By J.E. McCollough
“If we (the United States) minded our own business we would live in a far less dangerous world.”
— Former Representative Ron Paul
“America must move off a permanent war footing.”
— President Barak Obama
It is difficult to read Rep. Paul’s and President Obama’s comments at a time when Russia is re-starting the Cold War and America’s long war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates shows no sign of stopping. Statements like these, along with efforts by the Obama administration to cut the military budget, are bewildering and completely disconnected from historical precedent. The US minded its own business and two world wars happened anyway. The US moved off of a permanent war footing after the Cold War ended and Kuwait was invaded and the US homeland was attacked as America tried to reap a so-called ‘peace dividend.’
The world is a small place in this new era of globalization. A drawdown of global American power does nothing to reduce the impact of world affairs on the United States, it only reduces America’s ability to impact world affairs. The reality of our time is that the defense of the nation is not restricted to defending our borders, we must maintain the ability to shape events long before they reach our borders if we wish to remain safe. Paul and Obama, in making the above proclamations, do not appear to understand this dynamic.
The world keeps turning despite the general progressive and Libertarian desire for, not American global retreat, perhaps, but certainly American retrenchment.
Less than a week after an unidentified DoD official defended the military budget proposed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel by saying, “…you can’t carry a large land-war Defense Department when there is no large land war,” Russia invaded the Ukraine.
As of this writing it has been a ‘subtle invasion,’ that is, the shooting hasn’t started. Yet. If it does, the United States could potentially be drawn into a very large land-war indeed due to the Budapest Memorandum, an agreement we signed with Ukraine in 1994 to get them to give up their nuclear arsenal. If nothing else, we are reminded that a ‘large land war’ is never more than a politician’s blunder away.
The Obama administration’s approach to international involvement has been premised with the notion “the tide of war is receding.” In this year’s State of the Union Address, President Obama made several statements that reflect this vision. In January, Obama said, “And in tight-knit communities all across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades and give thanks for being home from a war that after twelve long years is finally coming to an end.”
The Hagel military budget proposal seems to be an effort to canonize this idea, regardless of what might actually be happening throughout the world, like Russian invasions. The Hagel budget abandons the policy of being able to fight two major wars at the same time, the lesson we learned from having to fight the Japanese in the Pacific and Germany in Europe in World War II.
This proposed budget is, in essence, a strategy proposal. It would force a change in strategy due to claimed budget constraints, despite the fact that US defense spending is only about 4.2 percent of GDP. In comparison, Russia is spending 4.5 percent of its GDP on its military. China is spending two percent, but is estimated to be increasing its military budget by twelve percent annually. In my opinion, the safety of the nation is paramount, all other expenditures must be secondary. Imagine if an architect designed a building without fire exits because of ‘budget constraints.’
Congress is going to change Hagel’s budget. The axe has been given to the A-10, the Close Air Support airframe so beloved by American infantry (and feared by the enemy), but the fight to save it is already on. However, no matter how it’s changed in Congress, the budget is going to almost certainly draw down the size and composition of the military. It will curtail procurement, which will necessarily constrain the options of future American presidents. This will force them to accept the current administration’s premise that the US should not maintain a global military presence by removing the option of being able to maintain a global military presence. In essence, it sets the United States on a trajectory for global marginalization.
Chinese naval militarism against Japan, Iranian hegemony in Iraq, the ongoing Syrian conflict, Al Qaeda and affiliates establishing safe havens in Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, tension in Thailand and Venezuela, and of course the Russian invasion of the Ukraine all conspire to undermine the president’s assertion “the tide of war is receding.” All these troubles will impact the US regardless of whether or not we withdraw our military, as Obama and Ron Paul would have us do.
Degrading our military capabilities in the face of increasing threats is dangerous in an ever-threatening world. Parity among teams is a good thing for a sports league, no one wants to watch a Super Bowl blowout. Parity among countries, however, encourages conflict as nations jostle for military or economic advantages.
The president’s vision for America’s future among nations seeks parity, not the strength of the American superpower. Hagel recognizes this. He said, “We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted.” The Hagel budget would intentionally relinquish American dominance and invite conflict.
If we are to learn anything from dramatic events like September 11th or the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, it should be that the world we think we know can utterly change in a day, or a weekend. We as a nation should be preparing for future wars, not relinquishing the ability to win them.