Friday, September 09, 2005

Required Reading

Mark Helprin has never pulled punches. His piece in today's Wall Street Journal takes aim at our nation's continuing hesitancy and outright blundering in matters strategic - and scores enough direct hits to make nearly everyone feel a bit uncomfortable. It is a big story - as is fitting - but it's one that slaps you across the face with a "snap out of it" of generational proportions.

An excerpt:
Ceaselessly, we court strategic error. At the end of the Cold War, assuming that history had concluded, we discarded too much military power. This continues through the present, rationalized by reference to transformation. But it is yet further error to believe that military-technical evolution can make up for the kind of deficiencies and poor strategic judgments from which no machine can save an army. Continual and remarkable innovation is both indispensable and expensive, but President Clinton required budgetary choice between innovation and everything else, and his successor has yet to disagree. The root of the error that offers transformation as a substitute for so much that is crucial is the conviction that having both would exceed reasonable military expenditures and somehow break the common weal.

Having made many wrong choices, we find ourselves at yet another strategic crossroads, where invisibly to the general public we are about to choose wrongly again. We are reshaping the military into a gendarmerie, configured for small wars, counterinsurgency, peacekeeping and nation-building, all at the expense of the type of force that could deter or defeat a rising China. Although we need a gendarmerie, we cannot do without heavy formations and the many additional ships required for a navy--now less than half the size of the Reagan fleet and shrinking--to exploit our natural advantage in the Pacific.

Regardless of your political stripe, you will no doubt find something disagreeable in Mr. Helprin's blunt assessment. Which is exactly why it has such a powerful ring of truth. His is a stern talking-to that reminds me of the parental scolding I recieved (routinely) as an under-performing high school student. "You are a danger to your own future" it went. I eventually learned the lesson, and not too late for my life. But then again, I didn't have to hammer out an agreement with a split personality. The politics of self are a dictatorship.

At bottom, Helprin is scolding the lack of political will and leadership in this country, and I cannot fault him for that. But in a larger sense, the idea that the nation is busy stamping on cockroaches while theives loot the house is troubling.

Chew on it for a while.


Cassandra said...

Funny. I sent this to Grim this morning. I've been staring at it for hours.

Still thinking.

spd rdr said...

This is hard thinking, Cass. Strategic thinking. I've supported the Iraq war primarily because it advances our strategic interests in the region; i.e. stable democracy results in access to oil and puts the buttheads within easy striking distance. I have been less impressed by the willingness of our Pentagon to shave the fleet strength in the face of obvious ballooning Chinese ambition.

There are lessons here that we seem to repeatedly forget.

Cassandra said...

I know I link back to my old posts a lot (a somewhat masturbatory exercise, but it saves time and I never have to go home alone) but that was the point I was trying to make over at Jet Noise with that combat power post, and why I bitch about Rumsfeld and his 'transformation', or as I like to call it, 'just-in-time' military.

I think we're being penny wise and pound foolish.

This ties in with my econoblogging, which I no longer do because it bores everyone to tears and Robert Prather's still lurking but doesn't comment so it's no fun anymore. We have no core capability in heavy industry to tool up in wartime. I worry when I see us decommissioning ships left and right. What the hell do they think we're going to do if we have to gear up quickly? We don't have large plants anymore, nor a native steel industry like we did in WWII. Some protectionism, although economically inefficient, is desireable from a national security standpoint. But no one makes that argument except boring bluestockings like me.

spd rdr said...

Consider yourself among friends.