Monday, October 29, 2012
By Douglas A. Macgregor
Former governor Mitt Romney’s drumbeat for $2 trillion in additional defense spending, together with President Obama’s Pacific pivot – the reallocation of American military resources to contain China – turned out to be a non-event in Monday night’s debate.
In fact, the kinder, gentler Romney went so far as to suggest that China doesn’t have to be an “adversary.”
Wearied by more than a decade of expensive, unrewarding military interventions, both candidates sensed that Americans are focused on the approaching fiscal cliff; an event the Congressional Research Service says may produce a return to economic recession in 2013.
In fact, if deeper recession lies ahead, the unspoken truth is that restoring American economic growth and prosperity may well demand austere, “inter-war period” levels of military spending.
So, assuming Romney’s defense buildup is at the very least unlikely is the Obama Administration’s Pacific pivot also a pipe dream the American taxpayer cannot afford?
The answer is: not necessarily. There are ways to concentrate American national military power in the Pacific region.
In the turbulent decade leading up to the outbreak of World War I, Winston Churchill, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, urged Britain’s national leadership to concentrate British naval power in the Atlantic and the North Sea where Germany’s rapidly expanding high seas fleet seemed determined to challenge British naval supremacy. Churchill reasoned, “It would be very foolish to lose England in safeguarding Egypt. If we win the big battle in the decisive theater, we can put everything else straight afterwards. If we lose it, there will not be any afterwards.”
On the precipice of sequestration and with the survival of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid at stake, Churchill’s strategic rationale is instructive, particularly for leaders in Washington, D.C., who advocate a U.S. military buildup in the Pacific.
When Churchill made the case for concentrating the British fleet in the Atlantic, he was practicing economy of force, a time honored principle in British military affairs.
In 1902, in the midst of a financial crisis brought on, in part, by the Boer War, London had already turned to Japan for military assistance in blocking Russian expansion in the Far East. By 1911, the Russian threat had disappeared beneath the waters of the Tsushima Strait, but the Anglo-Japanese Treaty still allowed the withdrawal of British naval and ground forces from Asia, facilitating the concentration of British military power in the Atlantic. The result was a debilitating blockade Germany could not overcome throughout the First World War.
Like the British at the beginning of the 20th Century, Washington suffers from a case of “Imperial Overstretch.” Washington needs a new national security strategy, one designed to halt the dissipation of American military resources around the world and to concentrate it wherever it is needed. For the moment, the point of concentration is Asia, where China’s assertiveness opens the door to the kind of instability and potential for strategic miscalculation that is eerily similar to the crises and conflicts that preceded the outbreak of World War I in Europe.
The Pacific pivot was conceived with this point in mind. However, increased defense spending to expand and modernize military facilities from Alaska to Guam won’t make much sense to voters who fear the country is in a fiscal “free fall” — a race to economic crisis that bailouts can’t stop.
Moreover, there is no reason to assume lawmakers and the next President will cooperate at all after November. Whether anyone in Washington, D.C., is prepared to support the pivot by admitting that most of America’s current military commitments and priorities are legacies of Cold War deployments, as well as, misguided attempts to nation build inside the Muslim World is also an unknown.
As seen throughout Monday night’s debate, Washington’s determination to attack and destroy Islamist terrorism persists, but lawmakers are far more aware today than they were in 2001 that “Islamism” (the reordering of society and government with Islam) of the Sunni or Shiite variety will not create jobs, economic growth or the foundation for effective military power that can genuinely challenge the West.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood cannot change the fact that Cairo’s population of 14 million lives on an infrastructure designed for 2 million. In other words, the Muslim world’s severe social, cultural and economic problems mean that 20 years from now, Africa and the Middle East are likely to lag as far behind the West as they do today.
However, unlike Churchill’s Japanese ally at the beginning of the 20th Century, America’s allies, as well as, our potential rivals for influence and power in Asia, Europe and Latin America, are all at the mercy of the same debt bubble that we are.
This unspoken reality explains in part the reluctance of the nations on China’s periphery, those that feel most threatened (Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam) to actively cooperate with each other let alone invest in the military power necessary to effectively augment Washington’s proposed Pacific pivot.
The strategic goals and priorities the next President sets will decide what national security strategy America’s military executes. But setting specific goals is critical if the pivot is to happen.
When there is no coherent strategy, military action is shaped primarily by the military capability to act, not by attainable military and political objectives or the concrete interests that define them.
America’s weakened economic condition suggests this is no time for leaders in Washington, D.C., to make uninformed decisions regarding defense spending or the use of force in a dispute with a major power like China.
Britain’s strategic principle of economy of force must be applied.
Hopefully, people in both Presidential campaigns are examining ways to achieve strategic advantage in lean economic times, the way Britain did in the critical years before World War I.
Douglas Macgregor is executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group, LLC. He is also a retired Army colonel, decorated combat veteran and the author of four books on military affairs.
Read more: http://nation.time.com/2012/10/26/affording-the-pacific-pivot/#ixzz2AgwPdA8Y
Sunday, October 7, 2012
It’s time to think seriously about the consequences of Turkish military intervention in Syria. Ankara’s patience with Asad’s survival skills is running out. In addition, the Turkish Islamist government knows if Asad survives, the Turks will have a Syrian adversary on their Southern border more closely aligned with Tehran than ever; something the Sunni Muslim Islamist Turkish government does not want. The point is if and when the Turks intervene in Syria, a Sunni Muslim Islamist Government allied with Ankara will be established in Damascus.
This development effectively places Turkish military power on Israel’s border. Americans should not confuse weak Arab military performance with Turkish military power. The Turks are ferocious soldiers fanatically committed to the destruction of whatever enemy they confront. Their equipment is good, in some cases, excellent and the Turkish Forces – air, land and sea – know how to use the technology they have. For the Turks, a confrontation with Israel would be an all or nothing proposition. The Islamist regimes in Egypt, Syria and the peninsula will operate in support under Turkey’s Islamist leadership personified by PM Erdogan. Next year, Jordan is very likely to join the Islamist ranks. The Amman government is already on life support and won’t last too much longer. When Jordan falls into Islamist hands, the stage is set for a very dangerous future confrontation.
If and when the Islamist Turks establish themselves in Syria, they will begin building a regional Sunni Islamist Alliance with Saudi financial assistance, something many observers insist is already underway. With Turkish military access to Syria, Turkish military power is close enough to Israel for Turkish ground forces to “lean into” any WMD fire the Israelis initiate putting Israel towns and cities at risk of destruction by Israeli weapons of mass destruction. Since we in the US have not confronted a serious enemy that could put our forces in the field at risk since 1950 our journalists and “military analysts” have trouble imagining such a conflict, but it would be a serious mistake not to think about it, even plan for it.
As Quincy Wright wrote many, many years ago in his monumental work, A Study of War, “A single unexpected change in international relations, such as that of the Soviet-German pact in 1939, had an influence on many relations in a way which [conventional wisdom and quantitative analysis] could not foresee.” In 1939, conventional wisdom predicted an imminent war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Conventional wisdom was wrong. War with the Western powers began first.
Today’s conventional wisdom treats Iran as the principle challenge to Israeli and Western interests, but this assertion, as Quincy Wright suggests, is misleading. Like Richard Nixon in 1973, we would have to intervene with US ground forces or turn millions of Israeli Jews over to the tender mercies of attacking Turkish forces. For those who do not appreciate what a Turkish offensive would entail, I suggest reading about the Red Army’s march in 1944-45 across Poland, Slovakia, Bohemia, Moravia, Romania, Hungary and Eastern Germany. The experience with the Turks would be similar.
In the future, think of Turkey, not Iran, as the greatest potential Islamist threat to Western and Israeli security. The Germans, Poles, Russians, Ukrainian and Balkan Slavs are well aware of this point. Erdogan is on the record preaching the Islamicization of Europe to his countrymen living in Central and Northern Europe.
Pretending the NATO alliance is truly meaningful in this strategic context would be a mistake. NATO, like all of the institutions created in the strategic vacuum after WW II are crumbling. In most ways, NATO is already “dead man walking.”
Iran is internally weak, socially divided and militarily insignificant. However, Iran is a State that given time could prove to be a useful partner since Israel, the West and Shiite Iran share the same adversaries in the East (Pakistan) and in the West (Middle East) - the Sunni Muslim Islamists. As Napoleon said, “A general who cannot think beyond the limits of his map board will never be a great commander.” It’s time to think beyond the present. After all, conventional wisdom is usually high on convention and low on wisdom.
Douglas Macgregor, PhD