Why has American political leadership failed to control rampant American militarism and failed to protect America’s homeland from terrorist attack? I think the two are closely related. If political leadership of this generation became willing to change the fundamental way we protected America with our military we could of perhaps saved America billions of dollars and perhaps even stopped the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The billions saved in wasteful military spending could have fostered social and other programs that ultimately would have strengthen our democracy, lowered our federal deficits and improved the lives of millions in the United States.
Unfortunately there is enough blame to go around for this fundamental failure of vision on how to use of our military, which started with those who have been in power since at least 1990. This is further exacerbated, I think, by the failure to use our military properly in an even more pronounced and deadly way today under the present Bush/Cheney administration political ideology and their war on terror. Vividly demonstrated by the failing war and quagmire in Iraq.
Our founding fathers warned us that involvement in foreign wars would lead to all sorts of potential catastrophe for the American democracy. Jefferson spoke of "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Washington warned, “Act for ourselves and not for others," by forming an "American character wholly free of foreign attachments." Now no one is naïve enough to say that America should become isolationist in the modern age, but we should begin to realize that our real mission is to protect or own borders and homeland first and then win the hearts and minds of the people of other nations of the world by our example rather then our military might. It is a mistake to think that stationing our troops in ever corner of the world better protects America.
Since the end of World War II America has involved itself in several wars. The motivation and need for participation in foreign wars in Vietnam and presently in Iraq remain highly questionable. Americans must begin to ask themselves, and begin to take responsibility for, what appears to be a long and mistaken misuse of our military to extend our political will on other nations and people when it leads to the waste of the lives of young Americans and ends up being self destructive, wasteful and morally wrong in the end.
In 1989 America was presented with a rare historic opportunity to racially change the way America projected it’s military power and better protect itself from the new menace, global terrorism. The moment in time took place with the downfall and subsequent reform of governments in the Soviet Union and countries that were considered to be under Soviet control and influence. This of course, was the end of the cold war.
Today it appears that America has not taken advantage of the opportunity presented at the end of the cold war to remake the American military or begin to use it’s military might in a way that really defended the homeland. It can be argued that attacks on America like 9/11 could have been preventable if American political leaders had the foresight to redefine the mission of the military back then to one of mainly protecting the homeland.
Instead American political leaders continued to use the American military power worldwide by stationing troops in far-flung places at great expense and where it could be of little use in directly protecting America. Focusing instead on what it determined as “rogue states” rather then individual terrorists cells who were actively plotting to penetrate our defenses.
If fact, in many cases, American military presence became the main grievances of Islamic radicals including Osama Bin Laden who saw American presence on the Arabian Peninsula as a major affront to Islam. Much like Americans would hate the presence of a foreign army occupying or surrounding this country.
America became the world’s only superpower in 1989 and there was much discussion at the time and shortly after about what this would mean to America. There were a number of military, social and economic experts who wrote long essay on the “peace benefit”. The general narrative was that America would now have more money to spend on domestically centered educational, social programs and infrastructure with the end of the cold war. We had no enemy that could challenge our military might and therefore no longer needed the robust military that faced up to the communists.
Instead of taking advantage of this historic opportunity, America continues to this day to be guided, for the most part, by the hegemonic military bureaucracies and the powerful forces within the defense industry and the now age-old military industrial complex. We continue to spend a disproportionate amount of our national wealth and the lives of our young people pursuing political aims with our military. It can also be convincingly argued that we are more susceptible today, not less, to the focus of terrorist hatred and attacks because of our policies and misuse of military power. To many people in the world we have become the predominant source of war and evil in the world. A fact that is often overlooked by the mainstream media in this country and most Americans have a hard time getting their heads around. Even in the minds of people who in the past have traditionally supported American foreign policy. With many citizens of the European Union and countries like Japan wondering about a mostly dysfunctional and dangerous American foreign policy.
Colin Powell, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, help formulated much of the policy that has come to dominate the scope and projection of American military power in the post cold war. This is true at least until the entry into preemptive war in Iraq by the Bush two in 2003 and the ascension of the Department of Defense under the leadership of Donald Rumsfeld. Who’s new approach to modernizing the American military is called “transformation” and offers little in the way of reductions in spending or troop levels being more concerned with the military processes and projecting military power worldwide then real change.
After a comprehensive review in 1990 at the end of the cold war called “Base Force”, Powell advocated a smaller military by 25% in manpower and money and this was generally accepted by Bush one administration. Powell's Base Force needed to be capable of performing four basic missions: first, it needed to be able to fight across the Atlantic; second, it needed to be capable of fighting across the Pacific; third, it needed to have a contingency force in the U.S. that could be deployed rapidly to hot spots, as we did in Panama in 1989; and finally, it needed to possess a nuclear force of sufficient size to deter our nuclear adversaries. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs further argued that the U.S. military should be sent into battle only when three conditions were met: first, our political objectives were clear and measurable; second, the country was prepared to use overwhelming force quickly and decisively to advance that objective; and third, military forces would be withdrawn when that objective was accomplished, that is, the political leaders have an exit strategy. Powell and his military colleagues did not wish to see the U.S. military become involved in more Vietnams (1960 - 1972) or Lebanon's (1982 - 1983) where the objectives were not clear and the military fought, in the Chief's view, with "one hand tied behind its back." This approach to the use of military force became known as the Powell Doctrine.
A doctrine that the present Bush administration seems to have ignored today and in doing so has apparently ignored the hard earned lessons of the quagmire that was the war in Vietnam.
During Bush one America involved itself in the first gulf war. A war where Bush one successfully asked for and received military and financial support from the international community, a fundamental difference missing in the second Iraq war under son of Bush. Son of Bush went to war in spite of wide spread opposition from the international community and the warnings of many high up military professionals nurtured on the Powell Doctrine. The first gulf war did much to reinforce the Powell Doctrine and the need for then accepted manpower levels and military spending. Perhaps, I argue here, a false premise because of the points I attempt to make here, that we can, with a much smaller military and one focus mainly on protecting the actual homeland do a better job.
Later under Bill Clinton there was a proposal to once again revamp the military promoted by Representative Les Aspin of Wisconsin called the “bottom up” review, which offered that even more money could be saved. Clinton took office in 1993 and Aspin became defense secretary. The Aspin proposal in effect really changed little. One example was it offered slightly larger cuts in spending that were to be gained by being more efficiency in things like military procurement. Clinton was reluctant to do battle with the military having been hampered on “don’t ask and don’t tell” gays in the military policy and his own lack of military service. So little ended up being done.
Why does America have more than 100,000 troops in Europe 60 years after the end of WW II or 100,000 troops in Asia 50 years after the Korean War? America needs a fundamental review of military spending and the way we use our military. We need to begin to use our military to protect the homeland first. We need to stop involving ourselves in foreign wars that are morally wrong, preemptive or ideologically motivated. We need to bring the troops home from not only Iraq, but from Europe and other parts of the world so that they can protect the homeland first. We need to keep our nose out of the rest of the world’s business. We need to rebuild America not Iraq. We need to be a nation equal among other nations. We need to be a better member and supporter of the United Nations and world community efforts as a vehicle in support of our international political agenda.