What Shock is Enough?
Tigerhawk asked the question: What will it take to militarize the West?
Whoa. … That’s a real porcupine, that one. I noticed that no one in the comments section was actually answering the question, and for a very good reason. The premises and implications are much more interesting, although the actual question is not without its charm.
Are We Ready?
First of all, we see the implication that our current state of readiness does not satisfy the definitional requirements, in the Tigerhawk mind, of militarization. It is true that we are not prepared to confront the Cold War Soviet Army as it pours through the Fulda Gap, at least not in the same way. Please note that the Red Army no longer shows the same bellicosity that it did in the fifties. Our state of readiness with respect to the People’s Republic of China is, admittedly, a matter of debate. Thomas Barnett, at least, does not see a modern PRC threat, but it could be and has been argued that the threat is not being adequately addressed. Is this what Tigerhawk is talking about? What conceivable threat is there on this planet that could challenge our military as it stands today? I think we all know what he is thinking. He is looking at the Muslim World and counting heads. One billion Muslims against a mere 300 million Americans, weak, unprotected, soft Americans, not to mention the fifth column in the Heartland.
Americans did not show themselves to be inadequate to the task in World War II. We may have started out soft, unprepared and maybe undernourished, but we prevailed, and IMO, we could have prevailed alone if it had been necessary. The longer we waited, however, the worse it would have been. OK, as Tigerhawk implies in his question, there was Pearl Harbor, which bolted us out of our self-absorbed torpor. If it hadn’t been for that, would we have ever confronted the evil in time? The fundamental time limitation was the Bomb, which Hitler might have built. We, meaning the government, didn’t really understand that limitation until the war had already started. The People didn’t know about it until Hiroshima. Would we have acted differently if we had?
If not for Pearl Harbor, what would it have taken for us to militarize the West in those days? We should question the premise. In fact, we were already doing a lot, especially for Britain. We should have done it sooner, but we were already making war by proxy. We had already started drafting soldiers of our own. We had already started marching them up and down with wooden rifles, and we were already producing real guns as fast as we could. In short, the people in charge were taking appropriate, if inadequate, action. Pearl Harbor was a shock, but it wasn’t really a surprise. My point is that we are in the habit of being ready.
I had an old friend, long dead I’m afraid, who claimed he was working as an Army officer in Louisiana with General Patton some time before the War. He was perfecting a technique of attacking an enemy line with tanks under deliberate friendly artillery fire. The idea was that the suppressing fire would cause fewer casualties than the Germans could if they were allowed to approach the tanks. My friend explained that they gamed with sacks of white powder rather than real shells. (He also claimed that the concept was his idea and Patton stole it without credit.) The point being, we knew the nature of the battle that was coming, we knew who the enemy was and we were planning for that war.
OK, are we as tough today as we were then? Military types have always been inclined to pooh-pooh the qualities of today’s young soldiers. I’m sure a similar tale is inscribed on a pyramid somewhere. My father was an officer in WWII, and I remember his descriptions of the conscripts. Even if he were exaggerating, our young civilians would have to make much better soldiers than those guys. They are, today, healthier, stronger, smarter and better educated by far. If nothing else, they know what war is about. They have watched a hundred war movies and played paintball and videogames since they were two. I know they can’t track a boar through the woods, but they have played on the streets in some tough neighborhoods. Watching the performance of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think our young people are plenty tough enough.
I know our leaders seem like a gaggle of dunderheads, but they have in fact been making appropriate and more than adequate preparations. What worried Eisenhower was the extravagance of these preparations and the associated corruption. We have been preparing for dozens of different wars in the abstract. We have developed whole sciences out of strategy, logistics and communications, not to mention hardware. We outspend the rest of the world by some multiple that I don’t really care to know precisely. Bad things happen in the government. People are sloppy, corrupt, self-ambitious and stupid, but people have not been sitting on their hands.
I’m sad to say that we do not have universal conscription, like the Swiss and the Israelis, but take heart in this. The reason a nation wins wars rests in the power of its economy, not in the size of its Army. We beat the Nazis with factories more than guns. If I have any worries about the readiness of our military today, it has to do with the rough treatment that our economy has received at the hands of a Republican administration and our continuing foolish dependence on oil.
Do We Need More Military?
The second premise in Tiger Hawk’s question is that we need to improve our military in order to withstand the onslaught of the madmen of the Middle East. This idea is absurd. For one thing, with the exception of Iran and Syria, these countries are our allies! The governments of Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are just as uncomfortable with the lunatics in their midsts as we are. They are all living on the brink of chaos, but we are helping them hold it together and they are helping us. Iraq and Afghanistan require constant attention, and will require attention for many years to come, but only because of the objectives of the operation and the rules of engagement. These battles have been won, though perhaps not as neatly as we would like. The only place, the only place, we can lose them is in the living rooms of America. The financial cost is very high, but we can afford it (or we could if politicians had the guts to raise taxes). The cost in lives is painful but light when viewed with some historical perspective. The cost in military capacity is, as far as I can tell, non-existent.
Think about it. While we have been fighting in Iraq non-stop, we have been improving everything that gets sent over there, building better barracks, better armor, better medical facilities. Am I wrong? We helped out in a big way in Indonesia during the tsunami crisis in Indonesia and sent, I don’t know, was it hundreds of helicopters to Pakistan after the big earthquake in Kashmir – not to mention the supplies themselves. These were logistical triumphs. We were there firstest with the mostest at four places on the far side of the world, and we had sufficient resources to monitor N. Korea, persuade the PRC to stay out of Taiwan and man the biergartens in Germany. Contrary to the urban legend, we also had a strong and competent military response in the aftermath of Katrina. Did you know that somebody is dealing with the pirates off of Somalia and in the Malacca Straits? Who do you suppose that is?
I believe that, depending on the rules of engagement, we also have the military capacity to do whatever we want to Iran. That’s the point. We don’t have the desire to do anything to Iran. We want to do something for Iran, which is a more complicated problem, just as it is in Iraq and Afghanistan. Addressing our problems with the current government of Iran requires us, once again, to adjust the thinking in the living rooms of America. The President’s hands are tied at the present time. Americans, frankly, trust the Mullahs more than the Bushes, and that is the concern that motivates Tigerhawk’s question. Most people are not particularly afraid of Iranian nukes because 1) they don’t believe it, and 2) we lived with the Soviet’s nukes for a long time. People are, however, afraid of our own government because, time and time again, it deceives us and tries to circumscribe our freedoms.
Is There a Threat?
The People of the US are truly in charge. But their judgment is poor and our representatives know it. The two reasons that the government deceives us and hides its actions are 1) to do the right thing and 2) to do the wrong thing. The right thing is, unfortunately, preparing for war. The wrong thing is the usual nonsense about lining pockets and earmarks. Does the wrong thing involve massive conspiracies that run over decades? I say hogwash again. The government is disperse, inept and lethargic. The Press is invasive and energetic. Secrets have a half-life measured in minutes unless they are plainly justified. Guys like the junior senator from Wisconsin are aberrations. But even there, think about what he was doing. He was representing a significant sentiment of the American People. Our government is not the problem.
What is the right thing with regard to so-called Islamic fascism? First of all, let me assure you that I think the threat is very real. I think that most of us, at least on the liberal side, underestimate the extent of the threat drastically.
Some see our own country as the bigger threat. This is based, for the most part, on historical misinterpretations of US actions in the past. These misinterpretations stem fromthe secretive nature of the Cold War and the residue of liberal myopia toward the evils of World Communism. Another issue is the liberal suspicion of bias and reactionary scheming. We see racism, sexism and challenges to the Bill of Rights behind every tree. We see Big Money interests behind every door in Washington. This is all, well almost all, hypersensitive reactions to the chronic patterns of government. Today, whenever a politician is caught in a crime, it is almost always penny-ante chiseling, sex and drugs, or questionable campaign finance activities. Power trips are the coin of the realm, but guys like J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy are rare, and Nixon’s crime was just a juggling act to cover up the aforementioned campaign finance activities. Even he wanted to do the right thing. The paranoid scenarios about Bushhitlerchimp parceling out Iraqi oil rights to his Big Oil buddies contain no truth. Wag the Dog is only a movie. Impotence is the big problem with our government.
In fact, radical Islam is a highly contagious memeplex. It has the dangerous glimmer of religious madness, madness that has conquered the world in the past. We think we are above this today because we, in the US and Europe, have such strong countermemes. Naziism and Communism were similar memeplexes. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous they were. Christianity has been the same, but is now partial to civilized norms. Contrary to our contented assumption of homogenous goodwill, however, we actually have so many different radical groups in the United States that they almost cancel each other out – not that they don’t keep the FBI busy. It has always been this way. We are constantly juggling with live coals, but never catching fire.
Islam, however, has breached our shores without suffering our history. The countermemes are not yet in place. There are large populations in Western countries that have no loyalty to the West. There are many more whose first loyalty is to Islam. I, personally, don’t like this at all, but it is really nothing new. We have Amish and Hutterites and Hasidics and, presumably, polygamist Mormons who feel the same way. We also have terror groups who use violence to further their goals, such as white supremacists, PETA activists, Earth Firsters, anti-abortion extremists and homophobics with poor impulse control. So why is radical Islam any different?
It is different because some of the core values of the religion are antithetical to western ideals. It is different because the Islamic population in the West is no longer small and is growing fast. The interface is under tremendous stress. It is different because it is new to us. It is new and attractive, it is new and frightening, and its tendencies are not completely understood. Muslims, whether immigrant or not, find the West to be new and confusing and threatening as well. The money and values of the West, and the prominent decorative aspects of our civilization, are squeezing out traditions that have been very resistant to change. We, in the West, have already been through those changes, with comparable resentment, but the changing is largely complete.
So, Islam is not comfortable with us. Its discomfort is conducive to the spread of Radical Islam, which is different than all our other ideological enemies today. It is a committed, passionate, devious and intelligent enemy. We, on the other hand, are still mostly indifferent to this enemy, not caring, not believing, not respecting, all this despite 911. This is precisely what Tigerhawk is talking about. If 911 didn’t wake us up, what will? He sees that we have not yet made the kind of commitment that Pearl Harbor engendered.
How Should We Respond?
We are presently seeing concerted efforts to have the Secretary of Defense fired. Everyone from Joe Lieberman to John McCain is calling for it. Leftish Democrats would like to see him shot. Yet it is this same individual who has given us the clearest summation of the threat. We can kill a hundred terrorists a day but get nowhere if the Madrassas are pumping out a thousand. So what do we think he’s doing about it? And what should he be doing about it?
I have discovered, in my random walk around the Internet, that the Left gives me very little insight into the conduct of the War. There is a lot of accusation, but very little illumination, heavy on the diatribes. There are some individuals, members of the military analysis genre of blogs, who consistently surprise and educate me. Many of the accusations from the Left turn out to be baseless. Much of the speculation of the other group turns out to be true, at least as far as I am able to evaluate it. The fact that I am still learning from the one group, but not the other, leads me to believe that there is a great deal of hidden strategy yet to be learned. In other words, the Government is not showing all its cards. It has plans. It has strategies. It understands thereal root causes and is taking steps to address them. These actions may be expensive and may not be. They may involve building hospitals in Sudan or training bumblebees to locate minefields or writing inspirational songs in Farsi. I don’t know what the steps are. I have confidence that something is being done. I hope it doesn’t involve invading Cambodia and leaving the Khmer Rouge in charge, but I trust the Administration to make wise decisions.
So what should our response be? It should be to let the President, no, help the President to do his job. Encourage him to pursue the policy he had laid out in the Bush Doctine. He’s no genius, but he has some pretty bright people working for him. If he has the elbowroom he will make the right choices, choose the right weapons, make credible threats and impose painful punishments. If he has the support, he will do the right thing. Remember. Like it or not, we elected a President. If he doesn’t have the authority to do his job, we have no government at all. I think we need one about now.
But Iraq, you say, is not Radical Islam. Fair enough. It was, however, a fascist state. For me, that is reason enough to have it overthrown. Bush would never have done it without 911. He looked at the Middle East and saw a thousand more 911s in the making. What to do?
Iraq was actually a bulwark against radical Islam. Saddam flirted with it, but he only let it out for his own purposes. His cynical group had no interest in such things. His rules of engagement were such that these fanatics were no threat to him. But Bush was repulsed by the future he saw over there. Eternal repression, limitless cruelty. The only hope he could see for the Arabs was for us to share our vision, to give them the understanding of what is possible, to show them the way out of the choice between fascist tyranny and the consequences of religious absolutism. Our way is a better way. Denying that is after the 20th century is not rational, and failure to intervene in Iraq was almost morally unjustifiable. It was not a hard decision to turn it into a project, a demonstration project. We are going to turn Iraq into a modern democracy that will be characterized by liberty and tolerance. Or at least, we are going to turn it into a place than can eventually mold itself into such a paragon.
So, What Will It Take to Militarize the West?
Let us rephrase the question thusly: What will it take for the peoples of the West to truly recognize the threat of Radical Islam and to allow appropriate action to be taken? I think that’s what Tigerhawk really should be asking. Because, what does military development really mean in such asymmetrical warfare? What does it mean in the Hobbesian world of Iraq? What actions correspond to mobilization when there are no targets? And how can we respond when we don’t know what the outcome will be? We don’t even know what the desired outcome could be. So how do we know we even need to respond?
There are lots of people trying to clarify these issues, but willful partisan blindness keeps us from settling on consensus policies.
Here’s how it’s going to be settled, and Tigerhawk knows it. There will be further incidents. Despite the best efforts of our government agencies, some dramatic and tragic event will take place. Our defense is persistent, but their offense is more so. When they get so many shots on goal, they will eventually score, and somebody’s death will serve as an irrefutable message, a clarification of implacable intent. It could be Salmon Rushdie or Bruce Willis. It could be children in a grade school as it was in Chechnya. It could be a nuclear power plant or the Golden Gate. Something will happen. And if it doesn’t do the job, then something else will happen. Eventually we will get the message that these people do not want to be our friends.