Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Our mutant military

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Very interesting post by William Astore at TomDispatch.com:

It’s 1990. I’m a young captain in the U.S. Air Force.  I’ve just witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, something I never thought I’d see, short of a third world war.  Right now I’m witnessing the slow death of the Soviet Union, without the accompanying nuclear Armageddon so many feared.  Still, I’m slightly nervous as my military gears up for an unexpected new campaign, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, to expel Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s military from Kuwait.  It’s a confusing moment.  After all, the Soviet Union was forever (until it wasn’t) and Saddam had been a stalwart U.S. friend, his country a bulwark against the Iran of the Ayatollahs.  (For anyone who doubts that history, just check out the now-infamous 1983 photo of Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy for President Reagan, all smiles and shaking hands with Saddam in Baghdad.)  Still, whatever my anxieties, the Soviet Union collapsed without a whimper and the campaign against Saddam’s battle-tested forces proved to be a “cakewalk,” with ground combat over in a mere 100 hours.

Think of it as the trifecta moment: Vietnam syndrome vanquished forever, Saddam’s army destroyed, and the U.S. left standing as the planet’s “sole superpower.”

Post-Desert Storm, the military of which I was a part stood triumphant on a planet that was visibly ours and ours alone.  Washington had won the Cold War.  It had won everything, in fact.  End of story.  Saddam admittedly was still in power in Baghdad, but he had been soundly spanked.  Not a single peer enemy loomed on the horizon.  It seemed as if, in the words of former U.N. ambassador and uber-conservative Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. could return to being a normal country in normal times.

What Kirkpatrick meant was that, with the triumph of freedom movements in Central and Eastern Europe and the rollback of communism, the U.S. military could return to its historical roots, demobilizing after its victory in the Cold War even as a “new world order” was emerging.  But it didn’t happen.  Not by a long shot.  Despite all the happy talk back then about a “new world order,” the U.S. military never gave a serious thought to becoming a “normal” military for normal times.  Instead, for our leaders, both military and civilian, the thought process took quite a different turn.  You might sum up their thinking this way, retrospectively: Why should we demobilize or even downsize significantly or rein in our global ambitions at a moment when we can finally give them full expression?  Why would we want a “peace dividend” when we could leverage our military assets and become a global power the likes of which the world has never seen, one that would put the Romans and the British in the historical shade?  Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer caught the spirit of the moment in February 2001 when he wrote, “America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. Accordingly, America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will.”

What I didn’t realize back then was: America’s famed “containment policy” vis-à-vis the Soviet Union didn’t just contain that superpower — it contained us, too.  With the Soviet Union gone, the U.S. military was freed from containment.  There was nowhere it couldn’t go and nothing it couldn’t do — or so the top officials of the Bush administration came into power thinking, even before 9/11.  Consider our legacy military bases from the Cold War era that already spanned the globe in an historically unprecedented way.  Built largely to contain the Soviets, they could be repurposed as launching pads for interventions of every sort.  Consider all those weapon systems meant to deter Soviet aggression.  They could be used to project power on a planet seemingly without rivals.

Now was the time to go for broke.  Now was the time to go “all in,” to borrow the title of Paula Broadwell’s fawning biography of her mentor and lover, General David Petraeus.  Under the circumstances, peace dividends were for wimps.  In 1993, Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under Bill Clinton, caught the coming post-Cold War mood of twenty-first-century America perfectly when she challenged Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell angrily over what she considered a too-cautious U.S. approach to the former Yugoslavia. “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about,” she asked, “if we can’t use it?”

Yet even as civilian leaders hankered to flex America’s military muscle in unpromising places like Bosnia and Somalia in the 1990s, and Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen in this century, the military itself has remained remarkably mired in Cold War thinking.  If I could transport the 1990 version of me to 2015, here’s one thing that would stun him a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union: the force structure of the U.S. military has changed remarkably little.  Its nuclear triad of land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers remains thoroughly intact.  Indeed, it’s being updated and enhanced at mind-boggling expense (perhaps as high as a trillion dollars over the next three decades).  The U.S. Navy?  Still built around large, super-expensive, and vulnerable aircraft carrier task forces.  The U.S. Air Force?  Still pursuing new, ultra-high-tech strategic bombers and new, wildly expensive fighters and attack aircraft — first the F-22, now the F-35, both supremely disappointing.  The U.S. Army?  Still configured to fight large-scale, conventional battles, a surplus of M-1 Abrams tanks sitting in mothballs just in case they’re needed to plug the Fulda Gap in Germany against a raging Red Army.  Except it’s 2015, not 1990, and no mass of Soviet T-72 tanks remains poised to surge through that gap.

Much of our military today remains structured to meet and defeat a Soviet threat that long ago ceased to exist.  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2015 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Military

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