President Bush has been under pressure to fire
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whom many view as the architect of a failed
approach in Iraq. Even many ardent war hawks are unhappy with the secretary
for not having more troops on the ground in Iraq, and for conducting the war
less aggressively than they would like.
But the issue is not who serves as secretary of defense, the issue is how,
when, and why the United States uses military force. It makes no sense simply
to replace Mr. Rumsfeld with someone else who holds the same view, namely that
it's the job of American soldiers and U.S. taxpayers to police the world. We
should be debating the proper foreign policy for our country – utopian nation-building
vs. the noninterventionism counseled by our Founding Fathers – rather than which
individual is best suited to carry it out.
I happen to agree with Mr. Rumsfeld on the matter of downsizing the military
as a whole and remaking it to reflect modern realities of warfare. A swifter,
nimbler military would be better suited to tracking individuals like bin Laden
who do not operate under the flag of any particular nation or army. The war
in Iraq shows that we're trying to adapt our military to fit our foreign policy,
rather than the other way around. For all our high-tech advantages, we are mired
in a simmering urban civil war that does not play to the true strengths of our
The old model of warfare, based on invading and occupying whole nations, is
unsustainable. Both financially and in terms of manpower, American simply cannot
afford any more Koreas, Vietnams, or Iraqs. Many people in the Pentagon understand
that America's armed forces are not trained in occupation, policing, and nation-building.
The best way to support the troops is through a sensible foreign policy that
does not place them in harm's way unnecessarily or force them into uncomfortable,
dangerous roles as occupiers.
It's interesting to note that our Founders warned against maintaining standing
armies at all, both because of the taxes required to do so and the threats to
liberty posed by a permanent military.
Consider the words of James Madison, often considered the father of the Constitution:
"A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long
be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger,
have been always the instruments of tyranny at home…"
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to
be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is
the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts,
and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination
of the few. … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual
In other words, Madison understood that large military forces can become the
tools of tyrants, and can bankrupt the nations that support them. Instead of
debating who should be secretary of defense, we should be studying the writing
of our own Founding Fathers. Perhaps then we will question the wisdom of an
open-ended, vague "war on terror" and the realities of trying to remake
whole societies in our image.