Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Is there such a thing as a perfect foreign policy?

American FlagOver the course of American history, and particularly in the 20th Century when America assumed a major role in the world, there have been many arguments about what constitutes the ideal approach to U.S. foreign policy.

The 20th Century began with a period of American imperialism borne out of a sense of obligation to people in the underdeveloped world and spurred, in the case of the Spanish-American war, by humanitarian passions that were excited by yellow journalism.  Woodrow Wilson introduced a foreign policy concept that stressed universal principles, such as national self-determination and making the world safe for democracy.  “Wilsonianism” has appeared in other guises since then, most notably in George W. Bush’s “neoconservative Wilsonian” efforts to remake Iraq and Afghanistan into democracies.

These initiatives are associated with a school of thought known as “idealism” and sometimes “liberal internationalism.”  They have encountered resistance from another school of thought, called “realism,” which is associated with an impulse toward realpolitik – i.e., emphasizing that policy should be guided exclusively by vital national interests and not political ideals or moral crusades.  This school has been traditionally associated with figures like Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger.

There has also been a school of thought that was ascendant during the interwar period called isolationism — the desire to retreat from the world to avoid getting embroiled in terrible wars like World War I, and according to some of its exponents, to set up a “fortress America” which would concentrate in its security policy principally on the territorial defense of the American homeland.

The isolationist school, which has some (but by no means all) contemporary libertarians amongst its ranks, claims that U.S. foreign policy during much of the 19th Century was isolationist.  In fact, it would be more accurate to say that it was carefully neutralist in character.  This policy was designed to avoid the risks of taking sides in great power conflicts, especially in Europe, when the United States was too weak to hold its own.  During this period of neutrality, there were many manifestations of American strategic outreach to the world which were by no means isolationist.

The two broader schools of idealism and realism both have deep and authentic historical roots in America.  But they have been often in tension: in the words of Walter MacDougall, it is a tension between the impulse towards being a crusader state vs. the desire to create a “promised land” here at home.  This tension has everything to do with the achievability of foreign policy goals.

The idealist impulse has manifested itself in many ways, both liberal and conservative, over the last century.  It has variously created policies seeking world peace, global democracy, global free trade, global respect for human rights, reliance on international organizations to create world order (which in some cases even envisions creating a world government), the realization of the global brotherhood of man, and reliance on international law and treaties as guarantors of world peace.  Most of these goals are so grand and ambitious that, in effect, they are not achievable given the flaws of human nature, the aggressive character of different regimes and ideologies, and the divided, if not anarchic, nature of the international order.  But they find substantiation in the universal truths and desiderata articulated in the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that “all men are created equal” — and not just Americans.

Some realists would call these idealist and universalist goals utopian, while maintaining that we should be concerned principally with establishing minimalist but eminently achievable goals for our foreign policy.  Some in this camp point to the Constitution and its preamble, which calls Americans to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” — and not necessarily to worry about the condition and future of people far from our shores.

So which of these approaches is the correct one?

There is no easy answer to this question.

Whereas realists can charge idealists with utopianism with regard to the malleability of foreign cultures and their amenability to democracy or with an utter lack of realism about human nature, which the realists argue will perpetually be flawed, there will always be validity for Americans to try to help shape conditions of greater freedom, decent behavior, and respect for human rights elsewhere in the world.  For the more these conditions prevail, the more likely governments will be legitimate and therefore the less likely they will be inclined to aggressive behavior (it is a virtual axiom of foreign policy that, in contrast to regimes that rule with the consent of the governed, illegitimate authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, which have internal security problems, tend to behave more aggressively in the international arena in order to demonstrate their invincibility to their domestic opponents).

In fact, the best foreign policy has to be informed both by moral and political ideals.  It must also be tempered by the limits of blood and treasure that can be expended on foreign interventions and acute discernment of the vital national interest so that we devote our scarce human, financial, and intellectual resources and national strategic attention only to the highest national priorities.

The setting of those priorities and the balancing of the defense of vital interests and the pursuit of  moral/idealistic goals can only be a project involving prudential judgement.  Ideological templates do not work here.  Scientific quantification can inform, but has its severe limits in this area.

What is necessary for an effective foreign policy is a collection of virtues applied to the analytical and policy process: intellectual integrity, the courage to see the truth about the realities of the world, discernment of the vital national interest, respect for law and the dignity of the human person, the application of justice, and, above all, the exercise of prudence.

While knowledge is a sine qua non, even more important is wisdom.  The exercise of prudential wisdom is not a science, but an art.  That is why we at IWP insist that our students study moral philosophy, as it uniquely can enlighten the heart and the mind about the cultivation of these very virtues that are the essence of statesmanship and moral leadership.

Without these virtues, there is ultimately no civilization, much less any effective defense of it.

China may be going down the old Soviet path to disintegration

chinaThe repression of Chinese anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong is part of a political crackdown on scores of activists, journalists, and intellectuals.  This crackdown involves increased internet controls and a Marxist-Leninist ideological purification campaign for Chinese journalists on which I have commented earlier.

What is particularly fascinating about this new and predictable round of Chinese communist repression is that it has been accompanied by an official anti-corruption campaign organized by none other than Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping. This is uncannily reminiscent of the official Soviet reaction to corruption within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

Effects of corruption in the USSR

In the Soviet case, this corruption was the tip of an iceberg of a much larger crisis — namely, a crisis of Party discipline.  It was this crisis that was one of the central reasons for the collapse of the communist enterprise in the Soviet Union.

What is the connection between this crisis and the Soviet collapse?

First of all, one must recognize that the CPSU had grown to be a massive bureaucratic monstrosity with over 20 million members.  Most of them were ideological workers — i.e., propagandists and agitators — and prefects, who were non-productive monitors of what productive activity was undertaken in the USSR in order to ensure conformity with the Party line.  The fundamental problem that had developed within this system was that orders issued from the top would suffer from erosion and ultimately would not be implemented efficiently or at all when they reached the lower and local levels.

This lack of discipline was partly a function of bureaucracy and partly the result of corruption.  The corruption, in turn, originated from the black market, which the Party had to tolerate because it was the only vehicle ensuring literally the physical survival of the labor force.  It was the only means by which acute shortages of goods and services could be filled — and this was done through the price mechanism.

The underground economy always existed within the USSR, even during the harshest periods of Stalinist repression.  Over time, the underground entrepreneurs, led by the mafia, gained ever greater influence and freedom of operation because of their success in bribing Party officials.  Eventually, those officials began to invest in illegal underground commercial ventures.

So, both these investments and the bribes meant that ever larger numbers of Party cadre were developing forms of self-interest that were at variance with the Party’s interest.  This was called a crisis of partiinost’ (Party-mindedness).

A crisis of Party discipline

By the time of the General Secretaryship of former KGB Chief Yuri Andropov, the Party leadership had recognized this crisis of discipline and had begun to initiate measures to combat it.  When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he intensified these measures.  He conducted an ideological purification campaign of the Party membership.  He arrested and prosecuted 250,000 members of the Party and managerial elite for various types of corruption.  He conducted a massive crackdown on the underground economy, during which 800,000 underground entrepreneurs were arrested or fled their jobs for fear of arrest.

Gorbachev launched the glasnost’ campaign, which Soviet propaganda gave Westerners to believe was a campaign of increased openness, transparency, and even freedom of speech, when in fact, it was designed to encourage people to tattle on and denounce Party corruption.  The irony of this situation was that ordinary people took advantage of this campaign, exploiting a critical vulnerability of the Party state. This vulnerability grew out of the crisis in the Soviet military economy, which was unable to remain technologically competitive with the United States.

The only way the Party could remedy that military industrial crisis was to seek an economic bailout from the West.  But to do this, Gorbachev could not present himself and the Party as ruthless oppressors of their own people or active enemies of the West.  So, in one of the few such periods in Soviet history, there opened a window of opportunity for people to criticize the regime, denounce its corruption, and call for radical political change without the usual risk of being thrown into the Gulag.

Let us not be under any illusions, however.  Gorbachev was forced against his will into presenting both an image and a partial reality of liberalism.  But he did invade Lithuania.  His regime incited inter-ethnic conflicts in many of the Union republics as part of a divide-and-rule strategy.  The KGB spurred pogroms by Azeris against Armenians.  His armed forces invaded Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.  His goons used poison gas on freedom demonstrators in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and slaughtered them with sharpened military shovels.  Most of these ruthless measures remain unknown in the West, as they were overshadowed by Gorbachev’s charm campaign.

It is for this combination of reasons that close to a million people could take to the streets of Moscow to demonstrate for radical political change in 1991, putting immense pressure on the regime.

Corruption in China today

The Chinese communist regime has worked mightily to learn from, and avoid, a repetition of this Soviet experience.  It has attempted to make self interest compatible with Party membership as part of its controlled economic reforms, where most major enterprises are under the control of Party officials or People’s Liberation Army officers.

But there is no escaping the corrosive effects that corruption has on Party discipline and the social alienation that this corruption causes.  So long as there is this amazing level of corruption in the Chinese Party, the regime will continue to be the target of anti-corruption activists.  It will continue to suffer from pandemic civil disturbances — over 70,000 of these nationwide on an annual basis.  And it will continue to have to crack down on all of this.

The Chinese communists are riding a tiger that they may not be able to control.  The question for the United States is: should we continue to allow our trade with China to provide the regime with resources that help it survive such pressures?

US-Russian relations and the strategic importance of an independent Ukraine

SovietThe protests in Ukraine that have been proceeding for many weeks have major strategic implications. The proximate question is whether Ukraine will become an integral part of the Western economic community and, by extension, the Western security community, or whether Russia will succeed in co-opting it into its own political and economic space. The larger issue is whether Ukraine will remain an independent country, or whether it will eventually be fully absorbed into the Russian empire.

It is no secret what Vladimir Putin and the bosses of his power ministries want. They are suffering from an intense imperial nostalgia. They lament the collapse of the USSR and its breakup into its various constituent parts. They continue to celebrate on an annual basis the founding of the Cheka, which later became the OGPU, the NKVD, the KGB, and today a combination of several agencies, most notably the FSB and the SVR — organizations that are completely incompatible with democracy.

Ever since Russia articulated the first versions of its post-Soviet national security doctrine, starting as early as 1992, it has reserved for itself the right of military intervention into any neighboring country to protect “Russian-speaking people” whom it considers have been mistreated. The problem is that most people in the former Soviet republics speak Russian — and so, how does one distinguish between a Russian citizen is from a non-Russian? In any event, this particular doctrine is incompatible with international law, and it represents an ongoing threat to each of those countries in what the Russians call “the near abroad.”

Russia’s attempts to re-absorb many of its surrounding territories involve numerous maneuvers, most notably its infiltration of these lands with its agents of influence, many of whom are associated with major Russian corporations that are associated with Putin’s oligarchy. Sometimes these corporations buy or control companies in these neighboring lands. Insofar as some of these corporations are mafia-controlled, they use strong-arm tactics to assert their influence or control. The SVR and FSB have dossiers on hundreds if not thousands of individuals in the near abroad whom they can manipulate to serve Russian strategic interests.

Russia also has long used energy blackmail as means of extending its influence, particularly against Ukraine. It uses divide-and-conquer tactics that principally involve pitting different ethnic and religious groups against one another in neighboring lands. This is what it has done in most of its neighboring countries, with the most dramatic example being in Georgia, where Russia has aggravated relations between the Abkhazians and the Ossetians on the one hand and the central Georgian government on the other.

They also famously use propaganda and “active measures” (i.e. disinformation, forgeries, and covert influence operations) to influence opinion and policy in those countries.

And they work mightily to resist any attempts by these countries to associate themselves with the NATO alliance.

If Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia have been able to see clearly the geostrategic implications of the expansion of the Russian political and economic space, why cannot the United States?

One of the reasons why the new NATO members from the former communist countries of East/Central Europe are so committed to the NATO alliance is their fear of Russian revanchism and their intense desire to retain that liberty which was so long denied them when they were under the Soviet yoke.

Two world wars centered heavily around geostrategic competition for the lands between Western Europe and the USSR/Russia. The decision to expand NATO into these lands was precisely with an eye to preventing that strategic competition from continuing: namely, by placing those lands firmly in the sphere of the West without being under the thumb of any imperial power.

The United States would do well to support Ukrainian independence. Failure to do so will only encourage Russia’s expansionism and instability surrounding its borders. It could threaten the independence of our East-Central European NATO allies, and ultimately distract the United States from other major security threats. Supporting Ukraine means abandoning feckless attempts to “reset” relations with Russia on the basis of ignoring its regional expansionist ambitions. If U.S.-Russian relations are to improve, it will have to be on the basis of exploring and cooperating on areas of genuinely mutual national interests, such as resistance to Islamist terrorism and Chinese expansionism.

Surprise! China still is a communist regime

Great Wall of ChinaA couple of days ago, the Washington Post reported the latest episode of an ongoing story about ideological control in the Chinese media.  This story should be — but is not — familiar to those who are hoping that economic growth in China will translate into political reform.  With regrettable regularity, the Chinese Communist Party cracks down on the Chinese news media.

The latest crackdown, which involves a sharp intensification of the Party’s efforts to control journalists — is designed to enforce political conformity in order to protect the Party’s monopoly on power.  The enforcement mechanism is Marxist-Leninist ideology.

In the last months of 2013, reporters from all across the country were compelled to attend Marxist ideological training sessions.  Meanwhile, Chinese journalism schools are being compelled to host Communist propaganda officials in senior management positions to ensure that the Party line is enforced in journalistic education.

It is not well understood in the West how an ideology can continue to be operational if most people don’t believe in most of its tenets.  It was well known in the last years of the Soviet empire that ideological fealty was in a state of decay.   On top of this, official Soviet propaganda endeavored to portray the USSR as a country where the ideology was effectively dead or obsolete.  Why?  Because if the USSR was no longer communist, then, by definition, it could no longer harbor unlimited global strategic objectives, including the radical political transformation of the United States.  In addition, if its strategic goals were now limited, then its limited desires could not only be accommodated, but it could be seen as much less of a threat.

For all of that Soviet propaganda, how, then, could one explain why longtime Soviet Politburo member and later Russian President Boris Yeltsin could describe Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR as a “totalitarian” state?  What did Yeltsin know that few people in the West seemed to understand?  It was precisely this: That the ideology was installed as such an integral part of the Soviet system that people had to march according to its drumbeat, whether they believed in it or not.

The ideology was the key element of the internal security system of the state, setting the standard against which deviationism was measured.  It was the drum beating for the soldiers marching, and anyone who failed to conform with the tempo could be easily identified by the “sergeants” and appropriately punished.

What this means is that the Chinese Communist Party continues to use a totalitarian method.  What the Party requires is not even necessarily loyalty, but most importantly, submission.  It doesn’t care which, because both have the same operational result.

Marxism-Leninism also continues to be the legitimizing principle of the Party’s governing authority.  There is no other credible argument by which the Party can legitimize itself in power.  For illegitimate regimes, which rule without the consent of the governed, legitimacy is a very big deal.  In contrast, we in the West take it for granted.  But without legitimacy, a regime knows that it has a very big internal security problem.  Therefore the central fact of political life in China, just as it was in the USSR, is the regime’s fear of its own people and its fear of democratic ideas.

This is why China, as currently constituted as a Marxist-Leninist regime, will always see the United States as its greatest enemy.  This is not because of what we do, nearly so much as who we are and the ideas which we represent — ideas which offer a compelling alternative legitimizing principle that is a mortal threat to Chinese Communist internal security.

The desire to do business with this regime and its front companies is widespread in the United States, and it has produced a willful blindness about these ideological realities.  As China’s military buildup proceeds apace, and threatens the peace and stability in East Asia and potentially elsewhere in the world, as well as U.S. vital interests, we would do well to be more realistic about the ideological genetic code of the regime that considers itself in a cold war with the United States.

Administration challenges Chinese hegemonism: A necessary step that should have been unnecessary

The combination of dictatorial powers’ growing strength and America’s increasing weakness is the perfect formula for destabilizing behavior by bad actors in the world. This is all too often the result of what strategists call “provocative weakness” – where those bad actors believe that they can advance their aggressive interest with less likelihood of serious resistance by the United States or its allies.

As China has grown economically and has pursued its double-digit annual increases in its military buildup for about two decades, it has begun to flex its muscles in its East Asian neighborhood. It is claiming almost the entire territory of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It pursues a policy of “shard diplomacy,” where it alleges that wherever a shard of an antique China plate or vase is discovered in any neighboring territory, that that territory once belonged to China and therefore still belongs to China. It has been claiming island territories that are under the control of neighboring countries, such as Japan and the Philippines.

And now, it has just announced the establishment of an “Air-Defense Identification Zone” covering the larger part of the East China Sea. The ADIZ includes the airspace over the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands that are currently controlled by Japan, as well as part of the Leodo reef in the Yellow Sea that is controlled by South Korea. China is requiring that foreign aircraft obtain permission to enter this airspace, and it reserves the right to take military action against intruders.

Air Defense Identification Zones have no basis in international law, and are invariably set up by individual nations unilaterally. In this case, China’s ADIZ overlaps with those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Fortunately, the United States has not permitted this zone to be activated without challenge. The Defense Department sent two B-52 bombers precisely into this zone and over the disputed islands without following Beijing’s instructions that it should seek permission in advance.

Although the bombers were unarmed and were part of what Pentagon officials described as a long-planned training exercise, their flight to this zone represents one comforting continuity in American defense policy – namely, America’s longstanding commitment to freedom of the seas and freedom to navigate in international airspace.

Again, fortunately, China did not choose to intercept these bombers. But the fact that it was necessary to send them on this mission represents a deterioration in China’s perception of the credibility of America’s deterrent forces. If that credibility erodes further, and Beijing becomes ever more emboldened in its expansionism to challenge the United States and our allies in the region (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan), the chances of military confrontation escalating to the use of force increases commensurately.

While the administration is to be commended for not abandoning a time-honored policy of protecting air and sea-based navigation, it should recognize the latest Chinese action for what it is: a warning that weakness is less likely to guarantee peace than strength.

Minimum deterrence: Enhancing the possibility of war

DM-ST-93-02894Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has undergone several bouts of unilateral disarmament in strategic arms.  First, we stopped all production of tritium in 1988, a vital component in the production and refurbishment of nuclear weapons and revived it only much later (in 2005).

We conducted an unnecessary arms control agreement with Russia in 2010 – the New START Treaty – which, like virtually all previous arms control agreements with the USSR and Russia, suffered from many serious flaws.  For example, it had absolutely no accompanying compliance policy.  It had weaknesses in verification (which is completely distinct from compliance policy).  The treaty gave Moscow unilateral advantages. It did not include a force limit on Russia’s thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, an area where they far outnumber the United States. The treaty also counts certain conventional launchers against the force limit, hampering our goal of developing a Prompt Global Strike capability. These changes left Moscow a free hand to continue its nuclear modernization while we restricted the numbers of our deterrent forces without pursuing modernization.

We signed the agreement in spite of the fact that Moscow has continued its history of violating arms control agreements, even into the post-Cold War period.  We signed it as if China’s nuclear arsenal plays no role in the global strategic balance, but Beijing is not party to any of the extant relevant strategic arms agreements.

Our intelligence community tells us that China has between 300 and 400 ICBMS and SLBMs. One Russia expert, a former Colonel General of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, claims the Chinese could have as many as 1800 missiles.  Which is it?  Are we indeed able to verify the number of Chinese missiles when they are concealing most of them in the labyrinth of tunnels that they call the “Underground Great Wall”?  This is reportedly a network of 3,000 miles of tunnels through which trucks can pass, pulling road-mobile launch vehicles for ICBMs.

One always hesitates to criticize the estimates of our 16-agency intelligence community (IC).  But historically, there have been examples where the conventional wisdom within the community has been very difficult, if not impossible, to challenge, especially when its judgments are made on the basis of estimates rather than actual intelligence about the facts of the matter.  In the 1970s, the IC told us that the percentage of the Soviet economy devoted to the military was 5%.  In fact, it proved to be more in the realm of 50%.

China’s possession of strategic weapons and its ability to conceal them makes a big difference to the United States.  China considers the United States to be its main enemy.  It propagandizes its vast armed forces to consider us as such.  Its double digit annual growth in military expenditures is principally targeted to address American military capabilities.  It conducts cyber attacks and espionage against multiple types of targets in the US: industrial secrets, US Government classified networks, our national laboratories, academic centers specializing in Chinese affairs, and even the personal accounts of American sinologists.  It has dispatched somewhere in the realm of 50,000 intelligence collectors to our shores.  It has developed a neutron bomb.  It has conducted laser tests against US satellites.  It has developed an anti-satellite weapon designed to blind our intelligence capabilities and disrupt our command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence networks.  It is developing a blue water navy.  It has established a strategic presence at most of the world’s major strategic naval choke points.  It is flexing its muscles with aggressive territorial claims throughout its neighborhood, most notably in the South and East China Seas.

As we continue to hollow out our military and move in the direction of “minimum deterrence” in the realm of strategic weapons, our credibility as an ally in our mutual defense pacts with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan is eroding, to such an extent that each of these countries is making its own separate security preparations.

A policy of minimum deterrence, which is being pursued by the Administration, and which has been encouraged by several former Secretaries of State who have set forth a reckless and utopian vision of a nuclear-free world, is exactly the formula for enhancing the possibility of war – even conventional war.

Now that more than two decades have passed since the foreign policy community kept a serious eye on matters of nuclear strategy, it is high time that we be reminded about the implications of the irresponsible policy that is being pursued.

Fortunately, a recent study by the National Institute for Public Policy under the directorship of Dr. Keith Payne and former Secretary of Defense Dr. James Schlesinger reviews and thoroughly discredits the assumptions underlying this policy and how it portends ever greater insecurity for the US and its allies throughout the world:

It is now time for the US Congress to ensure that America will retain a serious and adequate strategic deterrent to maximize the prospects of realistic peace and not the fatuous vision of the utopians.

Our defense posture is weak, and not just because of the sequester

As we witness almost daily the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, where with sickening regularity, we learn reports of another 60 innocent people being killed by terrorist bombings, one is prompted to reflect about how our government establishes its priorities for the defense of our country.  Although the news from Afghanistan is not as disturbing, the prospect of American withdrawal and the continuation of civil war within that wretched country makes such reflection even more necessary.

Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan

As painful as it may be for some people to look back on the strategic decisions that were made to conduct the wars in those two places in the ways that we did, we must nevertheless confront a bitter truth – namely, that the political-strategic situation in both countries is not markedly better than when we first ousted Saddam Hussein from power and when we removed the Taliban from its ruling position in Afghanistan.

In both cases, we decided to embark on nation-building projects, which necessitated the prolonged presence of American forces.  In both cases, we have attempted to implement radical political-cultural changes that have cut against the grain of long-established political arrangements.

In the case of Iraq, under the banner of bringing democracy to one of the most advanced Arab countries, we ousted the longtime Sunni Muslim governing class and effectively installed, under the aegis of a nationwide election, a Shia government that has been so mistrustful of the Sunnis that it has effectively frozen them out of meaningful influence within the country.  This is nothing less than a social revolution that is a recipe for protracted civil war.

Our actions were based very much on assumptions that Iraqi culture was malleable, and that perhaps culture itself–with the habits, traditions, customs, mentality, and modes of thinking, formed over centuries–didn’t really exist.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, we have attempted to install a central government in a country where no serious central government has ever existed for any length of time.  When there was a king, he regarded the country for what it was – a confederation of tribes whose autonomy he had to respect.  In return, the tribes, accustomed to paying their respect to the inheritor of the monarchical charisma, retained some identity with the “nation” of Afghanistan, even though their principal identity was tribal.

In both cases, American foreign policy optimistically assumed not only the malleability of culture but an adaptability and perhaps even a perfectibility of human nature–an assumption that has long characterized left-wing ideologies which have attempted to build heaven on earth.

The cost of what I consider to be utopian nation-building adventures will come to $6-8 trillion in actuarial terms, when you calculate the lifetime of medical care for the thousands who have been wounded, both physically and mentally, in the course of the protracted occupations of these countries.

There was another way

There was another way.  These extraordinary levels of blood and treasure need not have been spent.  But what would have been required was a proper ordering of our national security priorities where vital national interests take priority over mere interests and where the allocation of resources is configured appropriately.

Saddam Hussein’s capture in December 2003 is when our involvement in Iraq might much more profitably have ended.  Rather than embarking on nation-building, our intervention could have prompted a leadership change in Iraq, even if it remained Sunni Muslim and Baathist party-based.  But the message would have reverberated throughout the country that if you massacre Shia and Kurds and play shell games with weapons of mass destruction, there are consequences.

Thomas Jefferson did not send Stephen Decatur, the Marine Corps, and American privateers to the shores of Tripoli to invade, occupy, and democratize the radical Islamists of his day–the Barbary pirates.  He sent them on a behavior-modification operation.  The result was freedom of navigation for international commerce.

It is more realistic to deter gross conduct than it is to change an entire culture.

In Afghanistan, I believe that the proposal made by several members of Congress, notably Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, to restore the king to his throne was much more likely to win a national consensus that would have preserved tribal autonomy and the confederative status of the country.  If we needed forces which could help maintain some modicum of order nationwide, they could have been the very forces of the Northern Alliance, who, with our CIA and Special Forces, ousted the Taliban from power.

We could have made our country safer

Imagine if only a fraction of that $6-8 trillion had been spent.  Imagine how it could have enabled us to maintain the Navy that our global commitments require.  It is now under 300 ships, when it should be over 500, especially in light of the rapid development by China of its own blue water navy and its extraordinary muscle flexing and bellicosity in the South and East China Seas.

Today, our Army is being reduced to a bare-bones force where only two brigades are fully combat ready, according to General Ray Odierno, the Army’s Chief of Staff.

Our nuclear forces are in a very sad state of repair, and people in positions of senior responsibility are talking about a policy of minimum deterrence–maintaining a bare minimum of nuclear forces, when in fact, nothing could be less effective in deterring war, and not just nuclear war, than a skeletal strategic deterrent.

With just a few more resources, we could significantly enhance our missile defense.  We could pay more serious attention to the massive Chinese espionage and theft of both our industrial and military secrets.  We could even harden the transformers that are the hubs of our nationwide electrical grid to protect against the very real possibility of an electromagnetic pulse that could come either from solar activity or from a nuclear device detonated in the atmosphere above our country–a phenomenon that, according to the most serious scientific studies, would kill the vast majority of citizens in our country through the destruction of everything electrical, including our just-in-time delivery system the basic necessities of life.

As much as the sequester is being blamed for the budgetary strains that are plaguing our national defense posture, it was ill-conceived policy and strategic decisions made over the last decade that lie at the heart of one of our most critical national challenges.

One hopes that more Americans, and particularly our future leaders whom we are attempting to shape at IWP, will learn from such lessons of history.

This article by John Lenczowski is partially based on a speech delivered this fall to the Council for National Policy, and also appears on