Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Military, Part II

It's taken over a month, but here's some more thoughts on the military, following up on the first one I wrote back on September 13.

I would be lying if I said the US military has been well-used over the past few decades. I would be lying if I said I agreed with our troop deployments since the Reagan years. From Beirut and Grenada to Yemen and Libya, with the possible exception of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, American policy-makers have, by and large, treated the finest military in the world as a useful toy rather than the projection of American power as a way of intimidating our potential foes. The misuse of our military over the past decade has been extravagant, leaving it overstretched, taxing its mental and physical and financial resources, mocking the willingness of tens of thousands of Americans willingly to set aside their own safety and peace of mind in service to the defense of their country. When military leaders are asked to give their assessments of threats, folks across the political spectrum usually howl at what follows: the right carried on when global warming was called the most significant long-term military challenge the US will face; any mention of terrorism makes the Left upset because too often, that word has been used as a code for anti-Muslim sentiment (a situation made worse by recent revelations that the Justice Department has been using anti-Muslim propaganda in seminars).

Then, of course, there are the various criminal acts in which members of the military have engaged. Abu Ghraib. The murder of Iraqi civilians. These haven't helped the image of our troops among those predisposed to think ill of them, here and abroad. Yet, that is not who, nor is it what, our military is.

At its most basic, the military is an instrument of policy. The long history of uniformed deference to civilian control, while certainly staving off any possibility of the dread of a military threat to civilian rule, also leads the military to follow orders one could easily guess the military would not follow, given its druthers. At the same time, when ordered, say, to invade Iraq, or bomb Libya, or send Marines to Beirut (for what reason I'm still trying to figure out; memory is ill-served and the historical record doesn't make a whole lot of sense), the military is ordered to figure out how to do so efficiently and effectively. When the uniformed leaders bring their plans to their civilian leaders - like Donald Rumsfeld - and those plans for troop deployment are cut in half - as happened in the invasion of Iraq - and the military plans included policing after the collapse of local political leadership are completely deleted - as happened with the Iraqi invasion - for some reason, it is the military that takes the brunt of the complaint.

Then, of course, there are the folks who don't quite get that criticizing American foreign or military policy is not a criticism of the military per se, let alone criticism of "the troops". Criticizing DoD budget bloat is not code for being anti-military. It is what it is - criticism of budgetary bloat, a political process that deforms what should be a fiduciary responsibility of the highest priority. In recent years economies have been sought in odd places by the Congressional purse-holders. Pay for troops. Health care for troops and veterans. Physical plant for veterans' hospitals. Body armor and armored troop transports for forces in combat. I could go on.

I have said it several times, and will repeat it, just in case you missed it. We have the finest military in the world. Dedicated, professional, thoughtful, most of all willing to sacrifice the comforts of civilian life for the hazards inherent in uniformed service, we owe them a debt of gratitude that extends far beyond the simple platitudes we too often hear repeated for the services they have rendered in the past decade of wars. We owe them a demand that they be better used by their civilian leaders. We owe them the virtue of being listened to when asked their opinions on matters that relate directly to their mission. We owe them restructuring how we fund them, how we equip them, how we set up their force-structure so they can more effectively do their jobs. No more destructive wars of choice, fought on the cheap, ignoring basic realities such as the chaos that comes from the collapse of indigenous government institutions and the potential for civil and religious strife once a heavy hand is lifted.

Virtual Tin Cup

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