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September 12, 2005

Tilting At Windmills

I have been thinking about this topic all weekend, and I'm frustrated as hell. I've emailed a few people I'd like to see write about it from several different aspects. As for me, I'm still thinking, so you'll get only cursory analysis until I'm done. I suppose in a general sense, I agree with both authors. But I fail to see what they expect the President to actually do about it?

Mark Helprin thinks we're ignoring China, to our peril:

For more than 20 years prior to September 11, Islamic terrorists imprisoned and murdered our diplomats and military personnel, destroyed our civil aviation, machine-gunned our civilians, razed our embassies, attacked an American warship and, in 1993, the U.S. itself. For varying reasons, none legitimate, we hesitated to mount an offensive against the terrorists' infrastructure, hunt them down, eliminate a single rogue regime that supported them, or properly disconcert our fatted allies whose robes they infested. This was comparable in its way to Munich. Only in 2001, when it became obvious to any rational being that we must, did we retaliate, but even then in the face of domestic pressure to judicialize the response, which was exactly what we had done all along. The underlying corollary to this reflex of appeasement is the notion that our military options are constrained financially, as if we are not a nation of stupendous wealth and it has not been the American tradition since the Civil War to spend, in support of war, with the intensity of war itself. In 1945, we devoted 38.5% of GNP to defense, the equivalent of $4.76 trillion now. The current $400 billion defense budget is a twelfth of that and only 3.2% of GDP, as opposed to the average of 5.7% of GNP in the peacetime years between 1940 and 2000. A false sense of constraint has arisen in every quarter of society. It is the ethos of the administration, the press, the civilian side of the Pentagon, and many of the prominent uniformed military brought to high rank in recent years.

They are all so wrong. In violating established tradition and throwing aside advantage and elemental common sense, they waste American lives. And for what? What moral construction would allow anyone to spend more than 2,000 dead and tens of thousands of wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan--so far--while insisting without major exception that cutting costs is a virtue? When is holding back from one's troops at war the reinforcements, armor and basic equipment they need a virtue rather than a sin?

Is it not the duty of the secretary of defense, his chiefs, and the wide array of generals to press energetically--even to the point of resignation--for whatever is necessary (not the minimum, but a safe surplus) to support the armies in the field? If they do not, who will? Had the president gone to Congress on September 12 and asked for almost anything, he would have been granted it. But he never did. This was a fundamental strategic error. If you must go to war, do not do so hesitantly, with half a heart. And in answer to the rationale that the casualties of this war are relatively light, one does not decently measure casualties against those of previous wars, but in terms of whether they can be avoided.

Yes, had the President gone to Congress on September 12th, he'd have been granted almost anything.... and it would have been just as promptly rescinded on September 20th.

Helprin is almost wilfully blind to the events of the past four years and to the poisonous politics on Capitol Hill. Just watching the backstabbing and double-dealing on the Patriot Act should be enough to convince anyone of that. Or if you need further proof, try tracking any Democratic Senator's utterances now against what he or she said in 2001. I guarantee you you're in for an eye-opener.

And then there's this:

The War on Terror is over. What started as a bold campaign to “bring justice to our enemies” across the globe has been redefined as, essentially, a counter-insurgency action in Iraq, the express goal of which is to prepare the new Iraqi government to defend itself, “and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.”

Why do I hear Howie Dean in the background? "And then we'll go to Syria, and Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and the Sudan... and YEEEEARGHHHHH!!!!!"

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! As much as I hate to be accused of failing to be 'more hawkish-than-Thou', exactly where does this gentleman expect to find the popular or Congressional support for a global jihad against terrorism?

Last time I checked, we still had not replaced civilian control of the armed forces with a military junta. Whence the necessary troops? Float this idea, even in the Pentagon, and I imagine you'd find little enthusiasm at present.

And I find this statement simply breathtaking:

Although President Bush tries to mask this strategic retreat with tough-sounding words about “fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home,” there is something hollow, even a bit craven, about this new slogan. It also is demonstrably untrue, as proved by the Madrid and London bombings. And by President Bush’s repeated promises to bring American troops home just as soon as the Iraqis are capable of fighting the insurgents themselves, not after the insurgents are defeated.

The awful truth is that President Bush has reverted to pre-9/11 thinking about how we should be dealing with the terrorist threat.

Oh really? The over 100,000 troops currently risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, a position some consider the front lines in the war on terrorism, might beg to differ with you, sir. But then they're considerably closer to the action and have a different view of events.

You play the hand you're dealt. Sometimes it's full of Ted Kennedys and Harry Reids. You don't have to like it.

Don't get me wrong. Do I agree that, strategically, we may be making a mistake by narrowing our mission focus too much and (consequently) allowing our military to be downsized? Yes.

But in the absence of a big, scary boogeyman like the USSR or Saddam Hussein with a large arsenal of WMDs, it's hard to whip up public support for a large, standing military. And people are basically sheep. Unless you scare the snot out of them, they won't support military action or a well-equipped armed force. They never want them until they need them, and then it's too late.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Posted by Cassandra at September 12, 2005 09:13 AM

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You see Cass, this post is one of many reasons why I enjoy your blog. I like to come back and savor some of your posts and I like the fact that you will admit you haven't thought something through, but even this nugget that you have shared is pure gold.

When you have thought it through, analysed it and committed it to cyber paper, rest assured that the half vast readership and the knaves will be ready to
read what I consider to be good journalism.

Posted by: Cricket at September 12, 2005 01:33 PM

Cricket, you're a sweetie.

I'm having trouble getting my mind around this. I think anger is getting in the way - I find it hard to be dispassionate about this. This may be a sign that I just need to let go. This is starting to happen way too often.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2005 06:32 PM

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