It's Time to Bring the Boys Home from World War II

We used to think the U.S. was a rich country, but our level of debt indicates otherwise. We need to rein in spending and, more importantly,  change our perceptions of who our enemies really are and how we should defend ourselves against them. And there are ways to save money on defense while still improving it.

The key is in knowing who your enemies are and understanding what they might do. (This is much more of a political issue than a defense issue.) The French learned the hard way with the Maginot Line. It cost a fortune and did nothing.  The U.S. has started to recognize that major changes in defense spending are required.

On April 7, the Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required) on Defense Secretary Robert Gates' realignment of Pentagon strategy  in fighting unconventional wars such as the one in Afghanistan as opposed to a head-on battle with Russia or China. This is a tacit admission that China and Russia are not the enemies they once were. And, in truth, they haven't been for decades. That is not to say there is no commercial conflict or maneuvering for power, but fundamentally neither power wants us dead like our terrorist enemies do.  They certainly are not our friends even if they should be (after all we are great customers).  However, given the nuclear arsenal possessed by each country, it is probable that there will not be a major war with conventional armies clashing. It would be impossible to win and unnecessary -- and we all know it.

One of the great accidents that benefited civilized humankind as a whole was the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. It showed the potential devastation of a nuclear war to thinking men on all sides. In the case of Chernobyl, the entire civilized world came to the aid of the Soviets  in order to keep this disaster to a minimum.

So Gates is right in shifting the strategy. Al-Qaeda did much more damage to the U.S. in the last two decades than all our other so-called enemies combined. There is already much controversy swirling around the decisions he has made in terms of what programs will be shut down, etc. But these changes do not go far enough. For example, this shift does not acknowledge the reality that large armies and occupations are effectively obsolete. While the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may have kept the U.S. safe since 9/11, they surely haven't been cost effective in lives and money. Perhaps the nation-building will stick, but that is hardly a certainty.  And an unspoken truth is that the U.S. would never invade a country that possessed nuclear weapons.