By DOUGLAS MACGREGOR SPECIAL TO THE U-T 12:01 a.m. Sept. 15, 2013
President Barack Obama’s plea to bomb Syria fell on deaf ears. In 1975, it was “No more Vietnams.” Today, it’s “No more Iraqs.”
The American public attitude is reinforced by the absence of an existential military threat to the United States and the demand for jobs and economic growth instead of military spending. Moreover, for the first time in decades, the public pressure on American political and military leaders to formulate strategic aims worth fighting and dying for before American blood and treasure are sacrificed is enormous and growing.
Regrettably, the growing demand for a new and less belligerent foreign policy has not been matched by coherent strategic guidance from the president and the secretary of defense to the military. As a result, the U.S. armed forces are adrift, floating on a sea of strategic uncertainty.
In the absence of a viable national military strategy and vision from above, the service chiefs are left to figure things out on their own. Most of the time, they are focused on retaining dwindling World War II/Cold War “capabilities” — Marine amphibious forces, Army airborne forces, and increasingly vulnerable surface combatants like the littoral combat ship along with dubious forward presence missions that change nothing of importance ashore.
Cultivating long-term, integrative warfighting structures with vital capabilities the nation will need for the future, let alone the human capital to support them, is a very distant fourth or fifth in priority.
Sadly, Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense, has failed to provide the leadership the armed forces need to ensure Americans master the future, not relive the past. Instead, Hagel has been cast by the four-stars in the Pentagon in the role of the man on the register at the end of the checkout line in the supermarket; he takes 5 percent off whatever comes down the conveyor belt.
Savvy investors hedge their positions against unpredictable market movement, but there is no evidence to date that Hagel is searching for a range of possible hedges to mitigate the obvious decline in American economic and military power. Making the individual services smaller isn’t change. It’s disastrous, but nobody inside the Washington, D.C., beltway including Hagel seems capable of making the hard choices when the pain occurs on their watch.
Hagel, of course, is not unique. Washington’s top executives (military, government or civilian) reach the top because they were repeatedly chosen by others who put loyalty to the system and conformity to the status quo above competence, imagination and creativity.
The National Defense Panel exemplifies the problem. They, too, are a group of “safe hands,” people chosen for their readiness to preserve, not to change the status quo.
So the defense mess is not entirely Hagel’s fault. Inside a society where Americans are brainwashed into believing that everyone, everywhere is the same, that in Stanley Kubrick’s words from “Full Metal Jacket,” “Inside every Vietnamese is an American waiting to get out,” facts seldom matter. Perhaps, this is why the American public only recently turned against the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, constraining Washington’s self-absorbed interventionists — Obama, McCain, Graham, Kerry and a host of others — from dragging us into Syria
With the exception of those Americans whose jobs inside the defense industry are at stake, very few politicians of either party are interested in what kinds of military forces emerge from the defense cuts or who mans the forces American taxes support. And why should they care?
Demi Moore has conclusively proven that women can do everything men can do, and gender is, in Marxist terms, simply an “artificial construct.” Drones obviate the need for the lethality that springs from disciplined, physically and psychologically hardened men inside highly trained combat units that kill effectively. For the moment, Hollywood has won the argument and anyone who dares to disagree on the basis of documented combat experience is dismissed out of hand as a misogynous dinosaur. Emotion trumps reason at every turn.
Tragically, the only antidote to Washington’s shameless self-interest, self-deluding behavior and unbridled emotion is future war against a capable enemy with the ability to destroy us, something we have not seen since Korea in 1953, a war Americans in or out of uniform did not want or expect to fight. Whether we survive it is an open question. Until then, in Saul Bellow’s words, “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”
U.S. Army Col. (Ret.) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, Ph.D., author and executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group in Reston, Va.