Young Mister Bush has been boasting of late that we're on the "offensive" in our so-called "war" on terrorism. What Bush and his key advisers don't seem to understand is that "offense" in warfare isn't always a good thing. In fact, by fighting them "over there," in their home field, and on conditions that they dictate, we've actually handed "them" the initiative.
The Yanks are Coming
World War I was the first major overseas continental land war sold to the American people with a "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" mantra. In his 1917 address to Congress, President Woodrow Wilson persuasively argued that "civilization itself" seemed to be "in the balance," and that by entering the war on the side of England and France, America would make the world "safe for democracy." Other propaganda described the carnage then taking place in Europe as "the war to end all wars." Subsequent events have shown that The Great War did not secure the future of civilization, or make the world safe for democracy, and it sure as God's green apples didn't "end all wars." (By the way, if you think Wilson's "civilization in the balance" and "make the world safe for democracy" rhetoric sounds strangely contemporary, you're right. The Rovewellians are good, but they're not terribly original.)
Termination conditions of World War I laid the groundwork for World War II, which led to the half-century long Cold War and the dirty little "third world" wars like Korea and Vietnam that accompanied it.
America's experience of war in the 20th century left it with a belief in the notion that by continually fighting wars overseas, it could keep war from coming to its shores and borders. That may have been true to some extent until the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed. At that point, the elder Bush promised his constituency a "peace dividend" and exhorted America to become a "kinder, gentler nation."
We Got Your Thousand Points of Light Right Here, Mister
But then our pal Saddam Hussein--whom we had backed in the Iran-Iraq War when H.W. was vice president under Ronald Reagan--turned on us and invaded Kuwait. H.W. made a fairly short job of driving Hussein back to his own borders, but the dream "peace dividend" dream was already going up in smoke. The American military-industrial-congressional complex was already firmly in place, and its echo chamberlains in the neoconservative cabal were in its camp.
President Dwight Eisenhower's admonition in 1961 about the growing influence of the U.S. arms industry is fairly well known, but it's worth repeating:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
And yet, even after we had trounced Saddam Hussein, the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC) insisted that America needed to "…increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future…"
America has been on a wartime footing since 1941, mostly justified by the "fighting them over there" meme. And just how much good has fighting them over there actually done us? More than fifty years after the Korean War, we can't get a handle on North Korea. Vietnam doesn't pose an immediate threat to U.S. security, but then again it never did. Our proxy incursions into our backyard in Haiti and Grenada did little good. Fidel Castro still holds power in Cuba. Reagan's power play in Lebanon was a bust, as was Clinton's escapade in Somalia. Bush senior's incomplete "victory" over Iraq led to the prodigal son's Operation Iraqi Freedom bungle.
At this point in the American experiment, "fighting them over there" is making us less secure, both physically and economically, "over here." And we're paying a ludicrous premium for buying into the "over there" myth. According to Jane's, the authoritative source on military matters, the U.S. now spends as much on defense as the rest of the world combined.
If irony were still alive and with us, it might chuckle at how America clings to a means and way of power that has proven to be so inconclusive and counterproductive over such a long period of time.
And the great military philosophers Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz are surely spinning in their graves over how history's most powerful nation continues to place its "best-trained, best-equipped" military in situations that favor its opponents.
(Part II will discuss how our "over there" policies expose U.S. forces' vulnerabilities to its adversaries' strengths.)
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.
Wars and Empires
In an Arms Race with Ourselves