By William Pfaff
In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the major places of military interest to the United States today (disregarding the hundreds of other places where American soldiers and agents or mercenaries have been dispatched to suppress one or another outbreak of ethnic, tribal, religious or territorial conflict, the United States having appointed itself the enemy of Disorder), there are indications that things are coming apart.
In Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has chosen casual insubordination; the American-sponsored Afghan president talks of making peace with the Taliban enemy and ordering the United States and NATO to leave the country (just when billion-dollar lodes of lithium, gold and the other minerals a modern nation and its leaders covet have been discovered).
There are disputes among Kurds, Turks, Iranians and Iraqis in Iraq, which the U.S. had considered more or less pacified, if still government-free. There is trouble in Somalia, Yemen and the Sahara. You might think the United States was not the most powerful nation on Earth.
In May, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a number of largely unpublicized talks on defense spending, which has been at flood tide for a number of years now, and not just since the 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington—although those events “opened a gusher [to mix the metaphors] in defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade.” American arms spending is meant to make Americans safe from its problems, but this is not working.
The secretary said that “the gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time.” Congressional attempts to turn off or reduce military spending over the years have consistently failed because military spending is an electorally irresistible cause, even when the results are irrational, or even approach the ludicrous.
Secretary Gates supplied examples of the latter when he spoke to the Navy League annual convention at the beginning of May. He said that nearly all of the Navy’s major weapons programs under development or in production, including the Navy’s two principal projects, the so-called Littoral Combat Ship, together with the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter program (which some European governments unwisely contracted to join), are over budget, behind schedule and loaded with problems.
The ignored problem is why the United States buys these weapons.
It is buying the Littoral Combat Ship for shallow-water and coastal operations to put the Navy into the war against terror (or against pirates, or “violent extremists,” according to your choice of modish nomenclature), where the Navy has been embarrassingly absent, terrorists rarely being seaborne, while pirates often are (but they use inflatable Zodiacs). The vessel is likely to be completed (if the project is actually completed) at that foreseeable point in time when the United States gives up the war on terror out of frustration and failure (see below), and the Navy decides that it is a blue-water Navy after all and doesn’t need such ships.
Gates drew the attention of the Navy League to what the U.S. Navy already possesses:
Eleven large nuclear carrier groups patrolling the seas to confront enemy fleets. No other nation has even one such carrier group, so there are no fleets to confront. France (forever France!) has built one modern nuclear aircraft carrier and is thinking about whether it can afford another. No other navy has more than a few jump jet or helicopter carriers (the U.S. has 10 of these). The United States has 57 nuclear missile-carrying or attack submarines (more than all the rest of the world combined), plus 79 Aegis defensive missile ships carrying 8,000 vertically launched missiles. In all, the U.S. Navy is assessed as being equivalent to the combined next 13 navies in the world.
The Navy’s Marine Corps, with its own air and armored forces, has no foreign counterpart, and itself is larger than most foreign national armies.
Gates could have recited similar figures on the huge disproportion between the American Army and air forces and those of all the rest of the world put together (China and India excepted; both having ground forces twice or more as large as the American regular Army—American mercenary auxiliaries excluded—but those are ground armies not configured to fight the U.S., and their governments are unlikely to wish to do so).
Out of this titanic American power, no peace is being produced. Americans have, during the 65 years since the Second World War, been spending more than the military spending of all the rest of the world combined, with the avowed intention of pacification and global democracy.
It has fought wars or carried out military interventions in Korea, China (via Kuomintang mercenary forces and Tibetan tribesmen), Cuba (via exiles), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq (twice), Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan (twice), Pakistan (with drones and special forces), Nicaragua (via “Contras”), Grenada, Panama, Dominican Republic, Sudan and Kosovo (with NATO). It has also been involved with coups in Guatemala, Chile, Greece and elsewhere. There probably are more, but this is what I recall.
My list, incomplete or otherwise, is not offered in indignation. Some of this was justified, most not; some has to be seen in the context of the times. The point of the list is a fact that no one seems to understand: Battles were won, but not a single war was won by the United States. There is not one victory (except as noted below), and not one of the interventions had a positive outcome except in Kosovo. The sole clear-cut military victories were in Grenada over a Cuban construction crew, and in Panama, where 500 civilians (the U.N. estimate) were killed in order to seize President Manuel Noriega and put him into a Miami jail cell. He has now served his term.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy,” at www.williampfaff.com.
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