Every Memorial Day, Americans spend at least a few seconds remembering the fallen, service men and women who gave their lives in war. For the past few years, however, more and more of the Memorial Day statements by political leaders and the news media have focused on the people serving today. That gradual shift is understandable. Less than nine percent of today’s Americans are old enough to have known service members who fought in World War II. So most people think of the military in terms of actions since 1990.
Interestingly, most public statements made today about the military, are from people who really don’t know much about it. They don’t know how it works. They don’t understand the people who serve. They themselves haven’t served, nor have many of their friends and family members. And most of the people making war movies understand even less about the military.
President George H.W. Bush (AKA Bush 41) was the last US president to have served on active duty in war. Younger presidents—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (43) and Barack Obama never served on active duty. And in today’s environment of an all-volunteer military, few future presidents will be veterans.
How does the all-volunteer military compare with the Vietnam era Army that included millions of men who were drafted? Along with draftees, the Army of that era included millions more who volunteered to ensure non-combatant military specialties instead of being sent directly to the battlefield.
Since the Army of the 1960s and 1970s included many draftees with advanced education, was it a stronger, smarter Army?
As a draftee who served in that era, and proud father of a son who volunteered for an Army Reserve unit activated during Operation Iraqi Freedom, I have a good view to compare the two eras. And I can say unequivocally that today’s Army is far stronger and more effective than the Army in which I served.
In fact, I believe that today’s US Military is the best-trained, best-equipped, and most effective military force the world has ever known. Nevertheless it faces one overarching challenge that makes our future security somewhat shaky.
To maintain a balance of power, the country’s Founders ensured that the commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces would always be our civilian president. That was a preferable structure for the first 200 years of the republic. Our last three presidents however, men with limited understanding of the military, haven’t managed military strategy effectively.
All three have used the hackneyed talking point, “We don’t want to be the world’s policeman.” Professional military strategists know that we MUST act as the world’s policeman. That doesn’t mean that we will attack other countries. It means that we will keep the peace through visible strength, and will use that power to protect others. If we do not act as the world’s policeman, ambitious dictators, oligarchs and jihadists will seize power as their region’s police. The world will be a more dangerous place, millions of people will suffer and die. If we don’t act as the world’s policeman, people like Vladimir Putin, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Ayman al-Zawahiri will rule, and eventually threaten the American People.
Recent politicians have also manipulated polling results to proclaim that “Americans are tired of wars, and don’t want to see more boots-on-the-ground.” Poll results of course, depend on the questions asked, and the population chosen for polling. What political talking point would we hear if the question was, “Would you favor using American troops to ensure that ISIS doesn’t gain power in the United States and threaten your country’s security?”
To consider the military leadership capabilities of recent presidents, we might ask these questions:
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have permitted Osama Bin Laden to prosper in 1999 when his position was known, and our military had a means to stop him?
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have invaded Iraq, knowing that Iraq’s Sunni army was our only counterbalance to the rise of Shiite Iran to become the dominant power in the Middle East?
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have dismissed the conquered Sunni Army in Iraq, and allowed them to become a guerilla force to kill our service members and Shia civilians for the next seven years?
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have delayed the Surge for years, knowing that it was the only way to control the civil war in that country?
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have pre-announced our departure timetable and left Iraq’s poorly organized military to defend themselves?
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have REPEATED the grievous error of pre-announcing our departure plans, by doing the same in Afghanistan?
- Would a knowledgeable military strategist have declared an air campaign against Isis to be restricted to Iraq, knowing that ISIS has consolidated its power in Syria?
It appears obvious that the American Military, despite its enviable manpower, training and equipment cannot be wholly successful when led by today’s politicians. Americans cannot ensure the safety of their children and following generations, unless we can move more decision power and planning leadership to military professionals and away from vote-chasing amateurs.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX