Tuesday, October 11, 2016


I received the following comment from loyal Phronesis reader Jim Dubbs on my recent post on the continuing Air Force campaign to retire the A-10 Warthog, which I argued represented a lack of concern for the lives of our troops. Jim always brings a valuable historical perspective to my posts, for which I am grateful.

You just have to wonder where any political leadership is on these issues. Ike may have issued the warning about a military-industrial complex, but successive Secretaries of Defense have decided that their survival depends on providing our various military leaders with the newest toys. I recall that McNamara -- who I believe was a car industry executive (Ford), like his predecessor Wilson (GM) -- was touted as this great efficiency expert who was going to make sure of strong civilian management of the armed forces. Indeed, he became lauded as a rather "strong" Defense Secretary. Not hard to understand. Of course, he was: Kennedy's military budget tripled that of Ike's as I recall. However, I think the bigger problem than the toys controversy (A-10 v. F-35) is that, in general, the military always seems to be preparing for the wars of the past, not the likely ones of the future. I would agree that A-10 is best for support of ground troops, but how much of the conflicts facing us now and in the future are likely to involve a significant commitment of troops on the ground? That may be one of the only things Rumsfeld was kind of right on, and he got castigated for tying to fight war on the cheap, right? 

My Response:

You question how much conflicts we are likely to face in the future will require air support for regular soldiers on the ground. That’s a good question, and one I thought about just after I completed the essay. It does appear that future military engagement involving the U.S. will be less prone to army and marine ground deployments since most Americans today are unlikely to support costly land invasions and occupations. So we now rely on Special Forces, trainers and “advisers” (often involved in actual fighting), drones, and private contractors to do our dirty work. These “irregulars” allow our government to maintain the fiction that we do not have “boots on the ground.”
I must say, however, that I am skeptical we will continue to refrain indefinitely from large troop deployments (now called “surges”) in Greater Middle East (GME) conflicts. While our political and military calculus may have changed, the entrenched belief that the use of overwhelming military force will enable us to have our way, even over reluctant populations, has not. Such thinking continues to inform the Washington policy-making elite. I though after Vietnam the U.S. would never again let itself get drawn into an unpopular war without clear goals, a rational plan of action, and an exit strategy. Obviously I was wrong. I didn’t fully appreciate the depth and sustainability of our imperial mind-set and the ability of the American public to expunge Vietnam from its collective memory. Collective amnesia is a particular American affliction; it plays out repeatedly.    
Our military engagements in the GME have been unmitigated disasters, the rosy spins of administration officials, unrepentant neo-conservatives, and media sorts, notwithstanding. Sure, we’ve killed a lot of people—including good guys as well as bad—and busted things up pretty well, but we have not accomplished our stated political goals, which have a habit of shifting over time. On the contrary; our efforts have helped give rise to failed states, internal insurgencies, masses of refugees, a proliferation of jihadi extremists, home-grown terrorists, global anti-American vitriol, and widespread death and destruction, not to mention the toll they have taken on our national economy. Yet we persist in believing the projection of our awesome military power will somehow deliver political victories. Osama bin Laden would be proud.
Given our enduring belief that the exceptional U.S. has a moral (and financial, I might add) responsibility to spread American-style political and economic freedom throughout the world, and can do so successfully if we simply act militarily tough and resolute enough, along with the likelihood our current reliance on bombing and small--and “cheap”--on-the-ground military deployments will invariably fail, it is reasonable to suspect the era of large troop deployments is not, in fact, over. The outspoken militaristic views of war hawks like John McCain and, heaven forbid, Donald Trump, strengthen my expectation that future troop mobilizations and occupations will remain in our future. War hawks are already calling for stepped-up military action in Syria.  Bottom line: don’t bury the A-10 just yet.
Besides, even if ground support for the troops does indeed become less salient, the Warthog is still useful for other missions, like air defense suppression, interdiction, armed reconnaissance, and forward air control. If our current warfare of choice continues, the A-10’s offensive capabilities may outweigh its troop support role.
Of course, things could change. A Vietnam era anti-war movement could rise and compel Washington to pursue peace rather than war, though I don’t see this happening without a draft. I wouldn’t rule it out, however. Perhaps the people’s revolution inspired by Bernie Sanders will gather steam and add peace to its egalitarian, social justice, and empowerment agenda.
One thing I know for sure; the only way to overcome organized pro-war interests and flag-waving Americans addicted to an imperial U.S. global role is with organized people committed to a peaceful and just global order. I can dream, can’t I?

1 comment:

  1. Ron,
    Definitely keep dreaming. I agree that organized resistance to war policies are essential. The goal is peace and justice, and the strategy should be to make prosecuting wars more politically costly to our leaders than pursuing diplomatic, economic and/or cultural solutions to foreign policy problems. And that definitely requires real organization. And you're right, we have a history of starting out with low-key military commitments that lead to major involvements. Ike had a force of about 300 in a so-called Military Advisory Group (MAG) in Vietnam, that Kennedy and his "Best and Brightest" quickly quickly increased to 3,000 and then to a full-scale military involvement, to the point where Johnson felt that it would be more politically dangerous to stop than to escalate. The old excuse that those troops who died should not have done so in vain. (60,000 US and about a million Vietnamese did, but that should not have been the criterion.) In any case, one could be safe in saying that the escalation risk is always there when there is US military on the ground. "Knee Deep in the Big Muddy" was the way Pete Seeger put it (and only the captain perished). I suppose that we'll keep finding ways to put troops on the ground. So keep the Warthog to defend the troops. But in the defense of ourselves and our national interests, there are clearly other options in this new world. In fact, I think we start out with a false premise in characterizing the situation we find ourselves in the GME as a war. We are engaging in unnecessary military struggle, when what we face is more of a clash of cultures, which does not have a military solution in any lasting sense. I don't think Mao's axiom that "power comes out of the barrel of a gun" applies here. Maybe Victor Hugo's "no army can withstand an idea whose time has come" is closer. I hope that it is a question of time and that, like Christianity during the Crusades when the separation of church and state was an unknown concept, eventually some similar secularization will come to dominate in the GME. Right now, it seems to be going the other way, in part because of our military actions there. We should relax and let the inevitable (he said ruefully) occur -- eventually it's all about miniskirts, MacDonalds and the manifold (sinful?) delights of our irrepressible Western lifestyle. Containment is not a bad idea -- we just have to consider that the forces that oppose us in the GME are, while different, an adversary equal to the old Soviet Union during the Cold War, even without nukes (at least for now). After all there were no US troops in the Ukraine then (or now). There are better ways of defending ourselves and our friends.


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