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Worrywarts

April 29th, 2003 - 1:43 am

Check out this from the New York Times:

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor running for president, has told an audience in New Hampshire that the United States “won’t always have the strongest military,” an assertion that drew a strong rebuke today from one of his rivals for the Democratic nomination.

Dr. Dean’s remark, at a yogurt factory in New Hampshire two weeks ago, was posted on Time magazine’s Web site today. It was instantly attacked by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, whose campaign issued a statement maintaining that it raised “serious questions about his capacity to serve as commander in chief.”

“No serious candidate for the presidency,” said Mr. Kerry’s spokesman, Chris Lehane, “has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America’s military supremacy.”

Dr. Dean rejected that characterization of his comment. “What serious presidential candidate would ever say such a thing?” he said. “How ridiculous!”

Erosion of military strength is a problem, although not for the reasons Dean is probably thinking of. While Dean didn’t give any details for his worry, he’s about as far-left as you can get and still get elected a governor in this country. So my guess is, going from what I think is his mindset, that he has an all-too-typical leftist view of American decline. This is a lousy nation, the thinking goes, so of course we won’t remain preeminent forever.

The real problem is called “victory disease,” and it’s something suffered by any winning military.

You can read about it in this book, Getting It Right, which not only details VD (heh), but also how “defeat” in Vietnam spurred US armed forces to the reforms that made possible our victory in the ’91 Gulf War.

Put simply, victorious armies tend to rest on their laurels, and look to past strengths rather than future threats. Meanwhile, the losing side takes a very hard look at what went wrong and how to do better next time.

America, with our healthy aversion to imperial antics and foreign adventures, has suffered VD badly before. Think Pearl Harbor, Kasserine Pass, Task Force Smith, and pretty much the opening battle of every war we fought before 1991.

The military can’t take all the blame, though. Bush ’41 promised us a “peace dividend,” leaving us with a much-reduced military, unable to simultaneously fight two major wars as promised. Clinton and his crony generals bought us lots of nice new toys, but left us short on simple items like spare parts. Hell, even Donald Rumsfeld proposed slashing the Army from a measly ten divisions down to a dangerous seven.

So when John Kerry says that “no serious candidate has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America’s military supremacy,” keep in mind that campaign promises don’t equal military effectiveness. It’s victory disease that leaves us with a shrunken army short on ammo.

Dean is right to worry — only he’s wrong about the reasons. If we fail in the future, it will be not because of our faults, but because of our virtues.

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