume otherwise.
However, look at what has happened over the last eight years with the occupation approach. In both cases, a lot of chaos ensued and many lives were lost. We are still trying in Afghanistan today, and people are still being killed. We may be out of Iraq, but it could still fall back into a civil war. We could stay in Afghanistan for many more years, and yet they could still fall back to civil war when we leave. In both cases these sects have been fighting for centuries. They don’t want us there, and they don’t want us to solve the problems for them.
“But, they could threaten our national security once again”, you say. Perhaps, but with the military described above we can always go back and topple the next regime. So the question I have is over cost. Which costs less? 1. Conducting a full scale regime changing “war” every ten years and coming home, or 2. Conducting a full scale occupation and trying to force an unwilling population to adopt to our systems and values? I don’t know the answer, and I don’t believe this approach would be particularly effective or even humane. But neither is war and occupation.