A February article in Foreign Policy Magazine caught my eye at the time, but jogged my memory after the terror attacks in Brussels. The gist of the article was that there was nothing to worry about in the small size of the military budget, we are spending plenty of money on defense. The argument in the article was that any appearance of US military weakness was due to the Constitutional limitations imposed by US civilian control of the military. As a Vietnam Era veteran, I could not let that go unchallenged, especially now after we know about ISIS terror networks in Europe.
First, the primary argument of the article, that our military is well funded and strong militarily is hogwash. The state of our military is really bad. Our procurement practices add several years and tens of billions of dollars to our costs. Most of the airplanes we're flying are as old or older than the pilots, although they may have new electronics. Our training budgets have been slashed. We have fewer ships, soldiers and sailors than we did in the 1930's, when our weakness contributed to the start of World War II. The article is completely wrong in each and every particular on that score.
But inefficiency in war not only wastes time, it wastes lives and results in disastrous failures. And inefficiency from the Commander in Chief does the most damage. Lyndon Johnson ran the Vietnam War from the White House during his term in office. He ran it inefficiently, incurring many more American and Vietnamese casualties than would have been necessary if he had listened to sound military advice. In particular, Johnson wasted the overwhelming US advantage in air power by attacking targets that didn't matter. Johnson chose targets primarily to “send a message,” not to gain military advantage. When Nixon finally decided to use US air power effectively, Operation Linebacker II shutdown about 90% of the flow of supplies to North Vietnam in less than a month. If we had done that in 1965 instead of 1972, the cost and aftermath of the Vietnam War would have been vastly different. US casualties might have been less than 15,000 instead of over 55,000. Pol Pot might not have been able to kill 2 million Cambodians. The North Vietnamese would have been less likely to violate any peace agreement, because the US would have been more likely to keep its commitment of continued military aid plus air support, in 1965, if the North Vietnamese invaded the South. As it was, the US made both those promises, but kept neither.
Barack Obama is running the war against ISIS from the White House, just like Lyndon Johnson ran Vietnam. If anything, Obama is much more restrictive and less efficient than Johnson ever thought of being. According to some military sources, Obama canceled the orders to attack Bashar al-Assad's air force at the same time we initially attacked ISIS. That decision alone probably killed 100,000 Syrian civilians and created the opening for Russia to enter the war in support of Assad. The decision to not bomb ISIS controlled oil fields in Syria for fear of environmental damage, and not to bomb ISIS oil transport trucks for fear of killing the civilian drivers, made the failure to bomb Assad’s air force even worse. It let ISIS sell hundreds of millions of dollars in black market oil in Turkey and use the proceeds to fund establishing a large and threatening terror network in Europe.
Delays in war have hidden costs, but they usually are very real and very large. Frittering away time costs lives.
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