Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Responding to LTC Joseph Myers

In his article America's Strategic Fix and Our New Decision Points, LTC Joseph Myers argues for an increased military budget, reduced civil liberties (in the form of warrantless wiretapping), and the institution of the draft. I agree with Mr. Myers premise, that the general population is not behind a war "against jihadists, Islamic fascists, or however you want to describe that enemy, and implicitly any other people or nation that advocates and is pursuing the wherewithal and means to destroy this Country . . . ." I disagree that his proposed solutions are the proper response.

Mr. Myers article takes it as given that the country is, and should be, at war because the leadership says it's at war. That's a perfectly reasonable position for a military officer to take, but the civilian point of view is that this country is a democracy. In a democracy, to some extent the leaders must lead, but to some extent they must also follow because the leadership gets its legitimacy from the voters. In this case, the leadership has not convinced the voters to accept the idea of a long-term, global war against an ill-defined enemy. Convince the voters to commit, and the higher military budget, the enhanced war powers, the curtailed liberties, and, if necessary, the draft will all happen just as they did during World War II. Fail to convince the voters and, even if you implement the other things, you will find that, in Mr. Myers' words, "[d]omestic politics looks like 1972 all over again."

The war in Afghanistan was fairly clear, and fairly easy to sell to the public given the politically focused nature of the Taliban and the emotional impact of the 9-11 attack. However, we have largely pulled out of Afghanistan in favor of Iraq. As a result, news coverage has shifted away from Afghanistan, making it difficult to use to justify long term war to the electorate.

We, the People (that is, the voters) were told that Iraq harbored chemical and biological weapons, that it would collapse quickly, and that victory was near or even achieved. Since that time, the "enemy" has become vague and undefined; to my civilian ears, Mr. Myers' description of "jihadists, Islamic fascists, or however you want to describe that enemy, and implicitly any other people or nation that advocates and is pursuing the wherewithal and means to destroy this Country . . . ." potentially puts us at war with most of the world, especially when you consider what those of us outside the intelligence community have heard about our track record at finding that "wherewithal and means to destroy this Country." The Authorization for the Use of Military Force following the 9/11 attack, which you can read here and which the current administration has used in legal arguments justifying warrantless wiretapping, also provides little guidance: paraphrased, it tells the President to find out whoever attacked us and make war on them.* The leadership has also not called upon this country to sacrifice as it normally would in a war: instead of "buy bonds," we were told "go shopping." And finally, instead of quick victory, we are now being told, essentially, that we are going to continue fighting indefinitely with no clearly articulated goal. Perhaps the country really is in a fight for survival, but the signs visible to the voters don't look like it. If the leadership wants to convince them, the leadership will need to present more evidence.

On the other side of the balance sheet, consider the costs the voters are reading about. There are the impacts on the soldiers that Mr. Myers describes. There is the distraction away from the evolving situation in North Korea. There is also one issue Mr. Myers does not mention: Pakistan. Our involvement in Iraq has made Pakistan strategically important. As a result, we appear to have let slide any potential Pakistani government involvement in A.Q. Kahn's proliferation of nuclear technology and do not appear to have closely investigated any Pakistani role (or a tribal role) in insurgents operating across Pakistan's border.

Now, personally, I don't think we can back out of Iraq without risking a complete collapse, in which case the possibility of an independent Kurdistan on Turkey's border makes me more than a little concerned about what happens with a NATO ally and how we deal with it. But I'm not sold on abridging constitutional rights--which I have not sworn to support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, but which I feel strongly about nonetheless--and cutting programs, increasing taxes, or further increasing the national debt in favor of a long-term war against an ill-defined enemy with an ill-defined goal, at least without better evidence that it's necessary. And, I submit, a critical mass of constituency feels the same.

* The authorization for Iraq is here, but it focuses closely on Iraq and probably would not allow force against the sort of open-ended enemy Mr. Myers describes.

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