Are You Ready to Listen to me Now?
learn it, know it, live it
Over the July 4th weekend, we slipped out of the American fortress in Bagram. The way we left tells you all you need to know about Afghanistan – the conflict we lost in December 2009 when the Taliban were given the last indication they needed that we were not going to press the issue on our time and change Afghanistan our way, but we would let them win on their time and return Afghanistan their way.
It is all as clear now as it was when I wrote about our culmination at Obama’s West Point speech linked above. Regulars here know the story; the rest can follow the link above.
Good ideas are timeless, so I want to return to a topic that predates CDRSalamander and this is a decision point where we can decide to return our nation to its natural state.
My view of our place in the world started to gel in the mid-90s and by the late 90s had solidified into what in the 2020s has cured into a firm mass of resolve; we will destroy our republic by playing empire.
Generations of civilian and military leaders – and generations of citizens – had their view of America’s place in the world warped by WWII and the Cold War. In both cases, the world was faced with expansionist totalitarian secular confessions that required America to be the world power that it was.
That world, thankfully, is gone. There are major threats in this world – Islamic fundamentalism is one, a renewed China is another – but neither of them have the combination of desire and ability that fascism and communism had. Neither are trying to expand their power by military means.
Islamism has a bleeding edge, but its center of gravity is religious, and it has natural boundaries (unless stupid migrant policies succeed in letting it expand).
China’s military growth is based on primarily ensuring access to resources to keep its population’s standard of living improving and as such, protect the domestic power of the Chinese Communist Party.
We do not have a land border with either.
How do we mitigate risk against these two primary and lesser constellations of threats? Generally speaking, it doesn’t take a large standing army … which in a time of limited resources, that is a good thing. Specifically:
- Islamic fundamentalism: simple; contain and modernize. Contain Islamic fundamentalism to where is it now, and on the bleeding edge of the territory where it has reached critical mass, support local forces and governments to modernize along moderate lines. We cannot want a modern existence more than the people of those nations. We cannot force it on them. In nations where there is not a critical mass, aggressively eliminate small cells as you find them. The Cold War campaigns against the Red Army Faction, Weather Underground etc are a good template here. A deadly nuisance, but in time will fade through impotence and attrition.
- China: not so simple. China is primarily an economic and diplomatic challenge. She wants to use her economic power to back her diplomatic efforts to ensure that nations do not get in the way of her economic growth and future prosperity. From those two items, she will take was she sees as her natural place for a nation of 1.3 billion souls: the global leader by mid-century.
China is not advancing primarily through military means. No, she is advancing by a clear national vision, economics, diplomacy, and an evolutionary, iterative advancement of her priorities for her people supporting her national greatness. Her military strength is to underline to others her larger national will; it is supporting, not supported.
While there are some nations such as India, Taiwan, Japan, and the nations around the South China Sea that have some territorial issues, unless you are a very paranoid Russian or Mongolian, China is not otherwise a military threat around her present borders. Where she is – specifically India – they have the land forces they need to counter China if so needed. Though accidents happen, China has no need for a land war on the Asian landmass. Her other conflicts are either at sea or are connected to her access and ability to secure her sea lines of communication to resources.
That is the key; we do not need a large standing army to mitigate the most likely Chinese threats to us or our friends. We can best address the Chinese challenge through our economic strength and smart diplomacy. We have the advantage there if we choose to use it. Militarily, we also have the comparative advantage at sea, in the air, and space … if we choose to accept that.
How does this tie into what I started the post with? Easy.
We were enabled to think we could change Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc etc because we thought we could do it on the cheap. Sure, a few National Guard forces would have to be activated, but mostly we had a large standing army to pull the effort from. Like former SECSTATE Albright said, “what is the use of a large army if you aren’t going to use it.”
That was the theory. In practice, especially in 2005-7, it turned out different especially in the reliance on National Guard forces, but we just managed to get through it only because we were one standard deviation away in 2003 from General Shinseki’s center point.
No big national discussion was needed. No large sacrifice. No great national mobilization. We went in half-ass, and our results were half-ass. In Iraq, it was a near run thing it was not a worse disaster than it turned out.
Wars of choice need to demand an understanding that wars are a dark room. You don’t know what is in it when you step in, but you will have to deal with it.
If wars are hard to get in to, you do not fall easily in to tar pits of whimsy.
Take that temptation away. Make it hard. Make it a national effort.
We are a large nation with large responsibilities, but we are also a republic, not an empire.
Give our friends more warning than we did the Afghans last weekend but let them know we have a new strategy. They need to up their land game. We will be there to help, especially in the air and from the sea, but we will not do their work for them.
We plan to move 2/3 of our active ground forces to our National Guard. Except for a few combined logistics, maintenance, and training facilities, all our forward deployed land forces, and most of our air and sea forward deployed forces, need to come home.
WWII and the Cold War are over. Again, we are a republic, not an empire.
We will mitigate risk by ensuring that while we reset our ground forces, we maintain and improve our posture as the world’s premier maritime and aerospace power – including space.
We will maintain a large and robust ground combat capability, but any large conflict will require mobilization of our National Guard and reserve forces. We will have a standing army, but our friends will need to plan to defend their territory with their ground forces primarily – at least at the start.
That is external … but the real benefit here is internal. Remember, the military did not get us in these long running small land wars in Asia this century nor initiate them.
Politicians and the civilians they appointed did. They provided the Direction and Guidance that drove Initial Planning Guidance. They pointed the military in a certain direction.
A large standing army makes things too easy for people who have a short-term focus, especially politicians. Wars should never be easy for those who don’t have to fight them.
Politicians do understand hard work as well as risk/reward. When silky smooth, feel good ideas ooze out of think tanks and faculty lounges into politician’s ears, when those politicians bring those ideas to their military staff, there needs to be a higher bar for yes-men … and more opportunities to deliver the hard truth that the politicians will need to ask more from the American people. No so much money, but the blood of their constituents living in their towns, working in their businesses, friends with their patrons and supporters.
The American people have a good, if imperfect, track record of supporting the expenditure of significant amounts of blood and treasure when needed. American politicians have a rather imperfect, rarely good, track record of convincing themselves they can fight wars of choice on the cheap.
The greatest threat to our nation’s future security and place in the world is not an unrestrained China, it is a US political elite’s inclination to empire.
Put up the guardrails.