Retired Air Force Colonel Chet Richards has published
another short, good book: If
We Keep It: A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration.
The "it" in question is a republic, which we are unlikely to keep
since republics require a virtuous citizenry. But suggesting a rational, prudent
defense policy for the next administration is sufficiently quixotic we might
as well also pretend the republic can endure.
Richards' first major point is that most of our armed forces are "legacy
forces," white elephants designed for fighting the Red Army in Europe or
the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific. They have little utility in a world
where nuclear weapons prevent wars among major powers, wars with minor powers
can be won easily and usually aren't worth fighting, and legacy forces generally
lose against Fourth Generation opponents. Although they are largely useless,
these legacy forces eat up most of the defense budget. Richards would disband
them, save the Marine Corps, some useful tac
air (i.e., A-10s) and some sealift, and give the money back to the taxpayer.
That will happen when pork stops flying. But the point is a good one; most
of what we are buying is a military museum. I disagree with Richards that the
Marine Corps or any other major elements of the U.S. armed forces are Third
Generation forces, forces which have institutionalized maneuver warfare. The
Marines talk it, but it is not what they do. I would prefer to keep enough of
the Army to face the Corps with some competition, rewarding whichever service
actually makes it into the Third Generation. Bureaucratic competition is a good
Perhaps Richards' sharpest point is that DOD's latest fad, counterinsurgency,
is something of a fraud. He notes that whereas states have often been successful
in defeating insurgencies on their own soil, invaders and occupiers have almost
never won against a guerrilla-style war of national liberation. Not even the
best counterinsurgency techniques make much difference, because neither a foreign
occupier nor any puppet government he installs can gain legitimacy. Despite
the current "we're winning in Iraq" propaganda, both Iraq and Afghanistan
are almost certain to add themselves to the long list of failures. If neither
the U.S. Army nor the Marine Corps can do successful counterinsurgency, what
can they do? That brings us back to Richards' first point.
While all these observations are useful, there is one suggestion in If
We Can Keep It the next administration desperately needs to follow, namely
Richards' recommendations on grand strategy. As Germany discovered in both World
Wars, if you get your grand strategy wrong, nothing else you do well matters;
you still lose. At the moment, America's grand strategy suggests we have the
national character of a rich kid schoolyard bully. Somebody hit us pretty good
from the back, so in retaliation, we've beaten up on some weak kids in the playground,
one of whom had nothing to do with it but whom we had been wanting to thrash
anyway. In the meantime, we've left the real perpetrators alone, even though
everybody is sure we know where they are, and we've been careful not to pick
on kids who look like they might hit back.
Not very attractive, is it?
The best passage in Richard's book prescribes the grand strategic antidote:
"As a first step, therefore, the country needs to return to its roots.
We need to restore our innate suspicion of foreign entanglements and concentrate
on being the best United States of America we can be."
With the ghosts of our Founding Fathers, I reply, Hurrah! This is advice the
next administration can take, should take and will take – if, and only
if, our next President is Ron Paul.