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The Tragedy of the American Military

If I were writing such a history now, I would call it Chickenhawk Nation, based on the derisive term for those eager to go to war, as long as someone else is going. It would be the story of a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military. Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness.

via The Tragedy of the American Military – The Atlantic.

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1 comment on “The Tragedy of the American Military”

  1. Militaris

    I haven’t been a great fan of James Fallows over the years, but the linked article is spot on. We’re long overdue for critical review of national strategy, specifically how we make the decision to go to war. I wrote a paper at the Naval War College in 2007 that got a chilly reception from some of the uniformed faculty, suggesting that America’s attitude toward war – precisely what Fallows is talking about – is so uneducated, undisciplined and inconstant that decisions on the use of force are not guided by any sort of strategy. They are political calculations that even fail the test of politics, because they do not recognize how detached the populace is from the consequences. Fallows addresses this question of national will and strategy in much greater depth, and is more readable besides. Here’s an extract of what I tried to say, in 2007 at the nadir of our experience in Iraq, before the “surge” appeared to redeem our fortunes:

    “The United States has become reluctant to enter into and sustain prolonged, costly, and uncertain land combat operations. Public support is a requirement for success in any U.S. military operation that exceeds a fairly low threshold of size, complexity, cost, and duration. Negative public opinion, translated through our political process into national will, can discourage presidents from undertaking military operations, and even when public opinion is initially supportive, it can shift in response to events during the conduct of operations. This shift can force reassessment, constrain policy and strategy choices, and ultimately prevent the successful conclusion of an operation. It would be wise to forthrightly acknowledge this constraint in the formulation of strategy, reflect it in force planning, and consider it in decision making regarding the use of force. . . Respect for the limits of U.S. national will as a fundamental constraint on the use of force could help to define a more realistic force structure, and reduce the likelihood of U.S. over-reach, failure, and embarrassment on the world stage. It would discourage the expenditure of treasure on forces that public opinion will not allow to be effectively employed, redirect any chosen level of military investment into capabilities that have greater utility, and caution decision makers against applying military force in situations likely to fail the tests of public support.”

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