Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fighting Them Over There (Part I)

(This is the first in a three part series.)

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.

Related Articles:

Wars and Empires

In an Arms Race with Ourselves


  1. Jeff:

    One man's cost is another man's revenue.

    When you combine Ike's warnings about the military-industrial complex with the fact that our "defense" spending is so high, you realize why there are so many dollars moving from tax payers to the defense industry.

    The problem that I have with that movement is that those dollars are not buying very much. We now have fighter aircraft that cost a quarter of a billion dollars a copy and destroyers that will cost more than $3 billion per copy.

    We have potential enemies that have much lower unit costs. That means that they can get a lot more "defense" or even offense for a lot fewer dollars than we can.

    Our defense industry buys expensive digs in Washington, pays huge salaries to glorified salesmen (often retired O5's to O-10's), and supports an economy in our nation's capital where a 400 square foot condo sells for $300,000 (one of my colleagues just bought one).

    In contrast, the defense industries of our potential enemies (specifically Russia, China and Iran) are building large quantities of ships, submarines and aircraft.

  2. Ah, but irony IS alive in some of us, and we do chuckle :)

  3. Jeff,

    While the article below isn't directly apropos here, I thought you would be interested in seeing it.

    Then again ... perhaps it IS germane. The Navy has a brilliant young Lcdr. who sucessfully defends a defendant before the Supreme Court. Their considered response to this; pass him over for promotion. SNAFU!

    'Been awhile since I've logged in here but I read regularly and am grateful to you for your insights and wit ! Thanks, PC

    From Associated Press
    October 08, 2006 8:20 PM EDT
    MIAMI - The Navy lawyer who led a successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration's military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been passed over for promotion and will have to leave the military, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.
    Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, will retire in March or April under the military's "up or out" promotion system. Swift said last week he was notified he would not be promoted to commander.
    He said the notification came about two weeks after the Supreme Court sided with him and against the White House in the case involving Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden's driver.
    "It was a pleasure to serve," Swift told the newspaper. He added he would have defended Hamdan even if he had known it would cut short his Navy career.
    "All I ever wanted was to make a difference - and in that sense I think my career and personal satisfaction has been beyond my dreams," Swift said.
    The Pentagon had no comment Sunday.
    A graduate of the University of Seattle School of Law, Swift plans to continue defending Hamdan as a civilian.
    The 36-year-old Hamdan was captured along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan while fleeing the U.S. invasion that was a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hamdan has acknowledged that bin Laden paid him $200 a month as his driver on a Kandahar farm, but he says he never joined al-Qaida or engaged in military fighting.
    Hamdan turned to civilian courts to challenge the constitutionality of his war-crimes trial, a case that eventually led the Supreme Court to rule that President Bush had outstripped his authority when he created ad hoc military tribunals for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
    Swift's supervisor said he served with distinction.
    "Charlie has obviously done an exceptional job, a really extraordinary job," said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, the Pentagon's chief defense counsel for Military Commissions. He added it was "quite a coincidence" that Swift was passed over for a promotion "within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion."
    Washington, D.C., attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said Swift was "a no-brainer for promotion." Swift joins many other distinguished Navy officers over the years who have seen their careers end prematurely, Fidell said.
    "He brought real credit to the Navy," Fidell said. "It's too bad that it's unrequited love."

  4. Rob,

    I shudder to think that I once planned on becoming one of those "glorified salesmen." And I cringe every time I hear one of the hawks say, "heck, we can afford more. We're only spending x percent of our GDP on defense." I never heard of a war being won by a percentage of GDP. We spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined and can't win our wars in two third world countries that presently spend darn near nothing on defense.


    Yes, irony is alive, but it's hiding in an unknown location, possibly somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistani border. ;-)


    As I recall, that LCDR was named one of the most influential lawyers in America. Defending Hamdan was a Palookasville job from the get go. The LCDR had to know he was being thrown to the wolves when they gave it to him. You kind of have to admire how he kept his head down and did his job. Taking down 'Berto should have been quite a feather in his cap.

  5. Lots of great info in the post and the comments. Thanks.