A scary situation

Since it’s Halloween, everyone’s focused on spooky things.  Here’s a spooky thought: the U.S. national security strategy is “insolvent:”

Too few resources are chasing too many ongoing operations, forward presence commitments, and potential conflicts. U.S. military leaders have been unanimous in warning that they do not have enough troops, equipment, or funding to execute the national defense strategy. … There aren’t enough available dollars to sustain the current U.S. military strategy, which aims to simultaneously keep American global posture intact, conduct an ongoing military campaign against ISIL, sustain a global counterterrorism effort in its 16th year, and be ready for multiple contingencies against highly capable regional challengers.

Much like Maverick from the movie Top Gun, whose ego was accused of “writing checks your body can’t cash,” the United States after World War Two extended its umbrella of protection across the world, underwriting the security of what became known as the “free world.”  While that may have been appropriate (debatable) at a time when our economy represented nearly half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, it is untenable now that our government borrows 10 to 20 percent of its annual budget, and rising interest rates make servicing the debt one of the fastest-growing Federal expenditures.

Russia.  China.  Iran.  North Korea.  Islamic terrorism.  Border security.  It’s essential the U.S. prioritize the threats (and in the case of Russia, perhaps take action to live less in conflict with other great powers).  Trump was right on the campaign trail to say that many of our allies (*cough* Europe *cough*) need to shoulder a greater portion of the burden of their own defense.  When we’re playing Twister with our national power to try to cover U.S. interests, it makes no sense to be subsidizing others at the same time.

Our current global posture is in many ways a bluff… and our potential adversaries know it.  That creates both uncertainty and potential adventurism.  It’s time our stated objectives and our commitment to maintaining them were brought back into balance.

But instead of just spending more on the military, maybe we should stop writing so many checks.

“[America} goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” – John Quincy Adams. 1821

 

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Never forget September 11, 2001

Sixteen years.  That’s how long it’s been since the worst terrorist attack in American history.  A total of 2,996 people dead or never accounted for.  Symbols of American power struck without warning: both World Trade center towers and the Pentagon.  The actions of informed passengers on a fourth plane likely averted a strike on the White House or Congress.

An entire generation had horrifying visions of previously unimaginable events happening in their own nation, with memories firmly etched into their minds.

They say time heals all wounds. And for the families of those lost that day I hope there is some measure of truth in it. But there is a flip side: such events fade in the public consciousness, such that they no longer inform or shape how the nation acts. To quote the opening of the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring,”

“…some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth…” (click “continue reading” below to continue)

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Back to Bagram?

It seems the President has been swayed by his military advisors (both in and out of uniform) that it’s time to “surge” in Afghanistan again:

…shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you’re president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.

I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan. First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.

Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.

A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS. The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.

Third, and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense. Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.

For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict….

Surging troops (particularly only 4,000 more) is not a strategy.  Killing individual terrorists is not a strategy.  These are but tactics.   What is the desired end state?  It’s proven to be extremely difficult to build a competent, effective Afghan government and army.  Only when those exist is there any chance of us offloading this burden without creating the vacuum Trump references.  So why isn’t there more emphasis on that?  I’m not just talking about training troops (who have a tendency to run away — even when training in the U.S.!).  I’m talking about identifying real leaders, people Afghans are willing to rally around, that provide another pole of power besides the Taliban.  We may not like the leaders we find; they’re hardly likely to be Jeffersonian types.  But if they are committed to fighting the return of the Taliban and ensure Afghanistan doesn’t return to being a terror sanctuary, that should count most.

I really wish our leaders would pick up a book series I’ve recently been reading.  It’s written by a disaffected former U.S. Army Lt. Colonel who pulls no punches about the flawed premises under which we’ve operated since 9/11.  It’s not easy to read — using a science fiction story as allegory he frequently and graphically lays bare the moral quandaries of this type of war.  But as distasteful as some of his recommended approaches might be, one has to wonder if letting this festering sore drag on for 16 years is far worse.  Respect for U.S. power has waned, even as our forces have worn down from years of constant use.  Maybe it’s time we simply left, and made clear that any nation from which a future attack is launched against will find us, in Kratman’s title quote, making “A Desert Called Peace.”  There are easy ways to do so without “boots on the ground.”  And in the meantime, we should be hardening our borders and entry processes into America immediately.  It’s already long overdue.

Half-measures haven’t gotten us anywhere.  We’re too forceful to be loved, but not forceful enough to be feared.  Sooner or later we’re going to have to choose one or the other.

Quote of the day

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.”  – George Orwell, 1984

Whatever you may think about the appropriateness of removing statues of former Confederate figures, one thing is certain: it will not stop there.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are complex characters, not simple cardboard cutout “racists.”  In today’s climate, though, careful consideration of both virtues and vices is frowned upon.  We are pressed to judge historical characters not by the context of their times, but by how they measure up to current political emotionss.  And so we have reached Shakespeare’s observation through Mark Antony in Julius Caesar: 

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Caesar, rather than the wealthy, aristocratic Roman Senate, had populist support.  (Sound familiar?)  So was it out of patriotism or jealousy that the Senate acted?  It’s a fair question to ask those today who see our current President as Caesar, and dream of removing him, violently if necessary.

Whether Caesar should have been killed by the Roman Senate can be debated, but one thing history makes clear: after that milestone and the civil war that followed, the Republic clearly was dead.

What we are watching today is the disavowal and erasure of the historical foundations of the American republic.  It’s been a long process over the last half century, but those who want to see it done sense victory and are accelerating their efforts.  They may need to be more careful what they wish for.

Is America still a Nation?

Patrick Buchanan explores this question for Independence Day:

In the first line of the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson speaks of “one people.” The Constitution, agreed upon by the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia in 1789, begins, “We the people …”

And who were these “people”?

In Federalist No. 2, John Jay writes of them as “one united people … descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs. …” If such are the elements of nationhood and peoplehood, can we still speak of Americans as one nation and one people?

We no longer have the same ancestors. They are of every color and from every country. We do not speak one language, but rather English, Spanish and a host of others. We long ago ceased to profess the same religion. We are evangelical Christians, mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.

Federalist No. 2 celebrated our unity. Today’s elites proclaim that our diversity is our strength. But is this true, or a tenet of trendy ideology?  After the attempted massacre of Republican congressmen at that ball field in Alexandria, Fareed Zakaria wrote: “The political polarization that is ripping this country apart” is bout “identity … gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation (and) social class.” He might have added – religion, morality, culture and history.

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Selective historical airbrushing

The City of New Orleans is busy purging itself of Confederate statues, since these offend the tender sensibilities of today’s historically illiterate crybullies.  But if they’re determined to remove all vestiges of monuments to people who ever held racist sentiments, there’s work waiting for them in Washington, D.C.:

Lincoln white copy

It’s true Lincoln desired the limitation and eventual extinction of slavery, but it was not for this reason he went to war on his fellow Americans in 1861.  He made this very clear:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.   – Letter to Horace Greeley, 1862

Yes, that previously voluntary Union that was becoming compulsory with no escape during Lincoln’s reign.  “Reign” is too exaggerated, you say?  Look closely again at the monument built to his memory.  Look at the front of the armrests.  They very closely resemble this, the Roman fasces — a symbol of authority in ancient Rome later adopted by Benito Mussolini and his flock of blackshirts… known as the fascists.  All they lack is the axe, but that does not diminish in any way the power unleashed by Lincoln in his War Against the States.  (It’s worth noting the Speaker of the House is flanked by the same imagery — with the axes as well.)  Certainly, today’s America more closely resembles the Imperial Rome of Caligula than the Republic that was swallowed up by Julius Caesar.

So if we’re going to demolish any memory of white supremacy or unConstitutional exercises of power, the Lincoln memorial has to go as well.

Of course, I know better than to hold my breath, waiting for consistency from these little minds that have nothing better to do than tilt at Confederate windmills.

Wars and rumors of wars

The United States has enjoyed a century and a half with no broad-scale combat taking place within its borders.  That said, I’m far from being the only one who sees those days may be coming to a tragic end:

Sinisa also pointed out that most civil wars start after a loss of trust in the government, particularly law enforcement: “One of the defining features of any state is a legitimate monopoly on the use of violence.” In other words, if we trust the police to handle bad guys better than armed groups of vigilantes, we’ll probably trust the government more than armed groups of insurgents.

“And if police are not seen as doing their job … I think that certainly has an impact.”

Colonel David Couvillon, a Marine Reserve officer who governed the Wasit province of Iraq after the start of the occupation, pointed out that insurgents can win without convincing anyone that they’re “right.” It’d be enough to push most Americans into the “both sides are evil” camp, which … isn’t an unfamiliar place for most of us to be…

And that no doubt feeds the fact that Americans bought enough guns on Black Friday this year to arm the entire United States Marine Corps.

I’m increasingly of the opinion the United States will not survive my lifetime in its present form.   When it breaks up, it’s going to be a bloody, confusing mess of various factions.  Over the past 10 years, I’ve been taking steps to prepare my family for this eventuality.

You need to be doing the same, because we may not have another 10 years.