Rethinking Defense in the Era of Shadow Wars
The Greater Middle East has been the hobgoblin of Washington's little minds since August 2, 1990, the day Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army blitzed into Kuwait. The UN-approved Coalition effort to expel him months later was precision-geared not to upset the local balance of power, but regardless, the Gulf War deeply affected policy decisions from around the region to Communist Party HQ in Beijing to al Qaeda plotters in the caves of Afghanistan.
We've been fighting in Afghanistan long enough that a young person born on September 12, 2001, is now old enough to serve there. It will take a few more years to shrink our defense posture in the region to something like it was before the Gulf War. The radicalized Arab elements haven't yet grown sick from their own bloodlust, and Iran remains as feisty as ever in its attempts to recreate the Persian Empire. But it isn't too soon to start thinking about our global defense strategy in the post-post-9/11 era.
An interesting place to start might be a recent interview with Sean McFate, published by MIT Technology Review. McFate is a former paratrooper and a professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and the author of the recent book, The New Rules of War. His most important observation is this: "Militaries can no longer kill their way out of problems in a global information age, and this is driving war into the shadows." I don't agree with his notion that we cut the defense budget in half -- hardly. Defense spending is already under 5 percent of GDP, and trending down toward 4 percent. That isn't to say we're spending all those dollars wisely. The Navy is too small, the Army is arguably too big, and the Air Force needs to reexamine its priorities. And none of the services seem to take seriously what happens if Mexico goes full Failed State.