Sunday, January 28, 2007

Defeat Has a Price as Well

I apologize for the week with no posts. I was caught off guard by two midterms that were scheduled in the third week of class.

Daniel Henninger has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which can be found online, about the fatalism gripping America today. He discusses how this fatalism in America is on almost everything, justified or not.

“Yes, on any given day on some discrete issue (Prime Minister Maliki's bona fides, for example), the criticism of the American role is not without justification. But the cumulative effect of this unremitting ill wind is corrosive. We are not only on the way to talking ourselves into defeat in Iraq but into a diminished international status that may be harder to recover than the doom mob imagines. Self-criticism has its role, but profligate self-doubt can exact a price.”

I think the second to last sentence is the key one there, we will not be able to mosey back into our current position in the world if we give up in Iraq and elsewhere. I’ve written about this several times since I think it is the most troubling part of the media and Democrat’s endless pessimism (here is a general one and here is one when I was more optimistic about the voters' ability to see the left for what it is). The days when we could choose to be isolationist and then instantly restore our place in the world are over. The old Euro-centric great power system that we couldn't help but lead no longer exists. Although the Democrat’s either don’t know or don’t care, there are real penalties for losing our top spot in world affairs. We would live in a world where like Europe we have to suffer Russia and the Arab’s energy politics, like Japan the price of our imports would vary wildly on the basis of someone else’s currency, and like China foreign trade is conducted according to another culture’s standards.

Our lack of resolve over Iraq is also sending a terrible signal to our allies. If a nation of 300 million can’t endure 3,000 dead in Iraq then what are the odds that it will suffer more to protect Japan from China, Ethiopia from the Arabs, or the Ukraine from Russia? Not very likely some countries will decide leading them to take the best deal they can from these countries. Even the most powerful nation requires a handful of allies to operate effectively. We don't need many but we don't need to scare off potential real allies either. Henninger quotes the Australian Foreign Minister who is for obvious reasons worried,

“What concerns me about this," he said, "is that it's sort of an isolationist sentiment, subconsciously, not consciously, and that would be an enormous problem for the world. I hope the American people understand the importance of not retreating and thinking the world's problems aren't theirs.”

The Aussie FM mentions another point, the world’s problems will still be our problems. The only difference will be our ability to do anything about them. As with other issues we’ll be left to hoping others keep them from becoming problems for us (fat chance) or simply living with them.

Power will always exist and be exercised. If the nation who holds it doesn’t then someone else will in their place. If we decide that we aren’t up to the responsibility our power entails then others will do it for us. The Europeans are desperate for the Euro to replace the Dollar which would place our import prices at the whims of the European Central Bank and Europe’s creaking economy. Russia and China are maneuvering to corner the global production of various raw materials so they can be used to their and not the world’s advantage. China is especially making moves to relocate the various global trading boards from New York and London to Shanghai so China can have a greater role in determining the value of raw materials to benefit herself. Problems like international terrorism, Lebanon, and Taiwan would be left to the witless UN and EU and would be handled by them much as they dealt with international communism, Bosnia, and Rwanda. There is no denying that many benefits accrue to us as the world’s superpower, but along with them comes responsibility and duty, we cannot have one without the other. The American people should be aware that the decision to ignore our responsibilities comes with a great and possibly irreversible price.

My last worry about this focuses on the US military. The American military is about the only part of the US government and probably the only global institution that still functions properly. Our soldiers are very proud of their country and their duty to her (I certainly was and am), much more so than the civilian population. I believe this is one of the key aspects that make America a great country and the main problem for most other countries. An Iraqi soldier was quoted in a news story (it’s several years old so I can’t find it) saying that after serving with American soldiers he can see that Iraq’s main problem is that not enough Iraqis love their country enough to die for it. However, this is one of the increasingly large gaps between the military and the public at large. The military is of course very worried that its 5 years of hard work and sacrifice will soon be thrown down the drain by an American public and establishment apparently not up to the task of supporting their armed forces. Former Army Vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane is quotes as saying in exasperation,
“My God, this is the United States. We are the world's No. 1 superpower. This isn't about arrogance. This is about capability and applying ourselves to a problem that is at its essence a human problem."
It’s not likely or something near term, but I just wonder if longer-term we are heading to a point where our military could no longer tolerate a public not worthy of its sacrifices.


  1. I have wondered if making military service mandatory for most Americans would give America a better sense of pride and love for their country. What do you think?

    Anyway, great post, and as always I agree.

  2. Possibly, but I'm not a fan of the draft. Too many issues involved with it, not the least of which it is less effective than a volunteer military. I'd prefer something like what Japan is doing with patriotism being taught in schools though of course the left wing teachers and their unions would refuse to go along. They'd compare it to the Hitler Youth even though they so adored Castro's Pioneers (same thing) back when Clinton forcibly Eliot Gonzalez back to Cuba (and man does it scare me when I remember little events from the Clinton years). Thanks for the comment.

  3. The US government is sure in a pickle.

  4. One of its own making also. The people have gotten too soft (pygmies who don't realize they are only so tall because they sit on the shoulders of their great ancestors is my favorite description) and the Iraq war hasn't been waged with alacrity since 2003. The two add up to what we see today and what we may see tomorrow. By the way, I thought Eliot was a wierd name for a Cuban, I know it's Elian.

  5. I'm not sure that a draft is what the US needs... For one thing, it would bring in more manpower than the military needs or could use, and then you start getting into exemption issues...

    It would be better to draft everyone, without exception, for national service. That can include military service, but it can also be used for other things: police and fire reserves, for example, or EMTs and ambulance drivers, or Americorps, or Teach America...

    The key is, to make service mandatory, so that everyone, as they enter adulthood, has the experience of working for something bigger than themselves, for the greater good.

    And teach patriotism in the schools. The Pledge, the flag, and the Constitution should be required study in late elementary.

  6. That's one of the things I don't think people who want a draft understand (not that they understand much to begin with), just how many soldiers a universal draft would enlist. To train them and get at least one tour would require 2 years, 3 would be preferable. Depending on medical/criminal/fitness standards the army would pull in say around 1.5 million men a year out of the 2.2 million turning 18 (or 19/20). That would quickly dwarf our present military. Of course we wouldn't train that number so the hated exemptions would return with gusto.

    I like the national service idea in principle. I don't think Congress would continually approve the billions it would require though, especially not with the Democrat's in charge. The only reason the Democrats have decided they love national service vis a vis the draft is because it hurts Bush politically and makes the military less effective. It has nothing to do with it being a good idea or good for the country.

  7. and makes the military less effective

    How does mandatory service do this? Giving patriotic objectors a place to go would at least keep them away from the dumb-ass "protests" we keep seeing on the news, and give them something useful to do.

    I understand your point about budget. I wonder if public works programs (road repair, and the like) could provide enough return to make it worth doing?

    Interesting topic for some grad student's thesis, right there...

  8. I didn’t mean to say conscript armies are always worse than volunteer armies, I meant that for the United States today a conscript army is not as good as a volunteer army. Conscript armies are superior when the army’s main task is to defend its homeland, or when the nation has a very devoted patriotic population. Today we have to draw on an expeditionary army from a not patriotic enough population so a volunteer army is better. In Israel’s case especially a conscript is the better of the two (which is why we both have our respective army types).

    With the US being as developed as we are I don’t know if we would get enough bang for the buck anymore using young folk to build infrastructure. I would argue though that it would be very beneficial for most countries of the world. I know in the early 20th Century when we had a spasm of nation building, we would establish a government and any able bodied man who couldn’t afford to pay taxes to it would be required to do several months labor for the government instead. We’d have them build roads, bridges, collect garbage, fight mosquitoes (since the countries were in the tropics), work on farms, man civil guards, and so forth.

    It worked fairly well while we were around to enforce it, but of course as soon as we’d leave some dictator would seize power and the infrastructure and economy would collapse, crime and disease would return, and all that remained of our presence would be decayed roads and memories. Something like that would work miracles with all those unemployed Muslim men, or in the poor undeveloped African countries. Unfortunately though, as we’re seeing in Iraq and the Palestinian areas and as we saw in Haiti, Central America, and Mexico a century ago, good work ethics and loving your nation enough to even sacrifice just some time for it are Western Judeo-Christian and East Asian values so it wouldn’t work well where it would work well (I hope that made sense, it sounded too cool to resist).