Naval War College
In 2001, we Americans find ourselves in possession of the most productive, wealthy, free, egalitarian, powerful nation in recorded history. Our climate is temperate, harbors and inland waterways magnificent, our soil is fertile, and our people industrious, generous, and well-educated. America is an island, and she is a continent. She is a rock above the flood, yet still the center of the global economy, and the home territory of a teeming, thriving, democratic capitalist civilization.
America bestrides the globe like a colossus. Our battle fleets ply the world’s seas unchallenged. Our satellites photo every back alley on earth down to a tiny resolution. Our heavy bombers can safely assault, with guidance from those satellites, any enemy sanctuary after launching from our own territory, and return to home base with a few more drinks of gasoline. Our nuclear ballistic missiles can incinerate every major population center on the globe.
75% of global trade is conducted in American dollars. The dollar is so magnetic that several independent nations have actually adopted it as their own currency, and many others have pegged their currencies to the greenback, a de facto dollarization. America has the largest and most productive economy in the world, and has the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. We are the world’s largest exporter and lead the world in innovation from agriculture to high-tech equipment and software design. Our tax rates and level of government spending are far lower than all the other OECD nations except Japan. Scholars come from every continent to study in our universities. About one million immigrants each year risk all to come here from every corner of the globe.
America has successfully assimilated a multitude of races, creeds, ethnic groups and religions into our universal church of democracy. And we have exported and assisted self-government in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America to a degree never imagined 100 or even 50 years ago.
Above all, we, the American people, find ourselves in possession of the longest and most successful experiment in popular self-government mankind has ever attempted. And from that experiment grew all our other successes, whether economic, military or social. Democracy was the tiny seed that gave us this mighty oak.
Our founders and the statesmen that helped carry us forward always viewed America, and self-government, as an experiment. And the nature of an experiment is that it is never over, never complete, and always in danger of failing.
Before September 11th our very existence as a nation was challenged five times: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the advent of Nazism, and the Soviet threat. That is about once every other generation since the Declaration of Independence. All five times American democracy triumphed, and our anti-democratic enemies were vanquished. Enormous blood and treasure were lost, but after each struggle America emerged safer, more powerful and prosperous, and democracy had spread further and deeper inside our own country, and to the darkest corners of the globe. At first the democratic revolution seemed to be an aberration of history, but we now know it is a Tocquevillian avalanche of proportions never seen before in recorded time.
We now face the sixth challenge to our national existence. It appears that once again our very survival is at stake. Our present circumstances seem daunting, strange, dangerous and unimaginable. Our enemy is a nation without a state and an army without a country. Its leaders send their soldiers on suicide missions while they live in caves and palaces. Their only link to modernity is to turn our own technology into a mortal weapon aimed at our own hearts.
The predictable path to the future has disappeared beneath our feet, just as it did with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the rise of National Socialism. But of course none of the challenges of history and politics are easy or predictable, except in hindsight or from the upper decks. And the enemies of democratic America, the tyrants who have come in many guises and creeds, are always resourceful, mysterious, savage, and relentless. Their hatred for America, its openness, freedom, and power, knows no bounds, as the tyrants cannot bear the free flow of peoples and ideas.
September 11th is the longest day in American history. That day is not over. The page will turn on September 11th when the Terror States and their armies, both open and hidden, are defeated, their weapons of mass destruction destroyed, and their ability to attack America and Americans is ended. And September 11th will be over when democracy and self-government have washed over Arabia and Islam and swept the tyrants from their palaces and caves.
Even at this early stage of the current crisis we have learned several lessons that should not be forgotten by our current and future political and military leaders. One is “surprise.” Pearl Harbor, the North Korean attack on South Korea, the Tet offensive, the Yom Kippur War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq’s swallowing of Kuwait, and September 11th were all huge strategic surprises unanticipated by the folks running the show. They blinded us at about the rate of once a decade. The lesson here is not that this or that person or bureaucracy was negligent, but that there will always be surprises, and democracies, and America in particular, will always have enemies, and we can never let down our guard.
Perhaps more importantly, until the entire globe is democratic, we cannot demobilize, we cannot run, and we cannot hide. Modern communications and transportation networks have turned the Atlantic and Pacific oceans into fordable rivers. Likewise, the seeds of September 11th and the anthrax attack were sown in the unanswered terror attacks of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, and in the slow-motion military demobilization of the 1990s. We are in the early stages of what will be a massive overseas military operation, one that has already started in and around Afghanistan, and our nation has only 10 Army divisions, 21 modern long range bombers, and 12 large decked aircraft carriers. That is not enough.
At the end of the Cold War, it seemed to make sense to shrink the size of the U.S. military and cash in the so-called “peace dividend.” Defense spending had been declining since 1985, but the trend accelerated with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and continued through the last year of the Clinton Administration. In the decade between the end of the Iraq war and the start of the Terror war the U.S. military was reduced by some 40%, losing eight active army divisions, over 200 navy ships, 15 tactical fighter wings, and some 700,000 active-duty personnel.
By the time President Bush took office this year it was abundantly clear that what might have been a good thing had turned bad, and dangerous. The reason was simple. The U.S. had not reduced its demands on the military as it shrank the size of the armed forces. At the beginning of the 1990s, the number of military contingency operations more than doubled, a trend that has continued to this day. Moreover, these operations tended to be of longer duration, requiring the commitment of more forces. Actual named operations doubled as well. The simple rule of 20th century global politics–if America does not do it, no one will–did not end with the implosion and fracture of the Soviet Union. From southwest Asia to southeast Europe, from central Africa to the Taiwan Straits, only America had the ways and means to defend democracy and roll back tyrants and chaos.
The reduced force was overstretched and eroding. The burden fell particularly hard on so-called high demand/low density units such as Patriot missile battalions and EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft.
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton, put it simply: “we have too much strategy for our force structure.” And that was before September 11th. Secretary Rumsfeld then backed off the two major theater war (MTW) forcing function, but one can now reasonably ask, “how many theater wars are there in the war against the Terror States?”
The 2001 reformulation of U.S. military strategy did not result in any changes to current force structure. It appeared that after an extensive, even painful, series of studies, panels and reviews, Secretary Rumsfeld had concluded that the force structure and acquisition program bequeathed to him by his predecessor was acceptable. It must be acknowledged that the congressionally-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was released after the events of September 11, following a hasty rewrite. In the aftermath of that attack and the decision to declare war on global terrorism, cutting force structure, as the high priests of military transformation had been advocating, must not have seemed like a very good idea.
The issue of future force structure cannot be avoided. The problem identified by General Shelton months ago, the mismatch between strategy and force structure, is back with us in spades. The United States is at war. In truth, it is fighting at least two wars. One war is against overseas terrorists and their state sponsors. The other war is in defense of the U.S. homeland. And the United States is continuing to maintain most of its other global deployments and commitments at pre-September 11 levels.
Whereas on September 10th, a mere 14 Air National Guard fighters at 7 airbases protected the skies over the United States, now there are some 100 aircraft, both Guard and active Air Force, at some 26 bases, and they are flying around-the-clock air defense missions. NATO sent five AWACS to help defend America’s skies, thereby allowing the U.S. to redeploy its scarce airborne surveillance assets to southwest Asia, and in anticipation of a wider war.
For the first time since Ronald Reagan’s election America is embarked on a military expansion. The current conflict will not be brief and it will not be limited to Afghanistan. It probably will not be limited to Afghanistan and Iraq. There is every reason to expect it will be expanded to include other state sponsors of terrorism. The armed forces of the Unites States are simply too small to simultaneously conduct protracted, multi-theater operations, deter additional threats, and defend the homeland. All of the military services, including the Coast Guard, will need longer reach and sharper teeth.
The Army may well need a greater number of deployable combat units. At its current size of 475,000 the Army is continually forced to strip stateside units in order to ensure that those being deployed are at full strength. If terror and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attacks continue on the U.S., and we identify foreign sources, large scale occupations of enemy territory and the use of heavy armor may be the necessary response to protect the American people and stop future attacks. On September 10th, the Army was a lonely service, ignored by the military transformationists and targeted for cuts by the proponents of aerospace power. Today, we are on the verge of discovering that large-scale ground forces will be needed to find and rip up the terror networks in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Army should accelerate deployment of its first stealthy helicopter, the RAH-66 Comanche, which could more easily handle the shoulder-fired surface to air missile threat in environments like Afghanistan. It should also accelerate armor upgrades, and fielding the Interim Armored Vehicle as control of the land becomes a high strategic priority.
During the QDR process, the Navy argued that force structure decisions had to be made with an awareness that land bases for aviation might not be available in a future conflict. The war against Afghanistan has demonstrated the correctness of the Navy’s arguments. Three carrier battle groups are currently committed in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. I believe our carriers are now gapped in the Mediterranean Sea and western Pacific. Two carriers were actually deployed to protect New York City and Washington in the wake of the September attack. A second conflict could mean the deployment of all available carriers. Those calling for an immediate attack on Iraq may want to keep this in mind, as well as the House of Saud’s reluctance to grant our ground-based air forces use of Saudi soil.
Even before September 11, the Navy was hard-pressed to meet its forward presence responsibilities with 300 ships and 55 attack submarines. Now there can be no question that the Navy is short of both surface combatants and submarines. The President needs to accelerate the production of both DDG-51 destroyers and Virginia-class submarines. In addition, we should consider expanding the current force of 11 active carriers either by slowing decommissionings or speeding building rates. The current difficulty in acquiring basing rights for land-based aircraft should be a stark reminder to decision-makers of the inestimable value of a sovereign and mobile airfield. Once again, the transformationist attack on the future role of aircraft carriers now seems like a foggy academic discussion over too many late night ales.
The service most in need of expansion may be the Air Force. In this new environment the Air Force is short of fighter wings, bomber squadrons and surveillance assets. The Air Force currently deploys 12.5 active and 7.5 Air National Guard fighter wings. This was barely enough to maintain 10 air expeditionary forces. Now, at least two of these are committed to defending American skies. The current procurement plan for the F-22 will actually shrink the number of air superiority fighter wings. And the Joint Strike Fighter will not be fielded until 2008. This is simply unacceptable. Instead, DoD should plan for the significant expansion of the tactical fighter force and a far higher buy than 295 F-22s, to include a ground attack variant.
One important lesson to emerge early from Afghanistan is the importance of heavy bombers. The long-range bomber’s utility roughly corresponds to that of an aircraft carrier. They are both hugely expensive, very mobile, have long legs, and pack a devastating punch. And they both solve the anti-access riddle. Which is why they are both central to the current Afghan mission.
Yet Secretary Rumsfeld is planning to reduce the number of B-1s by a third. While this specific decision may be appropriate given historic difficulties in maintaining the B-1, reducing the overall size of the bomber force makes no sense. Neither does waiting until, if you can believe it, 2037 to deploy a new strategic bomber, which is the Air Force’s current plan. America needs to acquire additional long-range bombing capability now. Two additional wings of B-2s, some 40 aircraft, would go a long way in enhancing America’s long-range, deep-strike capabilities.
Our current situation is better than what we faced with Hitler and fascism in that we have global military superiority and our enemy does not. However it is worse in that our enemy is further along in the development and deployment of WMD. And, unlike the Cold War with the old Soviet Union, it appears that deterrence as a reliable strategic concept has broken down. We are in a race against time.
The President needs to prepare the American people for more innocent casualties and a very violent war. He needs to form a bipartisan war cabinet that would include such leading Democrats as Norm Dicks, Richard Holbrooke, and Joseph Lieberman to help sustain the war effort. And he should quickly establish a separate, OSS-type human intelligence agency whose sole objective would be to find and destroy WMD in the terror states.
As the prominent defense intellectual Marin Strmecki has pointed out, the President is in danger of having his rhetoric and stated war aims outstrip the actual policy being implemented.
This war will involve large-scale conventional military operations on the other side of the globe, primarily to root out WMD cells and production facilities. Airpower and bombing campaigns will not be enough. Because WMD is so dangerous it will involve block by block searches and occupations in large, urban areas. Traditional military components like armor and Marine Corps Amphibious Ready Groups will play a big role. Military transformation and its preposterous twenty year strategic pause and drawn-out joint experiments vaporized with our other illusions on September 11th.
The President will need to quickly get his arms around the presence of the sizeable Arab and Islamic population in the United States. The existence of large terrorist cells, with members having lived here in some cases for several years and in some cases being American citizens, indicates a severe problem. WMD is already within our porous borders, and spreading, and killing people.
The vast majority of Muslim Americans are loyal Americans, but we have a threat to our national survival. And their lives are in danger, too. According to preliminary estimates, several hundred Muslims died in the World Trade Center attack. Sadly, a broader search and review of recent immigrants coming from Islamic states and their domestic organizations needs to quickly take place, and tighter controls on immigrants from those nations needs to be considered. The President is taking steps in this direction. One of America’s greatest strengths is the economic and cultural power we draw from our constantly replenished immigrant community, but this is a national emergency and we need to seriously consider a temporary narrowing of that resourceful pipeline.
Terrorism will probably never be wiped out completely. Certainly not for many years. But if we ruthlessly, efficiently, quickly, and violently deal with the WMD component in the terror states, America and the other democracies can return to normalcy before too long. President Bush needs to prove himself wrong: September 11th was not the dawn of the 21st century, but a vicious interruption to be dealt with rapidly.
This threat is akin to two previous assaults on our national survival: the Civil War and Hitler. It will also require unconditional surrender and the complete destruction of the enemy. Once the war is over America should again play a generous and far-sighted role helping build market democracies in the former Terror States as they enter the family of nations and build new societies.
From time to time we Americans forget our democratic roots in the pursuit of other interests, and when we do we get into deep trouble. As this war begins, we must clearly identify what we are fighting for, for ourselves, and for all mankind. As Professor Harry Jaffa asked in another, related context, “Shall we go naked to our enemies, while our ancient faith, like ancient armor, rusts in monumental mockery?”
Almost every war America has fought has led to a major advance for popular democracy, both at home and abroad. Two exceptions are the Vietnam War, which we lost, and the Iraq war, which we narrowly defined as a geographic enterprise.
The President is in danger of too narrowly defining this war. Our critics allege that America is propping up medieval dictators in the Persian Gulf in a sordid deal to have continued access to that region’s oil. It certainly appears to be the case that the terror hitting us has been exported from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other allies, and hits us because all the political oxygen and maneuvering room has been squeezed out of those countries. We have to ask ourselves some tough questions as we formulate the strategy that will determine the fate of our nation for many years to come.
If this is merely a war on “terrorism” we may lose the American people, and probably lose the war. It has to have broader, more permanent, and more positive goals. The American Revolution, Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War were all wars for democracy, and they worked. Democracy is even now taking hold in the Balkans, thanks to our brave and successful intervention there.
We can take a chance on democracy in Arabia and Islam. The advance of democracy does not take place like a beautifully crafted Swiss watch or a model designed in a political science class. There are fits and starts, it’s messy, and there are setbacks. And your friends might lose elections.
President Wilson may have gone too far, too fast with his 14 Points after World War I, but it was worth the risk. Today all of Europe is democratic, and there are no wars there except on the outer edges of the Balkans and Caucasus.
President Lincoln took a chance on democracy when he emancipated the slaves at the risk of losing the Border States and conservative Democrats.
President Reagan took a chance on democracy in Chile, South Korea, the Philippines, and Central America at the height of the Cold War. He risked losing key strategic allies at a very tense time. Now the erstwhile communist guerrillas from those nations are serving in their legislatures and taking care of their constituents the old fashioned way.
The Metternich-Kissinger crowd never thought Poles, or Latins, or Russians, or Asians, or Germans could run democracies, and they were dead wrong. Now the experts don’t think Arabs or Islam can be democratic. We should once again prove them wrong.
America’s policy for the new century should be:
1. No WMD in the Terror States. If you don’t take it down, we will. Preemptively if necessary.
2. No terror exports from the Terror States. If you don’t stop it, we will. In your yard, not ours. Afghanistan is the excellent beginning of this policy. The terrorists fancy themselves pursuing an asymmetrical war with the U.S. We should ruthlessly demonstrate our own version of asymmetrical warfare, by unleashing the full fury of our conventional military power on the terror home territories. America may have to act a little more like Rome, and a little less like America, to restore peace and stability in the near term.
3. The despots in Arabia should begin moving towards openness and democracy. That means Iraq, Libya, Syria, and yes, the Gulf Kingdoms. If radical Islam wins elections, so be it. As long as they don’t pursue WMD and export terror, that is their business. If they don’t want to sell us their oil, we can pursue other sources or suffer the consequences. But America cannot be a party, or continue to be a party, to holding entire nations captive to unaccountable, despotic governments.
Where you find democracy, you find trade and aid and the free flow of peoples and ideas. And no war. Where you find tyrannies you have tensions and death and sanctions and war. It is not a coincidence that the area of the world with the fewest democracies today is also the center of overflowing tensions threatening the broader global democratic order. It is time to open up the Middle East and let the winds of popular consent blow.
I know many people will focus on all the difficulties associated with this proposal. If it were easy, we would already be doing it. What we are grappling with is the idea that we can no longer sustain ourselves in a world that is half free and half slave, to borrow a phrase. Or at least we cannot coexist with those traditional Islamist elements that seek to roll back the world’s clock. Circumstances, especially WMD proliferation, suggest that we can no longer stand by and watch hostile regimes like Iraq and Libya and the groups they support act in ways that fundamentally threaten our survival. Nor can we continue the static approach to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that holds forth no hope of a freer, better life for their people. There needs to be significant political change, and if there is not our children and grandchildren will be fighting this same war long after we are gone, under much more unfavorable circumstances.
After wiping off the blood and dust of September 11th, we knew there would be no easy paths. There is no way to provide an impenetrable defense of the gigantic American homeland. Moreover, our interests require that we come out from under such an umbrella to engage the Islamic world. Simply put, the world is too small and access to dangerous weapons too easy for a traditional, cautious attitude, even towards our allies and friends.
Many people are surprisingly pessimistic regarding the possibility for political and cultural change in those parts of the world dominated by authoritarian and fundamentalist governments. But the prospect of social and political redemption is at the heart of our democratic philosophy. If peoples are not reformable, then we can throw most of our liberal democratic theories out the window, not to mention most of the profound chapters of our own nation’s history.
The particular set of countries we have in our sights have the nasty combination of fundamentalist, authoritarian, and racist beliefs, lots of money, access to technology and no countervailing belief system. The Chinese communists have a world view – the proletarian revolution or the Middle Kingdom, take your pick – that permits a degree of interaction with the world’s democracies that the fundamentalist and authoritarian states of the Middle East lack. The Chinese want to be rich and respected. The Islamists do not. They have never adjusted to the realities of the modern, globalizing world. Thus, you can either be killed, kill them, or seek a third way. We can neither avoid them nor appease them sufficiently.
Moreover, historical trends indicate the real possibility of democracy taking hold in apparently barren areas. Who would have thought, given their history, that the Japanese could have so thoroughly embraced democracy, and in such a short time? What about the evolution of Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, India, and the Philippines? And 90% of Latin America? They have moved from colonialism, military rule and despotism to a new birth of freedom. Could you have expected on the basis of 2,000 years of history for Europe to be still at peace, much less become one integrated democratic continent? The U.S. and our allies actively sought to change the social, political, economic and cultural structures of these and other countries, and it worked.
Bluntly put, there needs to be a “velvet revolution” in Islam, particularly as it exists in the Middle East. It alone of modern religions has failed to make the separation between church and state. It alone continues to maintain the jihad, crusading streak of religious philosophy. It, and not the West, has called for a clash of civilizations. We conducted a fifty year long political, philosophical, and cultural war against Soviet communism. Why should we not do the same in Arabia?
What is involved in such a velvet revolution? It is already beginning. We have made common cause with a number of non-Islamist – but still Muslim – countries around the world. We are deepening our penetration of the Islamic world. Indeed, the current military operations will make it all but impossible for the U.S. to separate itself from this region. Therefore, we are doing more of what the fundamentalists hate about us.
The non-Arabic stretch of Islam has already made progress towards democracy. Turkey is not only a reliable American ally, but against all odds has maintained a stable, secular, multi-party democracy in a very rough neighborhood. Indonesia and Pakistan have taken steps towards more open societies, fallen back, but are at least in the game and in play. Even clerical Iran has held elections that have resulted in a formidable, progressive opposition that is successfully pressing for more space between church and state, and more personal freedoms for individuals.
It is in the core of Arabia that non-democratic Islam appears to be the toughest nut to crack.
Thus we need to quietly encourage the development of more benign strains of Islamic thought. We can support liberal clerics, academics and writers. There is a nascent Charter 77-type movement in Syria we should be engaged with. We can expand our radio and television and internet penetration of the region. We have an Inter-American Defense College and the Marshall center where we interact with officers from Latin American and Europe. Where is the Middle East war college? We educate a few Middle East officers in the service schools, but nothing like we do for the Latin Americans and Europeans. It was the military that led Turkey on its difficult course to modernity, and therein may lie a solution for some of the failing Arab states.
While military victory and homeland security must always be is our highest priority, it cannot be our only goal. We defended the free world and conducted a psychological, economic, and political campaign against both the Nazis and the Soviet Union. It was hard and we did not always do it well. But we persevered and we were victorious. It would not have been enough simply to defend the homeland from the Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. The velvet revolution is our best hope.
And as this crisis escalates we need to be politically alert at home as well. All eyes should beware the rise of a false prophet. As America’s anxiety and anger grows, and if severe attacks take place like a broad biological attack or a nuclear explosion, the incremental, corporate approach to war we are seeing today could be swept away. Beware the ambitious plans of a towering figure willing to jeopardize our democracy in order to save it. We, the American people, need to insure we maintain a regime worth fighting for, and resist tempting, autocratic promises from rising political leaders to guarantee our safety.
The United States was not yet 13 years old when Alexander Hamilton took pen in hand to persuade New York State to ratify the new Philadelphia Constitution. He wrote that “the people of this country [would] decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
Until America was born, every government that ever existed came into being by “force,” by a few strong men making the weak obey, however unwillingly – or by “accident” – political institutions simply “developed” over history as specific responses to events, wars, rebellions, famines, and invasions.
The American experiment was created by “reflection” and “choice,” designed by a group of dedicated men who met together over several months to hammer out a complete plan of government to meet every foreseeable challenge of the future. This is perhaps why you find patriotism so much more robust in America than other countries. We, the American people, actually invented our country, and hold it dearly, like our own child.
The Founders performed their excellent task on the basis of certain political and moral principles which they regarded as central to the very nature of man. As was said in the Declaration of Independence, there are “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” from which every human person has been given equal natural rights, such as the right to live, to be free, and to direct his life toward its highest purpose (which the Declaration calls “happiness”). Governments, they held, are created for the very purpose of securing those rights, and good governments are determined by “the consent of the governed.”
The Founders believed that this principled foundation of our nation is a “universal,” a truth applying to human beings everywhere, always. The institutions of freedom may differ from one country to another, but their purpose would always be the same: to secure the natural rights of all persons.
The American experiment remains a promise that every human being can live freely, securely, in mutual self-respect – the noblest effort ever made to protect and defend the dignity of every person. President Lincoln called it a “proposition” – he meant that the idea that men can live in freedom can never be tested and “proven” for all time. Every great challenge to America’s endurance amounts to a new test of that idea. And every single challenge, whether of war, rebellion, economic collapse, or political usurpation, must be met with vigor, and success.
If human freedom and the God-given dignity of the human person are worth saving, America is worth saving. If America is not saved, self-government will not be tried again. Why would a failed political idea, however noble, be tried again? The new barbarism combined with the brutal technology of mass destruction will see to that.
On the other hand, neither America nor freedom nor democracy would really be missed: those who live and toil in darkness and tyranny have neither dreams nor memories.
Merrick Carey is CEO of the Lexington Institute. He is a former Navy Intelligence Officer and senior Congressional aide.
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