by Quin Hillyer
In several other forums
I have written about a conference
on foreign- and defense-policy
I attended during Thanksgiving week, co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation. Still, so much good information was available that it seems a university-based audience would find it of interest. Herewith, then, some fairly random notes and quotes that did not make it into print anywhere else.
U.S. Army Gen. Steven Blum (Ret.), former deputy commander, United States Northern Command:
“The military we have today is based on decisions made 20 or 30 years ago.” And: “In every area, we fall short.... We don’t have the capabilities we need.” And: “Some of the demands the nation has put on the military in the last 20 years are really not military tasks,” because the military is “supplementing” the jobs usually done by the State Department, the FBI, the Red Cross, and others. And we always “cut too much” after wars end, especially if the economy has difficulties. But “if the economy is smaller and the intelligence is flawed, then the military should actually be getting bigger
in order to effectively deter wars in the future. Yet the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) we spend on defense today is less than half of what it was under President John F. Kennedy (before
Finally, Blum said that even though we don’t spend enough on the military, we also don’t spend current dollars efficiently. There is, he said, too much duplication: Among other examples, too many military branches have overlapping air units; and each branch has duplicative sets of lawyers.
Tom Donnelly, Director, Center for Defense Studies, American Enterprise Institute:
“An entire international system [that has successfully avoided worldwide conflagrations since World War II] really wouldn’t exist except for us [in the United States].” Yet “a large-scale error in one area can bring the system down.” Alas, in the past several years, “the decline in U.S. military power is precipitate.”
James Carafano, Director, Center for Foreign Policy Studies, Heritage Foundation (and 25-year Army vet):
“I fundamentally reject the premise that defense must bow to the ‘age of austerity.’” Heritage has produced a proposed budget/policy design that reaches a balanced budget and that “fully funds defense at 4 percent of GDP” (rather than heading well below 3 percent, as we are in the process of doing). The U.S. has served as the world’s “safety net” - not its policeman, but its ultimate guarantor of geopolitical stability - but “if we take the safety net off the table... that’s not okay.... It would mean that World War III is coming.”
Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation (and former CIA economic analyst for Asian issues)
: Afghanistan is “very important” for the fight against terrorism. It is “extremely critical that we remain engaged.” As we draw down troops from there, the negotiation of a solid bilateral security arrangement is “crucial” - because if we fail to establish one, as we did when we left Iraq, the Taliban and other terrorists will quickly become resurgent.
This is all, of course, extremely sobering stuff. And, as my other columns on the conference indicate, it was only part of the wealth of information (and warnings) that emerged from the gathering.
Here’s the situation: The United States cannot afford to solve all the troubles of the world. But for nearly a century now we have been the greatest force for good on the world stage, indeed the greatest force for good the world has ever known. We have defeated more tyranny, ensured more peace, provided more humanitarian aid, cured more outbreaks of disease, and promoted greater human rights than all other nations put together. Surely there is a realm where we still must operate, somewhere well short of being the world’s immediate policeman but also somewhere well in excess of a retreating, toothless tiger.
Americans live and work around the globe. Our businesses, even ones serving purely domestic clienteles, conduct worldwide commerce. And our homeland itself, as we saw on 9/11, is vulnerable to asymmetric attacks from evildoers in far-off lands, if we do not maintain worldwide vigilance. Finally, of course, humanitarian concerns and the ideals of human rights always lay claims upon our consciences - some of those claims we do, and some we don’t, have the wherewithal to meet.
A strong American military, firmly rooted in the best principles and guided by a sense of honorable restraint whenever possible, is an essential guarantor of our own safety and of peace and dignity throughout God’s earthly creation. It is a mighty force for good that should not be cavalierly undermined.