When former President George H.W. Bush boasted that defense cuts were in order during his administration as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seems as though everyone from politicians to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) appointees during every round of base closings and downsizings had gambled that the optimistic, short-term future in terms of international stability dictated a diminished need for Cold War-era-sized defense capabilities.
Was the first President Bush – or the following two presidents — supposed to have known about the possibility of a Middle East that would soon all but fall to Islamist terrorists? Was he supposed to know that nostalgia for the Soviet Union would influence a future Russian dictator to try and assemble a second Soviet-type regime? Did he realize that the communist Chinese government had no credibility?
Then-President Bush not only chose to ignore the massacre in Tiananmen Square while a debate over a free-trade agreement with that government was a leading news story, but he also pushed for Most Favored Nation trading status. In hindsight, he could either claim that his actions were naïve, or admit that the idea of near-slave labor to help fuel an American crony-capitalist environment, plus one-billion consumers who could never afford American-made goods as a result of their near-slave-labor status, outweighed the security threat that is present-day China.
Of course, there had been other rounds of base closings and personnel reductions since then – even while the US had been engaged in two wars. Unfortunately, each reduction in military strength was the result of an assumption that traditional warfare was extinct. An arrogant tactic used by pro-downsizing advocates was the relabeling of downsizing as the creation of “leaner, more flexible” warfighting capabilities. On a local level, there were politicians who could not see past redeveloping military bases for the sake of added tax revenue.
While having a strong military is part of deterring war, such an asset is void when leadership in Washington dictates that decision-making must have a direct correlation to being liked – and therefore, re-electable.
The downside of leadership by popularity is that our present and future enemies have learned that the manipulation of current events will corrupt polling data, as well as elections.
When President Barack Obama said that the shooting-down of a civilian aircraft on Thursday in the Ukraine “looks like it may be a terrible tragedy” about one hour after learning of this incident, the inability to say with any specificity that such an evil, horrific act is just that – especially with so much time to prepare a more detailed and profound announcement – he inadvertently broadcast a message of disinterest that both our allies and enemies heard loud and clear. But then, maybe a pointed, unquestionable response may be out of reach for someone who seems as though he is still trying to decide who should represent the United States at the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher.
Exactly what part does the US have to play in the aftermath of the simultaneous events in the Ukraine and Israel on Thursday? If the US government possessed a larger military, such as what it was during the Cold War – managed by politicians who acknowledge that those who resort to violence via “the end justifies the means” as their mantra are kept under control only by force or the fear of it – perhaps Thursday would have been just another day. In other words, what is more important: a potential criminal who decides not to commit a crime because of a police presence, or that potential criminal deciding not to commit a crime due to a perceived police presence?
War is the result of the breakdown of civility on one side of a dispute. Therefore, war is the long, last step toward the restoration of civility.
Maintaining a strong military is similar to concealed carry: no responsible gun owner wants to land in a situation where he or she has to use their weapon against another individual.
While the entertainment business equates the mental repercussions of injuring or killing another person with the simple act of blowing one’s nose, the individual who acted in self-defense has to live with the fact that they were forced to kill or injure another human being. Yes, killing someone may have been an act of self-defense, but fortunately, most people will never have to live with having to make such a decision. Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen are no different; they train to kill in the name of defense, with the hope that their training goes unused.
If a large, seemingly-unnecessary Defense Department is enough to discourage acts of terror and war from those who want to engage in such behavior for their own selfish reasons, then a large, capable, but idle military is definitely necessary, since it is “doing its job by not doing its job.”
If all of the individuals who have participated in the downsizing of the United States’ military over the past twenty-five years knew what we know today, would our defenses still have faced such huge, but gradual cuts?
Sadly, the answer may be “yes.”