December 06, 2004

The Pentagon Reconsidered

Kevin Drum has some more terrorism stuff for liberals to think about. It's late, and I'm tired, so I won't go into this too much right now, but here's yet another foreign policy question to ponder: What is our military actually for?

All through the 1990s, it seems, the Pentagon couldn't come up with a good answer to this question, and it led to a lot of problems. Top strategists -- and a lot of neoconservatives, note -- believed that we needed to have a robust, high-tech military to face off against a robust, high-tech adversary (China, perhaps?), and also that we needed to fight a two-front war. So the Pentagon viewed the little forays into Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and elsewhere as a distraction -- something that bogged the military down and left it unprepared to fight its two-front war against high-tech adversaries.

Nowadays, though, it seems clear that we're not going to go up against a high-tech adversary anytime soon. China? No. Russia? No. It's not even clear that we need the two-front war doctrine, given that the high-tech wars we actually could fight -- against Iran, or North Korea, probably won't actually be fought. Iraq looks an exceptional case in all respects. In hindsight, it seems like the minor interventions into Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and elsewhere in the '90s were exactly the thing the military should have been trying to do all along. Especially since that sort of peacekeeping and nation-building is the biggest challenge today, as seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we don't have the right kind of military to do it.

Anyways, a lot of liberals these days have been fretting that our army is "bogged down" in Iraq, or its "overstretched." But too overstretched to do what? What should the military be doing instead? It seems silly to say that we should be preparing for (or discouraging) a colossal war against China, as neoconservatives did in the 90s. It also seems silly to say that we should only use our armies for "self-defense." Face it, we'll never have to use our armies for self-defense, in the classical sense of the word. We have nukes for that. The United States will only ever use its army proactively. What, then, should it do?

The question matters because it obviously determines what kind of military we have. But, by extension, it also determines what kind of foreign policy we pursue. As the saying goes: When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like nails. Well, right now we have a military geared towards conventional warfare against nation-states, so rogue nation-states like Iran and Iraq are, naturally enough, our main problems, and deposing regimes with our "shock and awe" weaponry is the preferred solution. On the other hand, if we had a military geared towards intrastate warfare and peacekeeping, then it's likely that we'd see the genocide and civil war-type states in Africa as bigger problems than we do now. And so on.
-- Brad Plumer 4:23 AM || ||