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Useful Idiots and their "Conservative" Allies By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 03, 2008

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, February 28, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. proclaimed in a joint statement:

We have looked at the future and expect a future of protracted confrontation among state, non-state, and individual actors who will use violence to achieve political, religious, and other ideological ends. We will confront highly adaptive and intelligent adversaries who will exploit technology, information, and cultural differences to threaten U.S. interests. Operations in the future will be executed in complex environments and will range from peace engagement, to counterinsurgency, to major combat operations. This era of persistent conflict will result in high demand for Army forces and capabilities.

They listed a variety of causes for future conflicts including radicalism (both nationalist and religious), population growth pressing upon scarce resources, and the spread of military technology beyond Weapons of Mass Destruction. Similar lists have been drawn up throughout mankind’s bloody history. Even the spread of economic growth, which has improved the condition of billions of people, has mixed results. The economic capacity of secondary powers to sustain military operations has improved, while the heightened spirit of nationalism (often drawing on ethnic or religious fervor) has bolstered the willingness of people to fight on even under adverse conditions.

What made headlines was the Army leader’s testimony that:

Today’s Army is out of balance. The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies....Equipment used repeatedly in harsh environments is wearing out more rapidly than programmed. Army support systems, designed for the pre-9/11 peacetime Army, are straining under the accumulation of stress from six years at war.

The Army currently has 591,000 soldiers on active duty (including 52,000 Army National Guard, and 21,000 Army Reserve). Forty-two percent (251,000) are deployed or forward-stationed in 80 countries around the world. Geren and Casey still maintained, “Our expeditionary Army is capable of deploying rapidly into any operational environment, conducting operations with modular forces anywhere in the world, and sustaining operations as long as necessary to accomplish the mission.”

But the strain is evident. The massive cutbacks in Army force levels in the 1990s reduced combat divisions from 18 to 14 under President George H. W. Bush, then down to 10 under President Bill Clinton.

One of the most important initiatives in the FY 2009 defense budget is to increase U.S. ground combat forces; the “boots on the ground” needed to secure any victory. The goal is to add approximately 74,000 soldiers by 2010, split between Active, Guard, and Reserve. Active duty forces would reach 547,000 in 48 brigades, with another 358,000 in the National Guard and 206,000 in the Reserve. The Marine Corps will also be expanding its strength, with a goal of 202,000 by 2011. Marine strength will return to where it was at the end of the Cold War, but the Army will still be significantly below its 1989 strength of 769,700 Active duty soldiers.

The Army and Marines will also have to be “reset” to recover from equipment loss and damage, an effort that will also include the procurement of a new generation of weapons. This effort to reconstitute American ground combat capabilities is part of a FY 2009 Pentagon budget of $515.4 billion. This seems like a large amount, but it is less than 17 percent of the total $3.1 trillion budget. When expected supplemental requests are added for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total will still only reach about four percent of GDP. As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has pointed out, during the Korean War, 14 percent of GDP was going to defense, and during the Vietnam War, it was about 9 percent. The defense/GDP ratio refutes the notion that the United States has fallen into some sort of “imperial overstretch” that would make national decline inevitable.

Some of the most vehement criticism of this defense plan is coming from those who often claim they are from the “Old Right” and represent a mythical period of American isolationism when the country was free of any cares about the world. These false-flag “conservatives” are actually libertarians who share the Left’s philosophy on foreign policy, a desire to see the United States fail on the international stage. Their opposition to America using its wealth and strength to shape global events and hold the balance of power is not confined to the current wars in the Middle East but extended to the Cold War and even World War II.

Robert Higgs, Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute and editor of that organization’s journal, The Independent Review, attacked the new defense program in a column posted on LewRockwell.com. Higgs built his reputation on his 1987 book Crisis and Leviathan, a book which posited that a “leviathan” federal government arose during the nation’s mobilization for World War II, then carried into the Cold War.

The website of Lew Rockwell, who also runs the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, has become a haven for the antiwar movement. Commenting on the death of William F. Buckley Jr., Rockwell wrote, “I don't entirely buy into the idea that Buckley was a CIA Agent, as proposed by Murray Rothbard. But...the conservative movement he gave birth to (united by rabid anti-Communism interventionism abroad) has turned into a monster.”

Benjamin H. Friedman, a Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies at the Cato Institute, argued for cuts in defense spending because “the Cold War is over; China isn’t much of an enemy,” and North Korea, Iran, and Syria are too weak to bother with. Writes Friedman, “the defense budget is buying and operating mostly carrier battle groups, army divisions and fighter aircraft — tools rarely useful in fighting terrorists, and even then, far more abundant than we need.”

Here Friedman makes a common mistake. Terrorism is only one threat along a spectrum of violence adversaries use to attain political objectives. It is America’s dominance in conventional and high-end warfighting capabilities that keeps enemies at the low end of operations. Terrorism and insurgencies are the tactics of the weak; of those whose capabilities have not grown to where they can wage war on a scale that can win control of people and territory. Sustained insurgent warfare that can expand into a territorial threat requires outside support for arms, training and diplomatic backing. To deter outside intervention, a strong conventional capability is needed. And the big wars that can really change the fate of a region, or the world, are between competing major powers. Friedman may dismiss China, but Beijing is already using its rising industrial and financial leverage to shake up global politics in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America as it strives to become a “peer competitor” to America.

Doug Bandow, a former Cato staffer, has tried to rally fiscal conservatives against the Pentagon arguing, “Domestic issues are important, but the U.S. government's policy of promiscuous intervention, its foolish determination to insert itself in the middle of endless controversies around the globe, is what brought the horror of 9/11 upon the American heartland.” He has written, “Iraq is only a small factor for today's spendthrift hawks, who want to lavish money on everything everywhere. American foreign policy determines U.S. defense needs and thus military outlays. That is, the defense budget is the price of America's foreign policy.” Cutting defense would certainly hobble that policy, which is exactly what the left-liberals wanted to do at the end of the Reagan era.  

In 1988, under the auspices of the World Policy Institute, a budget plan for “American Priorities in a New World Era” was drawn up by a group of prominent liberals and leftists. Many of these notables would end up, not in the Michael Dukakis administration they had imagined, but in the Clinton administration a term later. Massive cuts in the military were proposed. By 1999, the Army would be cut to 7 divisions with 391,000 Active soldiers and the Marines would be reduced to 67,000. The stated rationale for the cuts was chilling, “The military strategy outlined...entails a 10-year transition to a less globally ambitious military posture...precluding U.S. intervention in regional conflicts except for humanitarian purposes and U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping efforts.” The report was published in the Spring 1989 issue of the World Policy Journal after George W.H. Bush had won the White House. However, the program was largely instituted under President Clinton. The second President Bush inherited a military that has been stretched thin by world events and will need significant effort to recover.

If left-libertarian views dominate the next administration, then America’s leadership in world affairs will collapse and the door will be open for the forces of radicalism, and the rise of new great powers. Global events will be dominated by states and groups with very different values and goals than those compatible with American security, or survival.

William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.

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