Monday, April 02, 2007

Give a damn: The obligations of a U.S. citizen

So you don’t like the Iraq War, doubt the outcome of the one in Afghanistan, and just wish the War on Terror would go away. Who doesn’t?

In fact, that line of thinking could be found within anyone who ever lived through a war that’s ever been fought by the United States, from the Revolution to Vietnam to the first war we fought with Iraq.

The problem, as a noted historian said, “It’s your country, your army and your war.” And peace, as scholars Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla noted in their book War: Ends & Means, in spite of what you may think, is not your birthright.

This is a democracy in which the citizenry is obligated but not required all too unfortunately, to vote, understand domestic politics, foreign policy, the government – local, state and national – military affairs and, yes, war. And sometimes a country’s citizens are required to participate in a war.

The American people, wrote John Adams, the country’s second president and likely the most intellectual of the Founding Fathers, were to become, he hoped, statesmen, writes one of his biographers, C. Bradley Thompson, in the book, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. He sought an enlightened citizen that “could distinguish between a necessary ‘reverence and obedience to Government on the one hand,’ and its ‘right to think and act’ for itself on the other, writes Thompson. Adams wanted all men, since they were the voters at the time, to be suspicious of those in power, says Thompson.

To take Adams’ argument a step further, not only should we be suspicious of those in power but we should be equally suspicious of those who seek it. This is not, as critics might say, to be paranoid or delusional but, rather, as Adams saw it, to be “independent, reasonable, and public-spirited,” writes Thompson.

In other words, as citizens, we need to raise our level of consciousness about our government. None of us should believe the sound bites bandied about by our politicians; instead, we are required, as Adams saw our obligations, to become informed on the issues facing the country, to discount the zealots on any given side, and to determine the best course of action for the nation. If necessary, we should also be willing to defend this nation, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice.

None of this is easy. The idea behind the American Revolution was that we had the ability and the intellectual capacity to lead ourselves. Those who fail to vote, fail to become fully informed on current events, blindly accept the arguments of any fanatic, and remain apathetic about the nation’s actions lend credence to arguments made centuries ago that people are incapable of self-government.

This blog entry seeks to put today’s foreign affairs into historical perspective, show the failings of the Bush Administration, and explain why we need to be concerned about the state of our military. We face a situation that hasn’t been seen since World War II or the Cold War. Our way of life, as well as that of the entire civilized world, runs counter to every terrorist organization in existence. All Americans are the enemy. They want the United States ruined, maybe even eliminated.


We have enemies. Osama Bin Laden is one of them. Others include North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Il and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are likely more, and they’re not pacifists.

In fact, they’re warmongers and cold-blooded killers. And unlike the U.S. government or our allies alongside us in Iraq and Afghanistan, our enemies report to no one. They’re terrorists. They violate a basic principle of government, which is to seek legitimacy from its people through elections. Terrorists we’re fighting gain authority through fear, threats and intimidation.

Their losses are of no concern to them. The only thing that matters to them is the number of people they kill and how much damage they inflict.

“The art of war is vital to the state,” wrote Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu more than 2,000 years ago. “It is a matter of life and death, a road to either safety or to ruin … under no circumstances can it be neglected” – even if you’re opposed to the ones we’re fighting or will fight in the future.

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children the right to study painting, music, architecture, statuary tapestry and porcelain,” wrote John Adams to his wife Abigail during the Revolution.

Had cooler heads not prevailed, Adams would have found himself putting his knowledge about war to work as the country’s commander-in-chief. While he was president, Adams nearly took us to war with France. Fortunately, the dispute was resolved before shots were fired.

If you believe the polls, a number of people disapprove of the Iraq War because it was preemptive, or illegal, based on deceit, and the endgame isn’t in sight. All of this might be true but keep in mind that President Bush, his Cabinet, and each and every member of Congress approved the war against Iraq looking at the same intelligence.

The biggest criticism one can offer about the information used to approve the Iraq War was that it was dated. It was, based on news reports, much of the same information that was used by the Clinton Administration to secure Congressional approval for a regime change in Iraq.

Did the President Bush lie to us? Perhaps. But if he did, he wasn’t the first president to lie to the American public about foreign and military affairs.

A splendid little war

President James K. Polk deliberately provoked Mexico into a war by ordering U.S. troops to march into disputed territory – and it became almost as unpopular in the 1840s as the ones we’re fighting today – in the name of Manifest Destiny. Polk had one political goal during his term as president – expand the country to the other shining sea, the Pacific Ocean. (It makes him one of the few presidents who did what he said he was going to do.)

There are two significant differences between the Mexican-American War and the ones we’re fighting today: First, hostilities were concluded in two years; second, the war resulted in territorial gains for the United States, including resolving the status of Texas (Mexico recognized it as part of the United States), and picking up New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Had the United States Navy possessed aircraft carriers in the 19th century, perhaps President Polk would have given a victory speech on the flight deck with a banner hanging in the background proclaiming “Manifest Destiny: Accomplished.”

There’s even evidence that Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the United States on a course to fight World War II. Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, a book about the Pearl Harbor attack, describes a memo written by naval officer who suggested eight actions to provoke Japan into a war with the United States.

Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum, a naval officer working in the War Department, writes the book’s author, Robert B. Stinnett, suggested the following policies in October 1940:

1. Arrange to use British bases in the Pacific, meaning Singapore
2. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
3. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chaing Kai-shek.
4. Send a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore.
5. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient.
6. Keep the main strength of the U.S. Fleet, now in the Pacific, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.
7. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.
8. Completely embargo all trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire.

FDR enacted many of these suggestions. They resulted in Japan attacking Pearl Harbor – which Stinnett maintains the President and his top commanders knew was coming – and, as a result, FDR gained vital public support for fighting Japan and, subsequently, Germany and Italy.

The State Department, says Stinnett, predicted what the world would look like if the Nazis stayed in power in Germany and the militarists continued to run Japan, concluding that neither was in the best interests of the United States.

As a result, FDR and his advisors, writes Stinnett, devised a strategy (outlined above) to provoke Japan into attacking the United States, which, they thought, might force Hitler into declaring war against us.

It’s important to remember that FDR was enacting his strategy against Japan in a clandestine manner while the American public believed that it had nothing to “fear but fear itself.” Did President Roosevelt lie to the American public about his intentions and the causes of the war? Most likely.

Would FDR have initiated a preemptive war against Japan or Germany? That question will remain unanswered because the U.S. military, just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, was a fifth-rate power – on a good day. Given the limited forces at the president’s disposal, not a single member of the U.S. high command could have possibly told the commander in chief how we could successfully, and preemptively, attack anyone.

World War II was costly to the United States: There were 400,000 combat deaths and another 600,000 wounded, a heavy price to make the world safe. Our involvement in the war lasted just under four years, and we averaged about 5,000 casualties a week.

Because we entered World War II, the Holocaust ended, fascism was severely ruined, the thought that a democracy could defeat a militarist power was proven, Atlantic Ocean shipping was made safe, and Japan stopped carrying out atrocities across Asia.

If we hadn’t fought World War II, there’s a possibility that today’s Nazi Germany might possess intercontinental nuclear missiles (their scientists were attempting to build nuclear weapons and had successfully launched rockets, armed with conventional weapons, against Great Britain); Japan was developing its own weapons of mass destruction, including the world’s first intercontinental bomber as well as biological weapons.

Carl von Clausewitz

Today’s War on Terror can’t help but to make one wonder if there’s anyone in the Bush Administration who has ever read a history book, like one about the Vietnam War, or bothered to study Carl von Clausewitz’s 19th century classic On War, a tome containing lessons that remain applicable today. It’s very likely that the generals and the admirals have studied these books; but, based on performance, one might doubt if their civilian leaders have done the same.

A Prussian officer, Clausewitz recognized that there were three key elements needed for any country to be successful in war – the will of the people, a well-commanded army and a government cognizant of its political aims. To suit a 21st century populace, we might the following: The government’s leaders need to effectively communicate the reasons their country needs to endure such hardship.

“A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it (the war) would be totally useless,” Clausewitz wrote.

In other words, all three need to be aligned on the means, ends and goals of any war. Otherwise, the effort is doomed.

During Vietnam, the Johnson Administration was criticized for only taking the Pentagon to war. President Johnson failed to do a number of things during the Vietnam War, including preparing a strategy for victory against North Vietnam; in addition, he also failed to bring about necessary American public support for the war effort.

As a result, four years after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, in 1968, as American casualties began to escalate significantly, along with CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite’s televised critique of the war, public support for Vietnam suddenly went cold.

Wars, especially ones fought by democracies, need to be won quickly. George C. Marshall, the Army’s World War II chief of staff, and likely the country’s most underrated military and political leader, wanted the war ended as fast as possible. He’d learned during his career that the United States public did not have an appetite for long, protracted wars.

Shortly after receiving his commission in 1903, Marshall went to the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, “when public opinion, once exultant about the new (U.S.) empire, had shifted to sympathy with the Filipinos resisting conquest,” write Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May in their book Thinking in Time: The uses of History for Decision Makers.

Just prior to his retirement from the Army, with World War II concluded, Marshall “spent his final weeks as Chief of Staff coping with ‘bring the boys home’ demonstrations,” write Neustadt and May.

The problem with the current wars is that, after five years, victory isn’t in sight; the political leadership fails to communicate effectively about our challenges and what’s at stake.

The other difficulty with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that we’re fighting a non-uniformed enemy. And unlike previous wars, with the exception of Vietnam, when we took and held enemy territory, we’re attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis and Afghans. Finally, all too often, our soldiers are contacting a military lawyer about the rules of engagement prior to taking out an enemy position, says retired Army Col. Michael D. Doubler, a military historian; these discussions have caused countless missed opportunities to kill the enemy.

Are we doing the right thing?

Any thought about whether our policies are correct in Afghanistan and Iraq needs to also take into consideration what the world would have looked like had we not fought any of the wars that mark our history.

Some questions we might ask:

Had we not fought the Civil War, how long would slavery have continued? What would a Nazi Germany look like today? If we had not fought Germany, would the United States, in effect, be tacitly supporting anti-Semitism?

Should we have continued to sell oil to Japan so it could kill innocent people and force women into sexual slavery but leave us alone? Could we sell our goods into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan’s economic plan for East Asia, had we not fought World War II?

Should we have let Kim Jung-Il’s father occupy South Korea in 1950? Did our involvement in Vietnam make the Soviets reconsider any plans they might have had to occupy Western Europe? Should we have let Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein occupy Kuwait? If we had left Hussein well alone would we be complicit in supporting his domestic policies, which included using rape and torture against his own people.

Would the world be safer with Hussein in Baghdad and the Taliban allowing Afghanistan to be a sanctuary for terrorists? How will the United States be perceived, by both its friends, enemies and detractors, in the Middle East and elsewhere, should it withdraw its military forces from Iraq, or Afghanistan, before the dispute is decided?

The answers to any of these questions are likely filled with speculation. But, I believe, more of often than not, our leaders acted correctly, even in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries go to war, write Seabury and Codevilla, because they don’t like the peace.

A peace that involves a tense standoff with neither side firing a shot isn’t peace. That’s a cold war, like the one we experienced for 44 years with the old Soviet Union, and, on occasion, it goes hot, as it did in Korea and Vietnam.

The notion that wars don’t solve anything is, as scholars Seabury and Codevilla point out, a “historical howler.” They solve all kinds of problems; but, to be accurate, they also give birth to other issues, which can become troubling.

The arguments made against our involvement in Iraq are similar to the ones that were made prior to our involvement in World War II. It was Europe’s war or Asia’s war, not ours, said the Republicans and those supporting isolationist policies. Emotions ran high on both sides of the argument.

So what does the world look like had we not invaded Iraq and Afghanistan?

With Iraq, a dictator remains in power, abuses his people, snubs the United Nations, pays Palestinians to commit suicide in Israel while the Arab World looks the other way. With Afghanistan, religious zealots are in power, abuse their people, allow terrorists to occupy their country and use it as a training ground for other terrorists.

We knocked off the Taliban without too much difficulty but instead of reinforcing our troops in Afghanistan and making sure that our quick victory was actually a victory – which involves changing the hearts and minds of the people – we went, as the British say, “civilian,” meaning we installed the government we wanted and hoped that Afghanistan was resolved, says Colonel Doubler.

It wasn’t. The Taliban returned and, as a result, 25,000 U.S. troops, along with soldiers from Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, are fighting them again.

Iraq is a similar story. We defeated its military without too much difficulty but then proceeded to lose the peace. Had we kept the Iraqi Army intact, many of its soldiers would not have become insurgents. In addition, we never blew up Iraqi ammunition installations, which were later raided by the insurgents.

Our biggest military accomplishment in Iraq, since defeating its Army, appears to be having divided and split the insurgency. There’s a group of insurgents made up of Iraqis, and they appear to be beginning to support the new government; in addition, this group of insurgents has provided, on occasion, information about Al Qaida in Iraq, another band of insurgents that’s composed of fighters who are from other Arab countries and tend to be more zealous in their approach.

The biggest political victory we can claim from Iraq and Afghanistan is that they have some sort of democracy. In addition, the Arab World, especially Saudi Arabia, is beginning to realize it needs to engage in a political discourse, without weapons, with Israel. Finally, the Saudis are beginning to take a leadership role in the Arab World.

The failures of the Bush Administration

The Bush Administration might be as close an example as can be found of being the Keystone Cops when it comes to directing foreign and military policies. They have effectively acerbated just about every ally we ever had; in addition, and more importantly, President Bush had an opportunity before him that no president had seen in nearly 60 years – an attack on U.S. soil.

Through a patriotic appeal, he could have won Congressional approval to expand the military. And had he bothered to explain what was at stake, both militarily and politically, America’s military forces would have grown substantially because people would have enlisted. All he had to do was appeal to the country’s sense of patriotism, which ran red hot after the 9/11 attacks.

Instead, we were told to go shopping. Or travel. We were directed to go about our lives as if nothing had happened. In fact, any change we made about our lives, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the president said, was tantamount to conceding victory to the terrorists.

President Bush did something that no president should ever be allowed to do – he conducted a war on the cheap. It was thought that the current force could handle its challenges. It can’t. It’s stretched to its limits, resulting in our troops – regardless if they’re part of the Regular Army, reservists, in the National Guard or Marines – returning to Iraq for their third and fourth tours of duty.

Colonel Doubler, speaking at the First Infantry Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, last week, said that only one percent of the country volunteers for the armed forces. At some point, Doubler said, “that one percent will begin to ask why it’s doing all the fighting and the dying.”

And what’s worse, in my estimation, is that if you walk down any street in America, with the exception perhaps of those near a military base, you’d never know the country is at war. What the Bush Administration has effectively done is told the citizens to become apathetic about this war. Others will think about it. Others will fight it. Others will die in it.

Apathy is the Bush Administration’s policy for the Home Front. The last thing the Bush Administration wants is a public that cares. Because a concerned citizenry might demand either that we pull out from Iraq or Afghanistan, as it’s beginning to do, or, worse, insist on better results for the energy, blood and treasure that’s been expended.

Finally, prior to hostilities with Iraq, President Bush should have directed his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to increase his diplomatic efforts. The secretary should have been directed to travel to France, Germany and Russia, our leading critics of the war, where he would have spoken privately to their leaders about what we knew about Iraq and our intentions.

The diplomatic effort might have failed. But, at the very least, President Bush could say that he had tried to show our allies and critics what was at stake and describe for them our intentions. The Bush Administration’s refusal to reach out to its foreign critics only further strained relations with those countries.

“Your country, your army and your war.”

Our fellow Americans, which include 19-year-old men, along with those in their 20s, 30s, even their late 40s, as well as women, are dying, being wounded or maimed on the grimy, sandy, rocky grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re sacrificing their lives as well as their entire future to secure one nation against civil war and keep another safe from terrorist occupation. They deserve our highest respect.

The stakes in Iraq have increased because the insurgency just introduced chemical warfare. They’ve blown up at least one bomb laced with chlorine. If this weapon is successful in Iraq, al Qaida will likely use it in Afghanistan, and it may just make its way to our shores.

Causing additional concern is Iran. It may have a nuclear bomb or it may be creating one, which will only increase peril and anxiety in the Middle East, perhaps the world. A nuclear-armed Iran should make all of us uneasy.

The bigger problem is the Bush Administration. It insists that our foreign and military challenges can be faced down with the same size armed forces, albeit a limited increase, as we had prior to 9/11.

To hear President Bush or Vice President Cheney speak, this is a clash of civilizations. It’s us or them. If we take them at their word, this is the greatest threat the nation has seen since World War II or the Cold War.

Our troops, already with two or three tours of duty in Iraq under their belts, are returning for their fourth. The United States armed forces aren’t sized properly. They need to be increased so we have the necessary number of troops to face down these grave threats.

“It’s your country, your army and your war,” said Colonel Doubler last week, meaning that every American needs to increase their level of awareness about the armed forces. You may not approve of the war, you may not see the current challenges as threat to our national security, but you need to concern yourself, because you’re a citizen, with the shape, size and well being of our armed forces.

If we don’t prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s hard to say if we’ll prevail tomorrow, when the threat might be even more severe. Our enemies will feel empowered if they’re victorious in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The best way to increase our armed forces, and end American apathy, is to reinstate the draft. Unlike the one we had during the Vietnam War, which deferred married men, those in college, as well as those over the age of 26, we need one that’s far more equitable. All men, up to age 50, should be subject to the draft. The only deferments should be for those who are veterans. A draft forces every American to live up to their obligations as a citizen.

If soldiers like 57-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Carlos Dominguez and 51-year-old Army Master Sgt. Robb G. Needham can make the ultimate sacrifice, why can’t any American who’s younger, perhaps in better physical condition, do the same?

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Great blog entry! Wouldn't it be interesting if Google owned the publishing industry?