Originally Published: April 17, 2014 6 a.m.
After a dozen plus years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are understandably wary of any future conflicts. Many of our troops, having served in multiple deployments, are weary and spent. The rules of engagement, put in place to decrease the number of civilian injuries in 2009 and 2010 in Afghanistan, have greatly increased the casualty rate for our military. This has the effect of plunging morale. Probably no one has suffered more through these wars than the families of our military personnel who have served in those theaters.
The problem wasn't going into those countries. There was ample justification. Afghanistan's leaders would not turn over Al Qaeda leaders that planned and orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attack on our country. Iraq had violated the cease-fire agreement from the first Gulf War numerous times by shooting at our jets, which had the right to fly over that country, not to mention the umpteen Iraqi violations of UN resolutions. The problem was staying in Afghanistan and Iraq long after they were defeated, and attempting to create democratic governments in cultures that are hostile to democracy.
After such long durations of continuous combat, casualties and money spent, Americans' feelings about any future wars are understandable. That doesn't mean, however, that we should cut back on our military and weaken our defenses. On the contrary, such action invites attacks on our vital interests and those of our allies. The lessons of history prove this time and time again.
An article in the April 2014, Military Officer, "Preserving a Strong Defense," by Alan Dowd addresses this issue. This article was written before President Obama and Secretary of Defense Hagel announced their budget that cuts defense spending. Secretary Hagel says that Congress is to blame because of the sequestration. Hagel neglects to point out that President Obama signed the legislation that created this sequestration scenario. Both Congress and the White House share the blame. If Congress and the president don't work out a better solution, our military could be cut back to pre-World War II levels.
This article demonstrates, through historical data, that in the long run it is cheaper to pay for defense before a conflict. Before World War I, the US government spent an average of 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the previous eight years. It spent 16.1 percent of GDP during that war. Similarly, in the 10 years prior to WWII, the U.S. put out an average of only 1.1 percent of GDP on defense. The average defense spending during the war was 27 percent. Contrast that with the average defense spending of 7 percent during the Cold War. That increase in spending, compared with the other peacetime eras before the two World Wars, kept us out of a major conflict with the Soviet Union (although we did battle with the Soviet surrogates in Korea and Vietnam).
In 1980, future President Ronald Reagan, made the statement, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong." Reagan had a gift for expressing a universal truth. It is a universal truth that strength discourages aggression, whether it is in the microcosm of the schoolyard or in the geopolitical world theater.
Alan Dowd, in his article, quotes Winston Churchill regarding World War II: "If we had kept together after the last war, if we had taken common measures for our safety, this renewal of the curse need never have fallen upon us." Churchill knew this from seeing how England's lack of preparing for war actually resulted in it.
Herman Wouk wrote the novel, The Winds of War, which chronicled the era that led up to World War II. It was a time analogous to now. Hitler's Germany was exhibiting aggression in Europe, while Japan was already warring in Asia. Americans then, as now, were reluctant to become involved in any foreign adventures. In fact, a large part of our population was isolationist. Our enemies knew that. Our enemies also knew that we were ill prepared for war. Our weakness and perceived lack of resolve lead to Pearl Harbor and World War II.
Iran is now nearly capable of producing a nuclear bomb and the missiles to deliver it to Israel. When that capability occurs, the whole Middle East will be a tinderbox. The Russians have already annexed the Crimea and it looks like the rest of Ukraine may be their next target. Are the Baltic states next? North Korea is as schizophrenic as ever toward both South Korea and Japan. China is quickly building up its navy. Is it finally going to attempt to act on its claim that Taiwan is part of China rather than an independent nation?
Leading from behind has not worked. Constantly drawing and redrawing red lines has not worked. Sending MRE's to a country asking for arms to defend itself, has not worked. The winds of war are blowing again and the proper response is not to bend with that wind by weakening our military. Weakness invites aggression. Strength discourages it. If you really want peace, demand that our leaders in Congress and the White House enhance our military, not deplete it.
Buz Williams is a retired Long Beach, Calif., police officer who has lived in Prescott since 2004.