A column by Max Boot in Monday's paper (“Mistakes in military assumptions”) contains more begged questions per column inch than anything else I've read recently. The point he is trying to make is that our defense budget, and our vigilance, and – I would say – our paranoia, cannot, and should not, be reduced one iota just because we appear to have made a strategic withdrawal from Iraq. No, because all of the dangers and perils are still out there! The world is full of drooling, ravening beasts, like cartoon wolves in the Little Red Riding Hood story – and they are, by and large, Moslem, which means less than human... and they are, needless to say, all “terrorists”, which means they don't fight fair. They don't stand up and fight like a man, but use crude weapons like IEDs – whereas we, who are much more gentlemanly, prefer to use unmanned drones.
Well, he doesn't say all of these things in so many words, but they are all strongly implied by what he does say. And his sense of history is somewhat... distorted, let's say. He has what I would call "causality issues". He starts off by criticizing Obama, of all people – a shameless servant of the armaments industry – for allowing our “readiness” to slip while, at the same time, warning against anyone getting excited about a post-Iraq “peace dividend”. In other words, while Obama preaches an endless and perpetual war footing, he's not putting the taxpayers' money where his mouth is – and Boot finds this objectionable. If we are to be in a state of perpetual war, then we should unabashedly provide the appropriate resources, and stop mealy-mouthing! The economy and “social issues” can just pick through whatever's left (if anything) after the war bucks come off the top.
So Boot points out that “defense spending was slashed by $487 billion over 10 years”. “Slashed”!! Now there's a scare word for you. $487 billion over 10 years is about like the average citizen saying they're going to buy one less pack of gum a month. Absolutely no felt need to question the magnitude of our current defense spending – especially how much of it is spent on bona fide “defense” as opposed to wars of aggression, religious crusades, and empire building.
Then we have that “special committee” that – as planned – failed miserably, resulting in an “automatic” $500 billion in additional defense cuts. Well, everyone knew that was a hoax in the first place. Sure, go ahead, hold “defense” hostage in order to force Congress to make budget cuts elsewhere. Actually, the committee's failure was the best possible outcome – now the “social programs” don't get cut and, when the day of reckoning arrives, neither will defense. They'll find a way around it, trust me.
So with all these faulty assumptions, Boot concludes that “the defense budget could shrink by 31 percent over the next decade” -- again, not questioning whether even larger cuts might not be in order. After all, as he points out, previous cuts were 53% post-Korea, 26% post-Vietnam, and 34% post-Cold War. It strikes me that 31% is about right from that perspective. But ah, that was before we were placed on a perpetual war footing by the Regime and its servants in Washington.
But how does Boot make his argument? He seems to believe that the “mistakes of the past” can be summed up in one phrase: “peace dividend”. If there is no such thing, in reality, as real peace, then how can we expect a peace dividend? If the wisest thing to do after any war is to begin preparing for the next war, than anyone who expects a peace dividend is living in a dream world. And I suppose, on some level, he believes that the best way to prevent war is to prepare for war – as he implies by citing previous instances of “failure” in this regard, like World War I, World War II, and Korea. Is it possible that the promoters of perpetual war are actually the realists of our time? And that, paradoxically, if we prepare sufficiently for perpetual war that the result will be perpetual peace? An argument can just as readily be made the other way – that if we prepare for war, we will be more likely to get into wars simply because we are prepared, and feel confident of the result. After all, and as I have pointed out, our post-Vietnam war preparations (despite that 26% cut) made it as easy to engage in the Gulf War as falling off a log. The military was ecstatic, in fact – at last, an opportunity to exorcise the ghosts and demons of Vietnam, and try out all the new “hardware” as well.
But what Boot doesn't ask – because he seems incapable of thinking along these lines – is, was our involvement in World War I really advisable? Was it (for us) a “just war”? Or was it simply an early manifestation of our missionary zeal to remake the world in our own image? Pat Buchanan has even asked if our involvement in World War II was legitimate. Does Boot really believe that if we had hung around Europe after Armistice Day, it would have prevented the rise of National Socialism? How precisely would we have managed to do that – maybe by prohibiting all meetings of over 3 people? And would we have stepped in before Hitler was made chancellor? I mean... you seem to have all the answers, Max, so let's hear it. (And when it comes to Japan, we actively sought out conflict in the Pacific – so how does his position square with that?)
But after World War II, we seemed to have learned a lesson – right? We kept troops in all of the defeated Axis powers, where they remain to this day... but that wasn't enough for Max, no siree! We apparently should have also stationed troops in South Korea in order to prevent an invasion from the north – as if, once again, we had any vital interests in that area. The Korean War may have been a war worth fighting if you were South Korean... but was it really worth all of our own dead and wounded? Then – to descend further into the inferno – we have Vietnam, which no one since has had the nerve to seriously defend. Boot cites many of the problems the Army had in the post-Vietnam era, which presumably led to lack of preparedness. Well, right – because Vietnam was a disaster, Carter punished the military (rather than the real guilty parties) with budget cuts and incompetent civilian leaders. And the “drug use, racial tension and insubordination” that Boot cites were, in many cases, direct or at least indirect symptoms of the Vietnam episode. In other words, one war led to lack of preparedness for the next war (which we didn't fight); it's hard to see how this is accounted for in his model – if war is good, then how can it have such bad effects? Shouldn't wars complement each other?
Curiously, Boot pretty much skips over the Vietnam war per se in his discussion, only citing some sort of mysterious “massive drawdown” in the 1970s. But shame on us! We failed to keep the Russians from invading Afghanistan, and did not respond with military force when the Iranian radicals captured our embassy staff. But let's say the post-Vietnam era was not the debacle that it was. Would we really have jumped into the ring to defend Afghanistan against the Russians, as he implies we should have? What we did do, it seems to me, was much more strategic, which was to support Afghan partisans. The fact that they later morphed into the Taliban... well, that's another story.
And why would we have needed a world-class and global army to rescue the hostages in Iran? This sounds like a small, elite unit operation to me. What kept it from happening was not lack of readiness, but gross incompetence on the part of Carter (who, it can be argued, caused the crisis in the first place by giving the Shah sanctuary). Let's not forget that the hostages were set free about five minutes after Reagan took office – not by an army magically transformed in that short time, but with a promise (made through diplomatic channels) to, basically, vaporize Tehran if they weren't let go.
But all was not lost. Things improved markedly later on, and the evidence for this is our victory in the Gulf War. But then, on the heels of that victory, we once again greedily insisted on a “peace dividend”, and I guess the result was the events of 9/11/2001. I mean, gosh, if we hadn't been so hedonistic we might have managed to prevent 9/11! (Once again, Max, let's see some evidence on this.)
And finally, we reach the bottom of the pit with Iraq and Afghanistan – and yet Boot seems to think that these, as well as all previous, involvements were perfectly jolly, fine, and necessary. He says, for instance, that “our abdication of leadership [after World War I] made a second world war more likely.” Well... who ever said that our involvement in World War I automatically made us a “leader”? A leader over Europe? Did anyone over there agree with that? Only in the feverish delusions of Woodrow Wilson would such a thing ever seem like a reality.
Do you see the reasoning (or lack thereof) here? Whenever anything good happens, it's because we were “prepared” and “ready”. When bad things happen it's because we insisted on doing something else with our lives besides making war. Or, as Richard Spencer pointed out in “Israel and Empire” (Taki's Magazine, June 25, 2008), “Setbacks are opportunities for demanding we redouble our efforts; successes are justifications for a long-term presence. All outcomes lead to the same policy.”* And with the current emphasis on small, agile, elite, high-tech units, why is Boot arguing for what seems to be the massive military structure of wars up through World War II? Isn't it obvious that human wave tactics are a thing of the past? Or maybe he doesn't think so.
And mainly, there is never any question about the justifiability of our war-fighting efforts – any war we get involved in is, by definition, just and proper. The only fault Boot ever finds is that we don't act sooner, or with more resources. Or, that we're not already in any place where war breaks out, in order to nip it in the bud. Clearly, his ideal world would be one in which the United States was heavily armed beyond even the wildest dreams of the Pentagon, and had troops stationed on every acre of land on the planet, in order to keep anyone else from starting anything. The fact that this would be, number one, impossible, and number two, self-defeating doesn't seem to enter his consciousness... nor does the question of whether this should be the sole mission of the United States. Were we really put on this earth to do nothing but police everybody else? While the rest of the world occasionally enjoys periods of peace, this is forbidden to us, because we have a higher duty to perform – and yet who gave us this assignment if not ourselves? Why is our military budget greater than that of the rest of the world combined... unless we really are supposed to be the world's army? But if that's the case, why does the rest of the world typically object to our efforts, and urge us to leave at the earliest possible opportunity (except the ones who are making big money from our military bases, etc.)?
It really is difficult, at times, to tell the difference between a ruling, dominant empire and a bunch of short-tempered, paranoid, delusional dupes. Max Boot is all for empire, but the delusion shows through as bright as day.