By Michael Hall
The United States is losing the war. At fault is our bloated and wasteful military. Our military leaders are training to refight their last successful wars, World War II, Korea and the 1991 Gulf War. They have forgotten the lessons of our revolution, Vietnam and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Our country’s military resembles King Kong atop the Empire State Building batting at the biplanes buzzing around, Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians or a Maine moose chased by a cloud of cloying insects. They have forgotten the lessons of history.
The differences between the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq illustrate my point. Iraq in 1990 was touted as having the fourth largest tank army in the world. It had fought a long war with Iran and overrun Kuwait. American military analysts predicted horrific coalition casualties. The 1991 Iraqi military made one mistake. It showed up at high noon for a showdown and paid for its folly with instantaneous destruction.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq through the surge in 2006-2007 played out differently. Rather than stand and fight, the Iraqi military had learned its lesson. It dispersed and refused battle. By the time my unit arrived in 2006, the Iraq war had become the Iraqi insurgency. All insurgencies through history use the same weapons: the ambush, hit and run, the minefield and IED and terrorism. The same weapons the Americans used against the British, the Vietnamese against the French and Americans. The same weapons the Palestinians use against the Israelis. Weapons every weaker people through history have used against a stronger foe.
One new weapon in the insurgent’s armory unavailable prior to World War I is national and international opinion. Lawrence of Arabia and Ho Chi Minh both used the media to promote their causes. The Vietnamese 1968 Tet offensive was a fiasco from a military point of view, but it was a public relations victory, coming just as American politicians were proclaiming the war won. The Palestinian Infatada, showcasing children throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, won the hearts of the world until they were replaced by suicide bombers.
Insurgents and weaker nation states use media to highlight their strengths. The Soviet Union’s and China’s May Day parades as well as North Korea’s give the world the impression of national solidarity. Saddam Hussein’s parades served the same purpose — just smoke and mirrors; nothing behind the curtain.
Our enemies are more adroit using the media. News stories abound about Russian ships off our coast and close encounters with Russian planes. Stories about Russian war games and their plans to invade Europe keep military planners on edge. The media buzzes about China building artificial islands and how they are a threat. Iranians pose on camera screaming “Death to America.” It’s all smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, with nothing behind the curtain.
The strength of the American military is anchored in the American economy. Our GDP, gross domestic product, is $19 trillion. Russia’s $1.28 trillion GDP is only 7 percent the size of ours. China’s GDP, if it can be measured accurately, is half the size of ours. It takes economic power to fund a military and project power globally. The United States has 10 aircraft carriers. The Russians have one and the Chinese two. In our Civil War, the North beat the South by producing steel, guns and laying railroad tracks, not by virtue of superior bravery; except by the 20th Maine at Little Round Top. In the 1965 movie “Battle of the Bulge,” the German commander laments his men have to forage for gas while the Americans have enough supplies to fly cake across the Atlantic. America buried Germany and Japan under an avalanche of industrial output. Saddam Hussein was beaten by the American economy as much as by Gens. Schwarzkopf and Powell. Without a dynamic and productive economy, the American soldier could be Polish mounted cavalry charging German Panzers.
The military is necessary in a dangerous world, but every dollar spent on the military comes from the pockets of hard-working citizens. Every dime spent on the military comes at the cost of productive investment. Civilian leaders and military planners must balance what is needed spending for national defense while keeping the military’s drain on the productive economy to a minimum. Our leaders must ensure they are planning for future conflicts, not wars of the past.
Our smart weapons, smart planes, smart ships and smart missiles have pinpoint lethality. If we can see a target, we can kill it. Russia, China and the rest of our adversaries know they cannot match our production of smart weapons. China and Russia are both testing systems to kill the satellites those smart systems depend on. North Korea and Iran may be developing the technology to deliver a strike to our nation’s electrical grid with either an EMP pulse or by hacking the systems that control the grid. Yet our politicians are funding a new generation of fighter planes, ships and weapons systems without protecting the systems critical to maintain a productive and vibrant economy.
None of our adversaries believe they can marshal giant tank armies on the central European plain. None of our adversaries believe they can marshal the ships to challenge the U.S. Navy or can field fleets of aircraft to challenge the U.S. Air Force. When the blow comes, it will be with the tools of the insurgent. The ambush, the hit and run, the IED, terrorism and psychological war spread through the media and propaganda. The blow, when it comes, will be aimed at the source of our strength, the American economy. They will attack our infrastructure, communications and power systems
We need to take a hiatus from building new weapons systems. We need to demobilize the entire Army, send it home and use its $160-billion share of the defense budget to rebuild our infrastructure, harden our electrical grid and protect our land- and space-based communication systems. Keep the Navy, Marines and Air Force and spend our resources reinforcing the ultimate source of the American military’s strength. The economy must be protected first.
Michael Hall has a degree in economics from the University of Maine and was in the Army for a total of 23 years, including a deployment to Iraq in 2006-2007.