how a super sized military always gets us to the same place
August 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
Yesterday, i saw this post from Eric Martin about the pattern we always follow toward military intervention:
- Step 1: How can the President not at least condemn [Regime X] publicly for its abhorrent actions? A public condemnation is the very least the President can do. It wouldn’t cost much, but it would be an important show of our resolve and support for freedom!
- Step 2 (with Regime X still in place): So what, the President condemned the regime publicly with some harsh words and called it “illegitimate.” Words are cheap and inconsequential. We need sanctions and coordinated efforts to isolate the regime. That will do the trick!
- Step 3 (with Regime X still in place): Sanctions? Regime isolation? Is that all the President is going to do in the face of Regime X’s perfidy? Those timid jabs will never work, and the President’s dithering will make us look weak and lacking in resolve. Our enemies will be emboldened. The President must use our military to deal a swift blow. No one is advocating a prolonged occupation, just a decapitation maneuver, and then a rapid hand off to the indigenous forces for democratic change.
- Step 4 (with Regime X toppled by our military): Now that we’ve committed our military, and brought about regime change, we have a moral obligation to see the mission through to the end. Besides, if we withdraw, chaos will erupt and our enemies will fill the vacuum. We owe it to the locals, we can’t afford to lose face, we can’t show weakness and our credibility depends on staying until a relatively stable, friendly nation emerges from the rubble.
- Step 5 (repeat as needed): We’ve turned the corner, shifted the momentum and victory is within reach. The next six months should prove decisive.
This misses the hardest point of all, #6) “If we stop now, it means those who fought and died before have died in vain.” Welcome to foreverwar. Matt Yglesias adds the observation that the US has a lot of problems putting the brakes on between steps 2 and 3.
This eflects the perils of keeping a lot of military “excess capacity” on hand. If someone asks the president of Chile about some egregious human rights abuses happening somewhere and he condemns them, that statement clearly is what it is—a condemnation. If he says “Dictator X should go,” he’s making an ethical observation about the impropriety of so-and-so’s regime. Nobody expects Chile to follow up its words with actions. Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to take a stand in much the way that an editorialist might. But precisely because the United States has a lot of military assets at our disposal that clearly aren’t needed to repel a Canadian invasion, it’s difficult to find a middle ground between turning a blind eye to atrocities and calls for military intervention.
This works like a a self winding clock. Because we have this enormous military capacity, we tend to see everything through a military lens and prioritize those resources to them. Today, Fareed Zakaria, on how even modest defense cuts could start to correct that:
Defense budget cuts would force a healthy rebalancing of American foreign policy. Since the Cold War, Congress has tended to fatten the Pentagon while starving foreign policy agencies. As former defense secretary Robert Gates pointed out, there are more members of military marching bands than make up the entire U.S. foreign service. Anyone who has ever watched American foreign policy on the ground has seen this imbalance play out. Top State Department officials seeking to negotiate vital matters arrive without aides and bedraggled after a 14-hour flight in coach. Their military counterparts whisk in on a fleet of planes, with dozens of aides and pots of money to dispense. The late Richard Holbrooke would laugh when media accounts described him as the “civilian counterpart” to Gen. David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. “He has many more planes than I have cellphones,” Holbrooke would say (and he had many cellphones). The result is a warped American foreign policy, ready to conceive of problems in military terms and present a ready military solution.