Opinion

For big-spending hawks, the U.S. military’s work is never done

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Doug Bandow
Senior Fellow, The Cato Institute
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      Doug Bandow

      Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy and civil liberties. He worked as special assistant to President Reagan and editor of the political magazine Inquiry. He writes regularly for leading publications such as Fortune magazine, National Interest, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Times. Bandow speaks frequently at academic conferences, on college campuses, and to business groups. Bandow has been a regular commentator on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. He holds a J.D. from Stanford University.

The U.S. strides the globe as a colossus, stronger than any other state and more dominant than any empire at any time in human history. The entire militaries of “rogue” states have less total firepower than one American carrier group while terrorist groups create more popular angst than extreme danger. The U.S. faces no existential threat like it did during World War II and the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the call continues to go out from otherwise limited government conservatives for a bigger military. Spending as much as the rest of the world on the military isn’t enough. Nor is spending more, in real terms, than during the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars. Neoconservative intellectuals and hawkish Republican politicians alike insist that the Pentagon needs more money, troops, and weapons. For something. Or everything.

Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with defense. The Constitution authorizes the national government to act in the “common defense” — of America, not the rest of the world. None of the founders imagined that the U.S. would become Globocop, busy protecting populous and prosperous allies (international social welfare) and attempting to rebuild failed societies (foreign social engineering).

Indeed, 9/11 demonstrated that the Department of Defense is lousy at defense. Most of America’s armed forces are deployed for offensive operations on behalf of other nations. Congress ended up creating the Department of Homeland Security to actually protect America.

Washington’s current globe-spanning alliances would seem to be sufficient burden for even a committed internationalist, but some self-professed conservatives continue to find new tasks for U.S. troops. Which, of course, requires an ever larger military.

For instance, John Guardiano points to North Korea’s latest misbehavior as demonstrating “the need for a much bigger and modernized U.S. Army and Marine Corps.” Why? Guardiano explains, “to occupy and rebuild North Korea when it implodes, as it inevitably will.” At least he admits that this would be no mean task: “we likely will have to occupy and rebuild the country just as we have done in Iraq and are now doing in Afghanistan. And that will require a lot of boots on the ground.”

Egads! How could defense planners have missed this? Normally the elimination of a heavily-militarized adversary threatening an American ally would reduce U.S. defense requirements. But not here.

Instead, the American people have to add yet another client state. Under the theory that only the U.S. can do anything in the world, it apparently has become America’s job to fix a country which Washington did not defeat in war and with which Washington did not have an alliance (or even diplomatic relations), even though that nation’s wealthy neighbors have more at stake in regional security.

Just as God is concerned about even a single sparrow falling to earth, the U.S. must be concerned about even a single adversary falling apart.

Of course, what Guardiano wants the American military to do has nothing to do with America’s defense. Moreover, he’s assuming an inevitable collapse of the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. As many people have been doing for years. And as they have been doing equally long for Cuba. Alas, those extra divisions Guardiano wants to raise might end up sitting around a long time before receiving their call to action.

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  • J L Fuller

    During WWII the Germans fielded the far superior tank, the King Tiger, yet the Americans and British prevailed. We did so because the Nazi tank took so much of their resources and were so complex to build that couldn’t build them fast enough to make much impact in the war. Our cheaper, faster and inferior tanks out flanked the Germans and were able to attack them at their weak spots and defeat them. The Russians had the same experience with their T34 tanks. The point is, history has proven that more of the cheaper systems often defeat the better more expensive systems. I think we are at the point where we should be thinking in terms of cheaper and more numerous weapons systems rather than the more complex and expensive ones. We want the best for our people but sometimes the best at defeating an enemy isn’t a smaller number of the most expensive weapons especially if taking a few of them out means a diminished capability to prosecute the battle and extending the conflict.

  • J L Fuller

    A Chinese sub can launch a dozen or so anti-ship missiles in a just a couple of minutes. That means a small fleet of four or five diesel-electric boats can sink or disable an entire American air craft carrier battle group of a dozen or so ships from 30 miles away before the crews can get to general quarters. Why did I bring this up? Because part of the debate int eh US Navy is whether to buy new DDG’s at $3 billion each or more and cheaper frigates for the same money. The Navy has chosen to buy the much more expensive do-it-all DDGs even though they represent, potentially, an opportunity for an adversary to wipe out a bigger portion of our capability than they would be able to if we have more of the cheaper ships. The practical side is that we can’t be everywhere all at once so where ever we go, it damned well better be important because we are risking our national security and ability to project power when and where we find it necessary on the chance that China, in this example, can’t do the unimaginable.

  • J L Fuller

    Can you think of any country that is likely to pick a fight with us where we will engage in set piece land battles? I can’t. We may well go to war with a couple like Iran but engagements with stand-off weapons and sea battles seem more likely. If so, then large standing armies seem out dated and too expensive to maintain. Strong Navy, Air Force and Marine forces would be more important than armored divisions and ground forces that take months to move around. Special forces that move on a few days notice would seem to be more appropriate for modern warfare around the world. Give the armies assets to the states for their national guard units and keep some Army reserve units but we do not need several hundred thousand active duty Army divisions. Keep the 82nd and 101st Air Born if you like but RIF the others. It costs a $1 billion a year to stand up and keep each brigade of 3500 people.

  • taz

    This article is right on all fronts. We cannot continue being the worlds policemen, go to state, etc. The Balkens, and North Korea are excellent examples of his point. I believe that our military purpose is fight and WIN the nations wars, protect the sovereignty of the US, protect and defend the borders, lastly and perhaps most important protect the economic viability of this nation. We should not be in the business of nation building unless it is “truly multilateral effort,” and the US does not bear almost all the burden.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hank-Warren/1670642137 Hank Warren

    The work is never done for the endless Wars for Israel, it all started nearly a decade ago under a false flag attack.
    9/11 and Israel, here:
    http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000190526

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