by ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis
(Providence, Rhode Island) – This past week President Obama – a Democrat, and his Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – a Republican, announced a new reduction-in-force for the U.S. Army that would bring it below pre-World War II levels. There has been a lot of reaction – both pro and con – so I thought we might look at that picture this week:
"World War II" – The military drawdown after World War I, was supported because many thought the outcome was, "The war to end all wars," as so many wars have been. With Germany discriminated, many believed the threat to the allied forces was mitigated. Yet Hitler used the reverse logic, because his country was so devastated. So, while we drew down, he built up a massive military and infrastructure system, to make a quick strike at most of Europe in the late 1930s. Emasculated and isolationist, the U.S. stood on the sidelines until the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941. This nation worked night and day, "Rosie the Riveter" and all, to rebuild a hollow force and win the war on both fronts. Was German and Japanese aggressive expansion because the U.S. appeared weak?
"Vietnam Regrets" – The Vietnam War was the most unpopular in American history. After the U.S. pulled out in 1975, there was plenty of regret. The push in Congress was to again shrink the U.S. military. Our diplomatic outreach to the Soviet Union and China was a signal the Cold War was cooling, and maybe the U.S. needed less military might. In light of that drawdown, two things happened: The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and Iran militants stormed our Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of American hostages for over a year. The U.S. looked weak and so did President Jimmy Carter. It was a big factor in his defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and defense spending soared once again. Did the Russians and Iranians strike because we appeared weak?
"BRAC Attack" – In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Congress agreed to a Base Realignment and Closure Commission, known by the acronym BRAC. Since Members of Congress were reluctant to close any bases, for fear of negative economic impact at home, it was determined an independent commission would come up with closure lists, that Congress would have to accept or reject as is, without tinkering. Dozens of bases – some of them wasteful; some of them still needed – were closed.
"What the Enemy Sees" – One could argue – and many did – that the post-Reagan drawdown of the U.S. military, started by President George H.W. Bush (BRAC 1988 and 1991), may have emboldened Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait in 1990, leading to the first Persian Gulf War. One might argue – and many have – that the further drawdown of the U.S. military under President Bill Clinton through the BRAC reductions of 1993 and 1995, helped embolden radical Islamic terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Were the 9-11 attacks in 2001 (photo above), based on perceived U.S. weakness?
"Ukraine on the Brain" – This discussion is all the more timely given the turmoil in the Ukraine this past week and the toppling of its president. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to intervene militarily despite warnings to him from President Obama - and much of the international community - to keep Russia's hands off. Is Putin pushing his strategy because he perceives the U.S. will (and military) to be weakening?
"Tax Savings" – The long-term U.S. financial picture and debt is driving much of this. The Pentagon is trying to live with a trillion dollars in budget cuts over the next decade. In 2015 alone, the Pentagon's proposed $496 billion dollar budget is slashed by $45 billion – almost 10 percent. By then, the two costly ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be without U.S. combat forces. Still, are the cuts too deep? Will they make us weak, or make us look vulnerable?
"World's Policeman" – The argument from many is that the U.S. is not the world's policeman. Yet it is, whether people want to believe it or not; whether people want it to be the reality, or not. No nation – and certainly not the United Nations – carries the moral authority on the planet that the United States does. The pushback that President Obama faced when he wanted to get involved militarily in Syria last year notwithstanding, people look to the U.S. to do something, whether it's "Big Stick" diplomacy or bombs. And let's face it, those nations who always want, or need us to intervene, don't care about the impact on the U.S. budget.
"Realities" – Whether our enemies perceive us to be weaker – regardless of whether we really are weaker, doesn't seem to matter. The U.S. military may have had a significant drawdown in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, but it still has massive military stockpiles, troop strength and the largest nuclear arsenal on earth. We may weaken, but we are hardly weak. Still, the perception can be enough for people like Al-Qaeda to say, "Hey, maybe this is a good time to take a shot." The sad truth about 9-11, is that our intelligence knew there was a plan circulating (from Ramzi Yousef) to highjack planes and fly them into U.S. skyscrapers. But you need more than just intelligence to stop such a plot. You need military might, and most of all, you need the internal will to stop it.
What are you thoughts? Is the U.S. military shrinking to dangerous levels? Let is know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.
Photo courtesy: ABC News.com