Our new military era

At the Pentagon last week President Obama announced the new defense budget, which will include some cuts and will also herald a new military strategy.  Briefly, the president declared that the last decade’s wars against Islamic radicals are over.  And we will be pulling troops out of Europe and re-positioning them to face China.   David Ignatius gives details:

It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.

What else will the shift mean? The Pacific focus inescapably means fewer resources for the traditional Atlantic partnership, symbolized by NATO. U.S. troops will be coming home from Europe, probably in larger numbers than expected. And given its recent economic jitters, Europe may feel abandoned. Will the Germans respond by drawing closer to Russia? Watch that space.

Obama’s pivot turns U.S. power toward China, and Beijing is understandably nervous. U.S. officials keep repeating that this won’t mean a policy of “containment” and that the United States accepts a rising China as a 21st-century inevitability. An Obama emissary was in Beijing last week, delivering that message of reassurance. But the Chinese aren’t stupid; they know that America is moving forces their way.

A period of rivalry and tension is ahead in the Pacific. One early test is whether the United States can expand on its recent opening to Burma. Another will be the delicate leadership transition in North Korea, which should be an area for Sino-American cooperation but might be the opposite. A third area will involve trade relations: Obama is pushing a ­“Trans-Pacific Partnership” that would create NAFTA-style links across the Pacific. But how realistic is this for an America that already has trade jitters?

As the United States changes its defense priorities, the wild cards are Pakistan and Iran, two countries powered by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anti-Americanism. Pakistan, after years of chafing against U.S. tutelage, seems serious about reevaluating its ties, with its top general making a symbolic “we don’t need you” visit last week to the other superpower, China. For once, the United States wasn’t chasing after the Pakistanis trying to lecture and plead our way back to the status quo. That’s good, but Washington still needs a cooperative relationship with Islamabad, especially in settling the Afghanistan conflict.

As for the Iranians, they seem for the first time in years to be genuinely nervous — not because of U.S. or Israeli saber-rattling but because economic sanctions are causing a run on their currency and the beginnings of a financial panic in Tehran. And more sanctions are on the way this year. At some point, the Iranian regime will actually be in jeopardy — and it will punch back. That’s the scenario the White House must think through carefully with its allies. If the current course continues, a collision with Iran is ahead.

via Obama closes the book on the 9/11 era – The Washington Post.

On what grounds, I wonder, are we making China the enemy du jour?  Is this wise, this show of belligerence against the country to which we owe the most money?  Does this whole plan seem wise?

The Iraq war is over

Yesterday the war in Iraq officially came to an end.  The American flag in Baghdad was taken down, a somber ceremony was held (with no representation from the Iraqi government), and peace was declared.

The war lasted 9 years, with 4,500 Americans giving their lives.

So it’s over.  Where is the jubilation?  Where is the celebration in Times Square?  The Washington Post put the story on p.3.

We conquered the country and overthrew Saddam Hussein.  Doesn’t that count as a victory?  Why doesn’t it feel like one?  Do you think the war was worth it?

What do you think will happen now?

via As Iraq War ends, soldiers’ families reflect.

Remember Pearl Harbor

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which took the lives of 2,300 Americans, destroyed 12 ships and 160 aircraft, and brought the nation into World War II.

See Pearl Harbor attacked: A witness remembers, 70 years later – The Washington Post.

Reflections, thoughts, and lessons learned?

Does America need to defend everybody?

Frank Sonnek, frequent commenter on this blog, has found some interesting data and raises some interesting questions about our defense budget:

our military spending exceeds ALL global military spending if you don’t count china, which spends about 15% of what we spend.

some analyses relate military spending to GDP, but I am not sure what the relevance of doing that is, as opposed to absolute spending.

let’s say we cut our military spending to be maybe 1/2 of the next top military spenders combined…. would those nations not work to defend peace and commerce? are we unfairly subsidizing the peace rather than having other nations chip in their fair share of spending?

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/10/military_spending

and now look at this chart:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending.htm

and this one… the pie chart is sort of eye-popping. the usa represents nearly half of ALL global military spending according to the pie chart.

http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending

Summary: I am really challenged to believe that significant cuts in the military will threaten world peace.
It would appear that the United States of America really is the policeman of the world and budgets accordingly.  Is it that we are enabling other countries to spend so little on defending themselves that they can afford free health care and all of those other welfare state benefits?  Does our status as leader of the free world mean that we have to have the capability of defending every other country, as well as our own?   Couldn’t we expect our technological superiority in warfare, expensive as it is, to result at some point in savings?
Granted that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government and that it has to remain an important priority in this still-dangerous world, given our massive deficits, should our defense budget be scaled back?

Pakistan erupts against U.S.A.

NATO planes bombed  a Pakistani military base, killing 24 soldiers.  (Afghans claim that the Pakistanis were firing on them as they patrolled with NATO troops.)  So the country is refusing to allow allied convoys into Afghanistan and the people are rioting.

Hundreds of enraged Pakistanis took to the streets across the country Sunday, burning an effigy of President Barack Obama and setting fire to US flags after 24 soldiers died in NATO air strikes.

The rallies were organised by opposition and right-wing Islamist groups in major cities of the nuclear-armed country of 167 million people, where opposition to the government’s US alliance is rampant.

In Karachi, the port city used by the United States to ship supplies to troops fighting in Afghanistan, more than 700 people gathered outside the US consulate, an AFP photographer said.

They shouted: “down with America, stay away Americans, Pakistan is ours, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our army”, while Pakistani riot police were deployed near the consulate.

Outside the press club in Karachi, dozens of political activists burnt an effigy of President Obama, an AFP photographer added.

In the central city of Multan, more than 300 activists loyal to the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as local traders took to the streets, burning US and NATO flags.

They carried placards and banners, and shouted: “down with America,” “down with NATO,” “Yankees go back”, “vacate Afghanistan and Pakistan” and “stop drone attacks” — a reference to a CIA drone war against Islamist militants.

Speaking at the rally, opposition lawmaker Javed Hashmi demanded that the government end its alliance in the US-led “war on terror”.

In Islamabad, at least 200 activists of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party held a rally in the middle-class I-10 neighbourhood.

“We strongly condemn the attack and the killing of our soldiers,” local JI chief Mian Aslam told the rally in reference to the air strike early Saturday, as protestors chanted “Pakistan is America’s graveyard.”

Pakistan has reacted with fury over the killings, and has called the attack by NATO helicopters and fighter jets on two military posts close to the Afghan border “unprovoked”.

In response, Islamabad has sealed its Afghan border to NATO supply convoys and is reviewing its alliance with the United States and NATO, mulling whether to boycott a key international conference on Afghanistan next month.

via Enraged Pakistanis burn Obama effigy, slam US – Yahoo! News.

Respect vs. pity

I have long observed this and written about it, that instead of honoring those who hold the military vocation in the traditional way–admiring their prowess in battle and celebrating their victories–today our culture’s support for our troops is expressed by feeling sorry for them.  Now this is getting on their nerves:

The troops are lavished with praise for their sacrifices. But the praise comes with a price, service members say. The public increasingly acts as if it feels sorry for those in uniform.

“We aren’t victims at all,” said Brig. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who commanded troops in Iraq and will soon leave for Afghanistan. “But it seems that the only way that some can be supportive is to cast us in the role of hapless souls.”

The topic is a sensitive one for military leaders, who do not want to appear ungrateful or at odds with the public they serve. They also realize that the anger that returning troops faced in the latter years of the Vietnam War was far worse.

As a result, most of the conversations about pity take place quietly and privately among combat veterans. . . .

The military’s unease springs, in part, from American indifference to the wars. Battlefield achievements are rarely singled out for praise by a country that has little familiarity with the military and sees little direct benefit from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“We, as a nation, no longer value military heroism in ways that were entirely common in World War II,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Instead, praise from politicians and the public focuses largely on the depth of a service member’s suffering. Troops are recognized for the number of tours they have endured, the number of friends they have lost or the extent of their injuries. . . .

Lower-ranking officers feel a similar frustration. “America has unwittingly accepted the idea that its warriors are victims,” Lt. Col. John Morris, a chaplain for the Minnesota Army National Guard, told the Rotary Club of St. Paul in August.

via Troops feel more pity than respect – The Washington Post.


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