Full disclosure on the “Defense” issue from yours truly – I have a bit of experience here other than my usual “I’ve been reading books, investigating things on the internet, engaging in a personal quest to see what’s going on with us, and I think I’ve found some answers.”
I am a member of the Department of Defense, a Navy Commander and 20 year veteran. During my time with the Navy, I completed courses at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I to include “Strategy and Policy,” “Joint Military Operations,” and “National Security/Decision Making.” I mention this so you will be aware of my background, as it has had a significant influence on my opinions regarding this topic. I believe my War College courses helped me to discover some right answers for America… but you may believe they tainted me in some way. I’ll let you be the judge of that. In any case, with that disclosure revealed, here are my thoughts:
Grand Strategy: Before we can talk about our national security, our defense budget, our withdrawal plans, our “War on Terror” tactics, any of it, we must first remember our Purpose – we must re-discover who we are. At the largest level, the political ideological level, we must agree as to what we are trying to accomplish in this world. Only then can we begin to drill down to determine what we should do in this day. Without acknowledging our purpose, our overarching course, we can’t talk logically about the issues.
“The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.” – Karl Von Clausewitz
So with that in mind, I would like to share with you my opinion of America’s Purpose: America, at its core, is simply an experiment in this world. We are a country formed to help mankind in its never-ending quest to discover the “best” way to govern – to help discover how to form a “more perfect union.” We are a People who want to discover the best way so that we can then vote it in – it’s that simple. We have never been out to “win” in a military sense, because the only real “win” for mankind is the discovery itself. Once We, as a world, discover the best way to govern, then we will have won… and America wins even if someone else discovers the best way to govern first. The only thing we need in order to discover the best way to govern, to properly conduct our experiment so to speak, is a peaceful environment in which different countries can try out different ideas. Peace is all that we desire. America does not war with anyone or with anything – we only respond when others war with us or attempt to taint the worldwide experiment by invading peaceful neighbors to enslave, steal from, or control them.
“Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.” – Thomas Jefferson
Kings have tried to lord over us, nations have gone to war with us, and people have attacked us, but since the beginning and this very day, America only longs for peace. We always despise war and military action, and we only go to war in defense – either in defense of ourselves or when the worldwide experiment is militarily compromised by an aggressor. We are not trying to push our ideas upon the world because, in all fairness, one or more of our ideas might not be the best. Once America can agree on this overarching purpose, once we can re-discover who and what we are, then our proper way forward becomes apparent. Our foreign policy Grand Strategy becomes this: “If you are a peaceful nation, then you are our friend.”
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” – Abraham Lincoln
The experiment continues. As of this day, I whole-heartedly believe that democracy and free speech is the “best” answer – I think it will be proved so in the end as well. But we can never say this with certainty, for the best answer is never achieved, it is always sought after. Even Winston Churchill added a sometimes deleted end to his quote about democracy:
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill
China is a peaceful nation advocating a different avenue as the “best” way to govern – a democracy, but a one party system and a government that does not allow dissent. I don’t think that wins in the end, and I look forward to the peaceful competition. America does not set out to enforce what we believe because that defeats the whole experiment. We are right to support our fellow man, to encourage international rights and liberties, and to challenge all nations to honor the will of the people – but we don’t do that through military force. Instead, our intent is to show the world, to prove thorough industry and happiness, that free democracy, peace, and liberty are the right answers for mankind. We believe that competition breeds excellence – and I believe that eventually a society with only one political party is going to stifle ideas, oppress its people, and begin its journey down the wrong path. We will beat that society not through military engagement, but through a peaceful system encouraging a transfer of ideas, opinions, and innovation. That’s our strong suit. We were once united in our common cause to demonstrate to the world our system’s worth. And regardless of what side of aisle you fall down on in the political arena, this is still our overarching cause.
“In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms. When that violence shall be removed, when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, hostilities shall cease on our part also.” – Thomas Jefferson
I realize some of you may be thinking me a bit naïve at this point and saying to yourself, “That’s all well and good on an ideological worldview level, but I’m a realist. In the end, these guys are going to try to destroy us, so America might as well bring the battle to them.” Let me offer you this then, if the moral high ground is not enough:
It doesn’t work!
“War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses.” – Thomas Jefferson
This was the enlightenment of my Naval War College experience, what I walked away with after reading Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, investigating the history of warfare, and evaluating the various strategies employed. Not only is military aggression morally the wrong answer, but it is historically the wrong answer. Time and again this is proven to be true. Although, at the tactical level the aggressor has the advantage, history demonstrates the precise opposite is true at the larger strategic level – the military aggressor loses. We must not lose sight of this truth.
“If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” –Thomas Jefferson
Look at our own history. In 1775:
A small resistance begins in one of the British Empire’s thirteen American colonies, Massachusetts, in one of its cities, Boston. Boston is located on a harbor where the mighty British Navy can blockade, control all sea lanes, supply logistics, reinforce, and operate at will – the rebels have no navy whatsoever, none. The people of Boston are a community of Brits, all of whom speak English, and most of whom are “Loyalists”— most Bostonians agree that the British crown is the recognized, appropriate, and proper authority in the land. The resistance is termed a “band of rabble rousers,” for they have limited numbers, no outside funding, limited local support, with minimal weapons, war skills, and experience.
On the other hand, the English military is the mightiest the world has even seen. Its army contains the most feared combatant known to man, the “British Redcoat.” He is war-proven and war-hardened. Coming off several victories in war, he is an experienced veteran of the field of combat and a feared member of the mightiest military force ever assembled. Not only is the “British Redcoat” undoubtedly the finest warrior in the world, the British Navy is undoubtedly the strongest armada in history, unparalleled in size and strength. The British Generals and Admirals are not only experienced in the art of war, they are the masters of it. Britain dominates the entire globe, and it is said “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” so vast and all encompassing its presence.
So with this backdrop, the most experienced and dominating military force in the history of man – in the most favorable arena an aggressor could possibly envision, in a battle-space where their strengths can be best employed, against an enemy unsupported by the majority of the populace, in a familiar land inhabited by loyal British subjects – the British military sets sail to travel across the world and enforce their will. And they lose.
Time and again history shows that military conquest is a failed strategy. We know this to be true.
“We learned that when you use land combat power in the peacekeeping or peace building role, you can’t achieve an end state of long term peace – of stability and prosperity in the area. In general, a military element can only bring about the absence of war.” – Major General William Nash, U.S. Army, Commanding General of Task Force Eagle, Bosnia
So with that “Grand Strategy” presented, with an understanding that we are not to engage in military conquest, I offer my thoughts on our proper national security strategy in this day and age with consideration to the environment we currently face.
National Security Strategy: Our published National Security Strategy, submitted by President Obama in May of 2010, is in line with our proper Grand Strategy. Although I respectfully disagree with our President on the effectiveness of domestic social welfare programs, I believe his Foreign Policy approach has been superb. If we can indeed follow his National Security Strategy, exit both Iraq and Afghanistan, rely more on our allies and regional powers to enforce United Nation charters, eliminate our dependency on foreign oil, and reduce our military expenditures to allow for a balanced budget and economic growth, then we will certainly be heading in the right direction.
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” – Thomas Jefferson
America’s largest threat to national security is not the military force of one of our neighbors, it isn’t even the proliferation of nuclear weapons; it is our recent economic collapse, our immense debt, and our continued deficit spending. Our country was founded on the principle of a small standing military capable of defense of our borders – and this is still the proper Vision. Although we were dragged into two world wars, a prolonged cold war, and a war in the Middle East after Saddam invaded a peaceful neighbor without cause, we cannot continue to live in a day that has passed. “The World is Flat” and pure isolationism will never achieve our desired end state. But we must also realize that our ‘mightiest military force ever assembled’ presence appears as a threat to some of our friends around the world and it is not furthering our overarching political purpose. We must now let go of the world policemen role, dramatically downsize our military, and focus once again on our domestic issues.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln
We have a monstrous budget deficit that is bankrupting our great nation. At the same time, we are engaged by non-state enemies that utilize irregular warfare tactics and avoid traditional encounters. We are allies or friends with nearly every state and certainly with those presenting a significant military threat to America. This is not the time for a massive military force that can arguably take on the entire world. Yet we fuel the fire of the extremists by employing a strong traditional military force against them and we hasten our economic demise by allocating over $700 billion dollars to our military budget. We have 10 aircraft carriers when no other nation has more than 2 – and they are our friends. We spend more than any other nation on defense and over 5 times as much as China, the #2 spender. This is not helping our cause. I would advocate a reduction in military forces even if the state of our economy was the best it’s ever been – in my humble opinion, a dramatic military downsize is simply the right answer for this moment in time. Such a move is not only needed for our budget but is beneficial to our world image as well. In today’s era of multi-national corporations, worldwide internet, camera phones, and intertwined economies, the notion of a Hitler-style world conquest is distant.
“How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.” – Thomas Jefferson
As such, America’s image today can return to what it is meant to be – a peaceful, honest broker, a beacon of hope and freedom, and not an immense military might with which to be reckoned. We can ramp up if conditions change, but we simply cannot and should not dedicate vast resources to remain the world’s upmost superpower. Rather than 10 aircraft carriers and forward deployed military forces, we must focus our defense efforts on Special Forces and intelligence gathering to combat extremism. We must draw down and empower the United Nations and regional powers to enforce international charters and preserve the peace. The League of Nations was unable to hold it together after World War I, but I believe the United Nations can hold it together today. In any case, it’s high time we test the theory.
“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.” – Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General
Very late to the cvotersanion, I know. This is something I think about a lot. Because it’s hard to even begin to have a cvotersanion about this stuff. In my family, the assumption is that if you’re opposed to militarism and war, you’re somehow dissing people who are or were members of the armed forces. And there’s a real NEED to go on the offensive when the issue of what the system of the military does to the people in it, during war or outside it – because if some of the men in my family didn’t get their wounds doing something noble and necessary, it would be too hard to bear. So it becomes all about how they fought for our freedom, which is problematic for me because I’m unclear as to how much of our freedom a) is freedom, and b) was earned through war, and c) is actually threatened by the continuing existence of war and militarism.Tough and chewy and upsetting. So I often just veer away from these cvotersanions, partly because I know I’ll be jumped on for not accepting the official line, and partly because I don’t want to cause any hurt to others. Cowardice and compassion in action, perhaps with cowardice winning out!I worry enormously about the fact that in the British army, around 50% of recruits have a reading age of 11 or below; it seems to me that the military depends on the perpetuation of social inequality and injustice in order to keep going, that militarism distracts from the roots of inequality and shores them up, that there’s a frightening blind spot around the ways that governmental, military, and cultural systems work to perpetuate each other to the detriment of society as a whole. And there isn’t an organisation I know of outside Quakers in the UK which helps ex-armed forces members that isn’t linked to the forces in some way, either directly (ie, The British Legion) or indirectly through alliances with groups like Help For Heroes. And there’s the H-word everywhere. If you have been in the armed forces, you’re a hero; if you’re opposed to militarism, you hate heroes and all that is good and noble and virtuous… We’re a far more militaristic society now than we were when I was a teenager in the 80s.I can’t help thinking of Pink Floyd’s ‘Brick In The Wall’ video when I think of the military. People join for all sorts of reasons – from the highest minded to the basest; they go through the system, and the system invariably inflicts damage; and they can’t talk about the emotional and psychic wounds without being seen to betray a public desire to sanitise militarism, make it a necessary thing, so they either bottle it up, wrap it in the flag, or go off the deep end if they don’t get support in articulating their experiences; and so we get to keep the cosy notion that the way things are is the way things really do need to be until we miraculously conquer The Bad Guys and everything suddenly becomes perfect. No-one wants war, but we have to have it so we can have peace.It feels like we feed our kids into that meat grinder, year in, year out. And I feel very small, very cowardly, and very ineffectual in making positive changes to that.
Great points all, thanks. As for yours truly, I believe that, for the most part, We have learned the truths of war. I believe we, as a world, are on the cusp of actually rejecting it. And as it appears you do, I believe the way forward for America at this point is to draw back, draw down, and let go. It is time to cease preemptive wars and military actions, sanctioned neither within the UN or by a declaration of War from our Congress, it is time to remove them for our lexicon. It is time for us to shrink ourselves and allow the world to find its balance.
“How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.”
“Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.” – Thomas Jefferson
You mention, “the military depends on the perpetuation of social inequality,” but I submit that the only thing our military depends on is the People. That’s the beauty of America, in the end, We the People have the power. As a nation, We need to shrink our military and shed our perceived responsibilities – they are not our responsibilities, they are the world’s. And the world, our Body, is asking us to back off. So we should. A body that is not sick, but yet still produces mass amounts of white blood cells, soon encounters another disease… We the People, the voters, we are the ones who need to fix this problem.
“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.” – Thomas Jefferson
Further, I would offer that any of us who have spent any real time involved in military actions are anti-war.
It is why our founders were all so anti-war as well, it is who We are.
“I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind.” – Thomas Jefferson
Don’t let someone attempt to make you feel guilty for speaking out against military action as if that somehow makes you unpatriotic. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s what a patriot does – speaks out for what he or she believes is best for the collective “Us.” The news media may try to make a connection that isn’t there, but We the People know that We just want peace.
“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
Personally, I believe that those folks who have tried and witnessed war are the ones who are least likely to ever engage in it.
“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.”
Robert E. Lee
Obviously, we need a balance, but we should never forget that the desired end state of any military action is peace. And considering that our “enemy” is an irregular force using guerrilla tactics, I for one, think we might want to re-evaluate our strategy.
“Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” – Sun Tzu
In any case , I thank you for your interest and comments. Yours in Faith.