August 11, 2006


Professionalization of war is ghettoization of war (Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times, July 30th, 2006)

No one can argue with U.S. military superiority. America has the most powerful armed forces on the planet. The Pentagon is responsible for 40 percent of the world's military spending, and outspends the next 20 biggest militaries combined. It's responsible for almost 80 percent of military research-and-development spending, which means the capability gap between it and everyone else widens every day.

So why doesn't it feel like that?

In Iraq, the leviathan has somehow managed to give the impression that what previous mid-rank powers would have regarded as a little light colonial policing has left it stretched dangerously thin and bogged down in an almighty quagmire. Even if it were only lamebrain leftist media spin, the fact that it's accepted by large numbers of Americans and huge majorities of Europeans is a reminder that in free societies a military of unprecedented dominance is not the only source of power. More importantly, significant proportions of this nation's enemies also believe the spin. In April 2003 was Baby Assad nervous that he'd be next? You bet. Is he nervous now?

We live in an age of inversely proportional deterrence: The more militarily powerful a civilized nation is, the less its enemies have to fear the full force of that power ever being unleashed. They know America and other Western powers fight under the most stringent self-imposed etiquette. Overwhelming force is one thing; overwhelming force behaving underwhelmingly as a matter of policy is quite another.

So even the most powerful military in the world is subject to broader cultural constraints. When Kathryn Lopez's e-mailer sneers that "your contribution to this war is limited solely to your ability to exercise the skillset provided by your liberal arts education," he's accidentally put his finger on the great imponderable: whether the skill set provided by the typical American, British and European education these last 30 years is now one of the biggest obstacles to civilizational self-preservation. A nation that psychologically outsources war to a small career soldiery risks losing its ability even to grasp concepts like "the enemy": The professionalization of war is also the ghettoization of war. As John Podhoretz wondered in the New York Post the other day: "What if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?"

That's a good question. If you watch the grisly U.S. network coverage of any global sporting event, you've no doubt who your team's meant to be: If there are plucky Belgian hurdlers or Fijian shotputters in the Olympics, you never hear a word of them on ABC and NBC; it's all heartwarming soft-focus profiles of athletes from Indiana and Nebraska. The American media have no problem being ferociously jingoistic when it comes to the two-man luge. Yet, when it's a war, there is no "our" team, not on American TV. Like snotty French ice-dancing judges, the media watch the U.S. skate across the rink and then hand out a succession of snippy 4.3s -- for lack of Miranda rights in Fallujah, insufficient menu options at Gitmo.

Our enemies understand "why we fight" and where the fight is. They know that in the greater scheme of things the mosques of Jakarta and Amsterdam and Toronto and Dearborn are more important territory than the Sunni Triangle. The U.S. military is the best-equipped and best-trained in the world. But it's not enough, it never has been and it never will be.

Some empires are conquered. Others just get soooo...tired.

Posted by Peter Burnet at August 11, 2006 4:25 PM

Empires aren't the only ones that get soooo tired. Keeping oneself in the state of high dudgeon is exhausting. We need a little break for some fun. I hope the Castro brothers announce their demise this weekend. That should liven up things very nicely.

Posted by: erp at August 11, 2006 5:24 PM

It's an important point to make. Morale is very important in war - keeping your own high and destroying the enemy's. It's a trick our Presidents seem to be lousy at ever since WWII - especially if the President is from Texas.

There are some important lessons that Korea, Vietnam and both Gulf Wars taught us, but I've not seen them discussed.

One is that the President needs to rally the nation for an all out effort. Even if the economy is not reoriented towards it, the people need to be involved from the start and dedicated to securing victory. The only President who was effective at that was the first President Bush. This President Bush has been terrible at it.

Another is that Americans, and democracies in general, work best in a "crusade mode." I think Victor Davis Hansen was on to something when he talked about the democratic marches straight to the heart of tyrants for a decisive battle, instead of frittering away strength in fights elsewhere. Essentially, this is OJ's opinion on why Israel should have attacked Damascus instead of Hezbollah. It also explains why an extended occupation in Iraq was a strategic error. The initial war against Saddam was a success. After deposing his government, we could confirm his WMD program was dismantled. After capturing him and killing his sons, we had achieved victory. But a lack of planning on the post-Saddam order was a gross mistake. One reason why many former war supporters are now against the war is because the handling of the occupation was not what they expected.

Third, it's important for leaders to quickly admit mistakes lest they lose credibility to the people. Both LBJ and W lost popular support because people came to the conclusion that they did not know what was going on, or did not known how to win. It's one thing to accept heavy losses because that's what's required for victory. It's another to accept casualties (even light) because the guy in charge is incompetent.

Fourth, give the other political party a stake in the war by allowing some opponents to assist in the war effort and allowing them to take credit for victories. W and conservative commentators made it easy for the Democrats to distance themselves from the war because they associated any criticism of the President to be against American victory. The Democratic Party is not International ANSWER, and it was not inevitable that so many Democrats be antiwar now.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at August 11, 2006 7:07 PM

The widely predicted adverse consequences of the war (i. e.; distruction of the oil fields, "one million refugees", Kurdish separatism, Baghdad as Stalingrad, environmental "disaster" did not occur. The problems the "experts" thought would occur did not. Now the "experts" are second guessing those that did.

The easy way out would have been to retain the Iraqi army as astabilizing force. The whining volume would have been the same, only the topic would have been different.

The media would have asked, legitimately;

Why are ex-Baathists being rewarded?
What's really different?

In my opinion the Iraqi govrnment would have evolved into a military dictatorship within a few months.

Posted by: Earl Sutherland at August 11, 2006 9:26 PM

We have a lot of gear......a lot of gadgets.....a lot of shock and awe.....which costs lot of money......


The number of useful soldiers is declining. American men are very soft. They don't want their pretty faces messed up. Most of them won't even protect their women. And look at American athletes. In prior wars, athletes served. Shit, Ted Williams served in two wars. But today, where are the athletes? Answer: covering their pretty faces. Like I said, American boys won't fight, because they don't know how.....

And all the gadgets in the universe won't save you when you are face to face, mano a mano, with the enemy....

Posted by: Dale Andersen at August 11, 2006 10:12 PM

Hard America, soft America: competition vs coddling. Read the book.

Posted by: Gideon at August 11, 2006 11:30 PM


We will never run out of "useful soldiers." We have many places we can get them, and in those places, lines will run out into the street.

Of course, you probably would not like the other methods of getting "useful soldiers"....

Posted by: Brad S at August 11, 2006 11:43 PM


You are too hard on the American fighting man. They are great soldiers and very brave, very sincere. Substitute the words "men" and "soldiers" with "press" in your post and I will agree with you.

Posted by: Darryl at August 11, 2006 11:45 PM

Dale, that is a remarkably silly thing to say. Please, keep your angry old man rants to yourself.

Posted by: Pepys at August 12, 2006 12:09 AM

Oh yeah, Dale. My Great Grandfather would have slapped the spit out of you and not even noticed.

"He had pieces of guys like you in his stool!"

Posted by: Pepys at August 12, 2006 12:30 AM


The first President Bush built a "strong" coalition. But he couldn't (wouldn't) finish the job, precisely because of that "coalition". And remember, more Senators voted against the 1991 war than in 2002. Your statement just doesn't fly.

Of course it was inevitable that the Democrats would turn on the war - even in May of 2003, plenty of them mocked the President for landing on the carrier. Also, the tone of the debate prior to the war ensured that the Democrats were going to go into Vietnam mode. The media certainly were there, as early as November 2001 (see Johnny Apple and the dreaded Afghan winter).

Sure, the post-war struggle was not anticipated, but everyone knew (it was discussed a lot here, for example) that there was going to be a re-balancing between the Sunni and the Shi'a, and that Iraq might do better as a tri-partate country.

The only real alternatives to how the 'occupation' has been handled would have been the McCain option (200,000+ men on the ground, with much less Iraqi involvement), or a speedy US withdrawal, after giving the Shi'a full reign (the OJ option). Which would you have preferred?

What the Democrats seem to want now - a US pull-out to Okinawa or Crete or Iceland (the Murtha option) - is a fantasy, on the order of believing that there would be no catastrophe when we left Vietnam.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 12, 2006 2:10 AM

It's a given that the Dems and the Left are treating this war in Iraq/GWoT as simply another Vietnam. But when are most of us on the Right going to realize that it is not very helpful to compare Iraq/GWoT to WW2?

While comparing Saddam to Hitler may have worked in going into Iraq to dethrone him, going to the Hitler well a second time with Ahmadinejad is not going to work as well. After all, we've heard that before, just like we've heard the Vietnam quagmire line before.

The first person on either the Right or the Left (outside GWB) who can lose the analogies and fully articulate what an entirely different struggle this is will also be able to deal with Ahmadinejad in terms favorable to the US.

Posted by: Brad S at August 12, 2006 2:40 AM

It'll be interesting to watch the public's reaction to Wallace's puff piece on 60 Minutes tonght.

Posted by: erp at August 12, 2006 12:13 PM

One is that the President needs to rally the nation for an all out effort. Even if the economy is not reoriented towards it, the people need to be involved from the start and dedicated to securing victory.

When I hear that kind of talk, all I can think of is "Greatest Generation Envy" mixed in with '70s nostalgia for collectivist self-sacrifice-lite (turn down your thermostat!) for the sake of self-sacrifice as the one sure solution to all our problems.

Roosevelt didn't have to "rally" the nation, the nation "rallied" because of the Japanese and Germans actions. What we've got now is '40, with the Dems playing the part of the America Firsters who still wish what happened to Poland and France would just go away. It's unfortunate, but nothing this or any president can do will "rally" the nation behind him short of another attack.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 12, 2006 9:06 PM