For the first half of our nation’s existence, our military primarily focused on true homeland security. The Monroe Doctrine established that the USA would focus on concerns in the western hemisphere, while allowing Europe to deal with Europe, Asia with Asia, etc. Such an attitude saved us from being involved in many fruitless wars in other nations.
After problems in Lebanon went bad, Pres Reagan pulled our troops out and sat down with Casper Weinberger and Colin Powell, and came up with the Weinberger Doctrine. This meant we would not go into any conflict unless there was a clear US interest, clear entrance and exit strategies, etc. It was a common sense system that lasted until Bill Clinton sent us into Serbia/Croatia.
During WW I and II, we found that sometimes we are brought into others’ wars. Occasionally this seemed inevitable or necessary. And sometimes we must protect our allies. However, our entrance into wars always had unintended consequences: Woodrow Wilson divvied up Europe in such a way that we had to return many times to “fix” the problem, such as in the 1990s with Serbia/Croatia. Entering into Vietnam with advisers turned into all out war and then spread into other countries, destabilizing them, as well. Because of our entrance into that war, we enabled Pol Pot to gain power, and then slaughter 1.5 million of his own people. Desert Storm led to escalation of terrorism and issues in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc.
Currently we have over 700 bases overseas. Some are very big Cold War era facilities (such as in Europe), while others are just ammo depots that are almost never used, or are maintained by local contractors. We can save $10-20 billion annually by closing 1/2 of these sites. That is $100-200 billion over a decade.
Next, we return to the Monroe and Weinberger Doctrines and pull our troops out of active engagements throughout the world: Aghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc. We would save at least $200 billion a year, or about $2 Trillion in the next decade. And this means we avoid new conflicts that are not in our interest. It doesn’t do us any good to leave Afghanistan if we then go directly into Iraq, Syria, or who knows where else.
We become the beacon of liberty again. A city on the hill, as Pres Reagan saw us. We show all others the way to freedom by our example, not by force. As George Washington hoped, we become friends with all, entangling alliances with none.
BTW, I am retired Air Force. My Master’s Degree in Teaching/History had me digging in the Air University’s stacks of papers. They provide advanced training for US and international officers. It was very interesting to research the 1972 Yom Kippur War, studying papers written by Israeli and Egyptian pilots who were involved in the engagement.
And I studied papers that discussed the outcomes of wars, including the unexpected events that occurred.
Ho Chi Minh, though a communist, preferred being an ally to the USA over China or Russia. We forced a continued war in Vietnam, supporting drug lords and despots rather than the will of the people. We ended up losing the Vietnam war, allowing several other nations to fall to even worse versions of communism, and we cut them off from trade with us for decades. Trade which could have changed them decades ago. We now trade with Vietnam, and are a closer ally to them than are the Chinese. We could have influenced them over these many years for good, but chose to make them enemies instead.
I have mixed feelings on this.
For example, it’s hard for me to say “well, we just shouldn’t have gone into Iraq” because a) we know more now that we did go into Iraq then we could possibly have know if we hadn’t, b) you break it you’ve bought it, c) what, exactly, was the realistic alternative?
That last is the bugger for me. If we had, as the French suggested, tripled the inspectors, they wouldn’t have found anything — because nothing was there! So we’d still have thought we were being bamboozled. And there would have been massive public outcry for action.
If we had walked away (as the French had all but insisted by trying to make ultimatiums without threat of force) doing nothing at all, our consistuents would have (given the information available at the time) just have unelected the current government and elected one that would have gone to war.
In short, you have to act on the information you actually have at the time. Iraq was a mistake but primarily due to bad information.
I have never seen a really good case for a viable alternative given the bad information we had at the time. Anyone want to suggest one? Or will you just resort to the old falsehood (that is known to be false via a mound of hard evidence easily available) that the reason we went to war was due to Bush druming up false information? History will not record it that way. They may decide Bush was a fool in his handling of the war, but they will not claim he falsified the intelligence. There is overwhelming evidence that he did not. Yet everyone throws that out as the ‘alternative’ i.e. Bush lied and so we went to war and if Bush had not lied we would not have. It just isn’t the truth. It’s a fantasy. To keep us out of Iraq, you have to imagine an alternative where we either get Saddam to cave in and come clean or we walk away while simultaneously believing Saddam has hidden WMD that he’s collecting. And continuing to believe that while dropping all sanctions since they are now useless now that the military response had been tested and found unfeasible.
I guess the bottom line is that I think it’s so much easier to state that we should not send our forces out then it is to actually not do it if you have to make the tough choices and stand accountable to the public for them. We are all excellent armchair quarterbacks and we’re all better than the real ones. Or think we are.
I think most Americans would have accepted continuing things as they were. Our government convinced us to go to war. Even Colin Powell was reticent about it, because it did not fit the Weinberger/Powell doctrine, but instead fit the GWBush Doctrine of Preemptive War.
We could have easily told Iraq to be good, or we’d drop a ton of bombs on them. And then left them alone. The reality is, many nations have weapons of mass destruction, yet the Towers were not dropped by WMDs, but by hijacked planes. Basically, anything can be turned into a weapon of mass destruction, or so we should have learned from the Oklahoma Fed Building bombing years before. Freedom means you must accept some risks. Too much fear causes us to create a TSA, or imprison all the Japanese.
IOW, it requires a different mindset. If we stop being the world police force, which many view as the world’s bully, then we will have fewer trying to destroy us. And those who do despicable things to us should get a swift bombing that leaves them so devastated they and their allies won’t do it again. Then we live peacefully in the world again.
Another point on this: we are wearing out our troops. They are exhausted. We are destroying their families, as they go from Iraq to Afghanistan to wherever, on one mission after another. Time to use our military for defense, and only for defense. Time to reject Bush’s preemption doctrine as a disaster, and return to the Weinberger Doctrine (which would have kept us from invading Iraq).
I think part of the change that needs to be made is for us to stop trying to find who is to blame for any specific issues that come up. ATM, we’re still working on who to blame for the stock market bouncing up and down. For 9/11, we had a group to blame, but it was a group that was in many countries and of many nationalities, so we picked a country that we could beat, Afghanistan. I remember people proudly showing maps of “Lake Afghanistan” after we’d beaten it to mulch, since the whole country was evidently to blame. I think Iraq was a combination of frustration with Afghanistan not going as well or as quickly as we’d hoped and a leader (theirs) who was good at pushing our buttons.
I don’t know that we’re ever again going to see a time where the US is not in some kind of war. We seem to like telling others what to do and beating them up when they disagree.
Frank, and you may be right. However, I think that if we do not get our Defense back in order, we will not be able to get anything else back in order, either. So, if we continue trying to be the world’s police, we should at least change the name to the Department of Offense?
I don’t remember people salivating to go to war until the case was presented that helped convince them along with the hints (not necessarily from the President) that Saddam had might have had something to do with 9/11. I doubt Bush had to worry about being kicked out of office if we avoided that war. Afghanistan is another story. Once it was determined the 9/11 masterminds where there, was there any way to avoid that conflict? I don’t think with the mindset of the time.
We need Geoff to respond to this thread, I’d love to hear his view. He supported the Iraq invasion, and I wonder if he supported an invasion before Bush’s team made the case we needed to go in, or if prior to that he thought sanctions and threats were enough?
I have a quibble with your analysis that our entrance into Vietnam destabilized the region. I think we were responding to the area because of observed instability. Would Pol Pot have been kept from power or made much nicer if we were not there? I do not know about that. Our fingers getting burnt in ‘Nam prevented entry into Cambodia to curb Pot’s excesses. There are plenty of mass killings that are not tied to our government being adventurous around the world. Rawanda, Ethiopia and Uganda come quickly to mind.
I agree that we are not responsible for all wars or genocide on earth. That said, we allowed the Vietnam war to drift over into Laos and Cambodia.
Some of my classes for my Master’s were taught by the Air Force’s expert on Southeastern Asia. We spent a couple class periods looking at his slides of the killing fields, discussing why Pol Pot was able to take power, etc. The reason he did, was that he was able to convince the youth that America was evil, and showed what was happening not only next door in Vietnam, but what was occurring on the borders of Cambodia. Pol Pot was for an agrarian form of communism. He used the evil technologically advanced America as reason to torture and murder teachers, doctors, scientists, etc. Schools were converted into torture chambers. Students were converted into agrarian communist torturers.
Had we instead made friends with Ho Chi Minh, it is possible that Cambodia would also have wanted to befriend us, rather than use our interventionist activities as reason to kill the educated in the nation.
Even after Pol Pot was overthrown (Vietnam went in and overthrew him to stop the violence, putting in regular communists to rule), it took decades to reeducate the people, because there were no educated people left to teach them.
BTW, we went into Vietnam not because of instability, but because of the Domino Theory: let one nation fall and the rest also tumble. Instead, we ended up pushing them into greater instability.
Is Iraq more or less stable now, years after we toppled Saddam Hussein? Is Afghanistan more or less stable now than a decade ago?
I was for invading Afghanistan. I was against rebuilding and trying to turn them into little America. I was concerned about going into Iraq until Colin Powell presented arguments at the UN. And then I was more concerned when Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld tried going in on the cheap. Part of the Weinberger/Powell doctrine is to go in with overwhelming force, which we didn’t. And it showed by the Iraqi national museum being ransacked, and continued fighting for years by many groups.
My view is that we should seek to renounce war and proclaim peace (D&C 84), but if we must go to war then we go in with guns blazing until they beg for peace.
That should be D&C 98, not 84….
To understand the Viet Nam fiasco one should read material about what happned before the major American presence there. Specifically I would suggest Eugene Burdick and William Lederer’s 1958 novel “The Ugly American, several articles on the CIA in the Mossadegh operation in Iran in 1953 and the 1954 coup against Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatamala and Bernard Fall’s “Street Without Joy.”
In Iran and Guatamala the CIA easily overthrew two governments that were leftist. In Iran the government had nationalized the oil industry controlled by Britain. The CIA and British hired a bunch of street thugs to insure the coup. We got oil and the Shah. In Guatamala Arbenz Guzman set about expropriating unused and unfarmed land and giving it to the unlanded peasants. United Fruit and two of its large shareholders, our Secretary of State and CIA Director immediately yelled “communism” and the rest is history. Think about it the next time you have a chiquita banana.
The CIA and our government had been mesmerized by these successes and made many errors as a result. Contrary to the Geneva Accords, we set up South Vietnam as a separate country. We knew, as President Eisenhower admitted, in a free election Ho Chi Minh and the Communists would have won. Who did we make President? A Catholic in a predominatly Bhuddist country. A man who had lived in America for a long time. A man who sided with the hated landlords and not the peasants (Oh, guess what Uncle Ho was doing in North Viet Nam? Distributing land to peasants).
The two heroes of “The Ugly American” did things right. One a character based on an American Otto Hunerwadel really helped the locals develop good farming techniques and the other based on General Edward Lansdale who early in the history of South Viet Nam was sent to convince Diem to give land to peasants-he failed.
Finally, Fall was a French-American who during his life fought with the French Underground during World War II, became an American college professor and a war correspondent in Viet Nam. He unfortunately died an early death due to a “Bouncing Betty” in 1967. He supported the idea of our war there, but he despaired of our success because of the way we did things. Colon Powell has written that if President Kennedy and Johnson had read “Street Without Joy” they would have probably tried to figure a way to get out of the war.
Thanks for the info, Stan. I prefer our nation stay out of such issues. That said, if we’re going to go in, we need to do as the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine states and go all in. To stop the North Vietnamese meant bombing them until they surrendered, not until they were “ready” to return to the bargaining table. I have friends who were in the Hanoi Hilton who say that there were at least two occasions when Rolling Thunder almost caused the NV to surrender, but we ended them too soon.
But allowing Diem and other drug lords to run the nation led to the South Vietnamese falling after we left.
Strangely enough much good comes out of the bad if we turn to the lordanddo our best to things pleasing in his sight even and especially after we screw up. The USA would never have existed nor been colonized before that if not for the despotic acts of European tyrants. Does this mean it would better the tyrants of old never oppressed leading to the colonization of this land by so many seeking freedom? We are so ill equipped to judge….
The British were having good success fighting the Communists in Malaya with a different strategy. They wanted to win the Malays “hearts and minds,” they did things to make the Malay people loyal (e.g. helped distribute land to the peasants). Granted, they had the advanyage of nearly all the Communists being Chinese, but still it was working.
Our early attempts at something like this failed with the Lansdale Mission. We turned to the theory of General Westmoreland, “Grab them by the _____ and their hearts and minds will follow.” That did not work.
Your comment about bombing is counter to nearly all military historians. Bombing third world people and infrasturcure had minimal effect. Robert McNamara was particularly adamant about that.
Actually Diem was executed during a coup in 1963. There was no real loyalty of the bulk of the people to the South Vietnamese government ever. After we left, the whole thing collapsed like the Berlin Wall. I got to know the pilot that took the last helicopter off the Embassy roof on April 30, 1975
Our bombing makes a difference, even among stone age people. It destroys their desire to fight, at least for a time. However, when all you are blowing up are huts that can easily be replaced, they quickly recover, but with an animosity towards the bomber.
Yes, Diem was taken out early, partially by us. But we then installed another drug lord in his place. Back then, we were not so interested in establishing democracies, but rather in defeating communism.
I’m pro-“nation building,” but since we don’t have any money, we agree that we should look at some serious defense department cuts, and be extra careful and conservative about getting ourselves into engagements at least as long as this debt crisis is around, which may be for a long long time.
I still think it’s too early to make a judgment call on our efforts in Iraq and Afganistan. Give it 20 years, and I think that we will be able to see clearly whether or not our work there succeeded in building a foundation for lasting democracy.
It’s easy to see right now that Vietnam was a waste of time, but that wasn’t clear at all back then, when Communism seemed to be an all consuming threat, and the Vietnam War represented a line drawn in the sand between clashing Democratic and Communist world orders.
I do think it is interesting that all presidents, whether Republican or Democratic, Conservative or Liberal, all tend to become Hawks when they enter the White House. When push comes to shove, in the heat of the moment, anyone with his (or her) finger on the button, will listen carefully to the military point of view. Anyone trusted with that much power in protecting the country, and doing what they can to promote peace and stability in the world, would rather risk losing trillions of dollars than compromise the perceived security of his or her constituents and allies.
(Maybe I should have said billions instead of trillions)
About the Serbian conflict–the Balkans region was and is a haven for weapons dealers and every other person and thing being trafficked. It was/is in the interest of our national security to get in fast (and maintain some presence) to curtail the sale of weapons, which are used in conflicts around the world, including against our own interests.
There are ways to take out arms dealers without invading whole nations. The billions we’ve spent in Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia could have been used elsewhere. The reality is, those nations are in Europe, and Europe should pretty much solve its own problems. The EU is about as resourceful as the USA is, and there is no reason for us to be playing European police force over there.
While I’m glad that Qaddafi is close to being overthrown, Libya isn’t in our backyard, either. We should have allowed its neighbors: Egypt, France, Italy, etc., to manage that engagement and we stay completely out of it.
Are there any affairs of other nations that do rise to the level of interest for the U.S.?
Sure there are. How about the drug wars going on at our border with Mexico?
There may be an occasion where oil is a nation interest issue, such as when George HW Bush stepped in to save Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from being over run by Saddam Hussein. Of course, had we fixed our own energy problems, that would not have been an issue, either.
I see that if there is ever another Hitler that threatens the world, we may consider stepping in. But that is far different than stepping into the middle of a Civil War or even a regional war somewhere outside our hemisphere.
Why are China, India, Brazil and other nations growing so well during this economic crisis? In part, because they are not spending vast sums on foreign wars. We’ve come to think we can do both guns and butter to the furthest extent possible. But while we’ve spent trillions on Defense and wars over the last couple decades, other nations are focusing on building infrastructure, science and math base,and their economies. George Washington was far-sighted when he encouraged us to have no entangling alliances, but to be friends with all.
Rame, sorry I have been away most of the last week or so, but I support your cost-cutting suggestions, and I support a more noninterventionist foreign policy.
I assume when you imply we invaded you mean NATO troops were put on the ground. I think it’s naive to think the weapons sold in the Balkans have nothing to do with the security of the US. It is extremely relevant.
MMiles, when I say we invaded, I’m saying we invaded Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia. While it is under the auspice of the NATO alliance and treaty, there are still American boots on the ground. In fact, for the first few years, it was a majority American boots and planes flying sorties.
Stopping the sale of weapons in the Balkans did not require us to invade, and then remain for almost 15 years. Why were we still there so many years after the war ended?
Because there is still intense weapons trafficking for one.
With your logic, we shouldn’t have participated in WWII because it was a European problem. It is still in US interest to maintain the Balance of Power in Europe.
Balance of power in Europe never worked. The only thing that has worked is getting them to be trade partners. France and Germany are now friends because their economies are inexorably linked together. If you attack one, you hurt both. So if Germany attacks France, they ruin their own economy in the process.
It is because of failed Balance of Power theories that France, England and Germany (etc) were in constant war with one another for centuries. Because of such wars that dragged the colonies in, we determined early on to stay out of Europe’s infighting.
We were somewhat foolish to enter into WWI under Wilson, who sought to be expansive and tinker with nations. His tinkering created the problems we had to then fix in the 1990s regarding Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia. The way the peace treaty was set up, it re-established a balance of power by weakening and humiliating Germany, forcing Germany into building up again for war just 15 years later. WWII was an extension of WWI. Both were caused by the Balance of Power in Europe.
We entered WWII for a few reasons. First, Japan bombed us. We initially only declared war on Japan. Then Germany, Japan’s ally, declared war on us. We had no choice but to enter into WWII as Germany’s foe.
It was in our national interest to defend ourselves from our enemies. Now that the enemy had the capability to attack Hawaii and possibly the Atlantic coast via U-Boats, we had to take their declarations of war seriously. When we went to war, we went with the full intent of destroying the enemy. We fire bombed Dresden and nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We ensured the enemy had no fight left in them. We chose to do nation building because we didn’t want the stupid choices of WWI to reoccur, leading us to a WWIII.
Same with our war on Al Qaeda. They blew up the Pentagon and the Twin Towers. They had capability, especially when funded by the multimillionaire Osama Bin Laden. Invading Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda was the correct thing to do. To change our tactic into attacking the Taliban and rebuilding a non-existent infrastructure was not in our interest. The fact that there is still engagements in lots of areas ten years after going in, shows we did not destroy the fight in them. There should be no nation building if the nation is resistant to our presence. We should win, and then leave.
“There should be no nation building if the nation is resistant to our presence. We should win, and then leave.” Absolutely 100% correct. We had/have no business being in Afghanistan except to find and then capture/kill Al Qaeda members.
I’d argue the League of Nations over-punished Germany for WWI, leading to WWII. But whatever….
But seriously, Balkan originating weapons would be, and are used against the US.
But who pushed for the League of Nations? Woodrow Wilson. His tinkering created the disaster.
As for Balkan originating weapons, I haven’t studied into it closely, but I’ll believe it. And then ask, how has our stepping into the Balkans 18 or 19 years ago reduced that problem today? As you note, they still are used against us today – showing that such a concern was not resolved by American involvement.
Thoughts on Asia? China, Taiwan, Korea, et al.?
We should seek to be neighborly with them and trade on a free/fair level with each. We return to being the city on a hill, the beacon of freedom, and use our soft voice to encourage them toward it.
Are there risks that another great Fascist, Socialist or Communist power could arise? Of course. But do we use the GWBush preemption concept and just nuke Beijing right now because we are afraid they are going to leave us in the dust? I hope not. We should use military power only as a last resort, not a first or second resort, as done in Iraq, Vietnam, etc.
China is nervous about us, because they’ve seen us enter into so many wars with others. We are the current Empire, whether we like to believe it or not. Instead, we need to just be the bastion of liberty, and hope others will see our torch and flow to it.
That is vague. How would this play out if China initiated military action against Taiwan, or North Korea against South Korea? Do we act militarily to defend Taiwan or South Korea as we have implied we would for the last half century? Do we maintain a military presence like we have in South Korea to make our commitment credible and avert aggression? There are a lot of military options far short preemptive nuclear strikes, so the somewhat flowery response above doesn’t say much.
I spent a year on an Air Force base in South Korea. I know exactly what the issues are, as I received weekly info on what was going on.
South Korea is well capable of defending itself against the North. I do not believe China is interested in allowing North Korea to invade, as they are well aware how crazy its ruler is. That and they are now intricately tied to S. Korea in trade (Samsung and other major companies from S Korea now do a lot of business in China, and vice versa).
China is not interested in invading Taiwan. Taiwan most likely has a few nukes of its own, and would use that option in any invasion. China would lose any advantage in the world by trying to take it over.