Part V of the "Next World Order" series, which asks the blasphemous question "why do we need a military?" Links to parts I through IV are included at the bottom of this article.
In its 1997 "Statement of Principles," the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) urged a return to a "Reaganite policy of military strength" and a need to increase defense spending significantly "if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future[.]"
For all their collective brainpower, the PNACers overlooked the elephant hiding behind the couch in their clubhouse. During the Reagan era, America had a peer military competitor. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it hasn't. Even so, at the urging of the neoconservatives, America will spend upwards of a half trillion dollars for our Department of Defense in 2006, an expenditure that matches the military spending of the rest of the world combined. And that half trillion doesn't cover the cost of Homeland Security and other federal domestic security programs.
For all our politicians' and generals' talk about "transforming" the military to meet the needs of the new century, our force doesn't look significantly different from the one we had in the middle of the last one.
In World War II, our Navy had aircraft carriers, surface combatants, submarines, amphibious assault craft and Marines. Our Air Force--then a branch of our Army--had bombers, fighters and cargo planes. The Army had armor, infantry, artillery and special forces.
What we have now is a higher tech version of what we had then. We've traded our old fashioned P.F. Flyers for new fangled Nike Air Jordans that run faster, jump higher and stop on a smaller dime. But our old shoes did something that our news ones never have: win an actual war in which the enemies actually surrendered and signed actual documents to that effect, and effectively told their populations to shut the hell up and deal with it.
When the Soviet Union fell apart and what was left of its military did the same, the U.S. armed services fell all over themselves to justify their continued existence and their slices of the federal budget pie.
With no maritime power to challenge its dominance of the open oceans, the Navy adopted a strategy of patrolling littoral waters from which it could project air power (carrier aircraft, cruise missiles, and naval gunfire) and land power (Marines) ashore.
The Air Force suffered from both its proven successes and failures. The two Gulf Wars illustrated that air supremacy is a given in any U.S. conflict, and that the "shock and awe" value of strategic bombing isn't worth the cost of the point papers air power advocates wrote about it. The Air Force's main function has become to take the Army wherever it needs to go to do whatever it needs to do when it gets there. And yeah, support whatever the Army's doing with direct air support. Except the Air Force doesn't really like doing direct support of Army ground operations, and the Navy's better at doing that anyway.
The poor Army folks--God bless them--don't know which way to point their gun barrels. Are they a heavy force? Are they a light force? Are they Patton's tank warriors or Sergeant Fury's Howling Commandos? Do they pull triggers or punch buttons on computer keyboards? Do they pitch their own tents or does a subsidiary of Halliburton do that for them?
In short, the best-trained, best-equipped, best-financed force in history is something of a Chinese fire department. It's a navy that's a coast guard with an air force and an army, an air force that's an airline, and an army that's neck deep in its outsourced latrine.
And you wonder why a bunch of sand herders have the mighty U.S. military stymied in the Middle East?
I'm one of those fuddy-duddies who still doesn't think terrorism is a military problem. It's a law enforcement problem. You won't hear this at any war college or university national security program, but military force is good for two basic things: destroying stuff and killing people. It is best used to destroy the stuff and kill the people of other military forces. If there's no other military force to destroy or kill, the whole idea of applying military force to a problem gets fuzzy. Sure, it's great to rebuild electrical generators and paint schools, but you don't really need a military to do that. You need a Peace Corps.
And if we ever again decide that our political aims will be served by large scale destruction of population centers and industrial sites, well, we can do that without putting a single boot on the ground.
There are more than a few highly respected people in the field of military science who think a Nagasaki-style demonstration is just the thing we need to put an end to terrorism. I happen to think the people who think that are nuts. There's every reason to believe that turning, say, Tallil into solar panel would only add to terrorist recruiting.
Besides, is that really the kind of thing we want to do? Is that what we want to be?
The mightiest nation in human history that blows "freedom loving peoples" to smithereens in order to liberate them?
That's not my idea of enlightened world leadership.
Coming in the Next World Order: what do we need, what don't we need?
Earlier in the Next World Order series:
Part I: America's 21st Century Military
Part II: Network-centric Warfare
Part III: America's Military Industrial Complex
Part IV: The Revolt of the Retired Generals