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Equation and what it may mean for us
Is Our Military Overpriced and Outdated?
It's clear to any rational person that the U.S. is
losing in Iraq. The surge may have helped slightly, but even that's
disputed, and, at best, it's too little too late. Even if you believe that
it's still militarily possible for us to win, the political will to pay the
costs necessary to do so just doesn't exist any more. The American people
have given up on the war, and, even if President Bush manages to resist the
pressure to throw in the towel until the end of his presidency, his doing so
will ensure his party's resounding defeat in the next election. The U.S.
will be out of Iraq soon after the new President is sworn
There's little doubt that our leaders will declare victory when we leave Iraq, but there's correspondingly little doubt any true victory cannot be achieved without several years more effort (and maybe not even then). So, our "victory" will be merely an attempt to put the best face on a disastrous situation - Iraq will remain a terrorist training ground, and it may be torn apart by increasingly murderous sectarian divides. If we are lucky, we will be able to claim credit for a weak central government. This government's strength will correspond directly with its degree of authoritarianism, it will be semi-Islamist, and it will discriminate against women and minorities. At a minimum, Iraq will produce far more terrorists, and be a far more dangerous place to live than under Saddam Hussein. Our enemies will not be impressed by this result, and will see through our claims of "victory." Our defeat, along with the dismal view of America our war has created, will engender more resistance to our policies in the future.
Given this result, it's clear that it did not make sense to spend half a trillion dollars and the lives of several thousand of our service members in an attempt to reform Iraq. Yet, one can see why President Bush initially believed our goals easily achievable. After all, we have the best trained, best equipped, most modern military in the world. Our total yearly military budget is over 500 billion dollars - only a 100 billion or so short of being equal to the total military budget of all of the other countries in the world combined. We easily overthrew the Taliban, and our military steamrolled the Iraqi military. Despite all this, however, our military - unmatched by any other military on Earth - has been defeated by a bunch of rag tag terrorists whose total budget is probably only a few million, and who hate each other about as much as they hate us.
Given the extraordinary effectiveness of the
terrorist movement in Iraq, one has to ask if there is any use to our enormous
military. Despite all our spending, and despite the lives we've lost, we
can't even pacify one small country. Our powerful military has been
defeated by a tactic that it isn't prepared to handle - terrorism/guerrilla
Some might suggest that the reason we can't pacify Iraq is that we're "too squeamish," we're "unwilling to be brutal enough." The flaw in that argument is that brutality tends to make a populace more eager to resist its occupiers, and Iraq is a bad enough place to live that the people aren't likely to be easily intimidated. By becoming more brutal, we would only drive more people into the arms of the terrorists. In fact, there are several recent examples of occupying countries becoming more brutal to pacify the local population, and having it backfire - we ourselves tried that tactic in Vietnam, and it only made things worse.
Some might also point out that we successfully invaded Iraq and toppled its government. Granted, our occupation has been a failure, but the invasion was a huge success. So maybe we should only use our military for toppling governments, and not for rebuilding them. The flaw in that idea, however is that there are much cheaper ways to topple a government. We could have sent a few CIA assassins after Mr. Hussein. If that had failed, we could have spent a night bombing the hell out of Baghdad. We could have coordinated air strikes and special forces operations with on the ground Iraqi rebel groups, a la Afghanistan and Kosovo. If all of those options were off of the table, we could have put a 100 billion dollar bounty on Saddam Hussein's head. The person who killed him would have been the richest man in the world, and we would have saved more than 400 billion dollars and thousands of American lives.
Some might also argue that we need an enormous military in case we go to war with another major power. Again, however, much of our military would be unnecessary in such a scenario. If our vital interests are ever threatened, we will use nuclear weapons, and our nuclear armaments are sufficiently vast as to make conventional forces irrelevant. If our vital interests are not threatened, then it doesn't make sense to go to war with another major power - both parties would face ruinous economic consequences.
Given these facts, it does not make sense to continue spending almost as much on our military as the rest of the world combined. We should continue to maintain a robust nuclear capability to defend our vital interests. We should also retain our air power and our special forces so that we can intervene in local conflicts. Most importantly, however, we should greatly pare back the bulk of our military spending and devote it to other priorities - such as education and research (two fields that form the foundation of our long term power). Our vast military has been rendered impotent by a new tactic. We should not ignore this fact.