If I were writing such a history now, I would call it Chickenhawk Nation , based on the derisive term for those eager to go to war, as long as someone else is going. It would be the story of a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military.
Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now.
A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness. Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religion, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military.
About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in , believing as he told me that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades.
Moulton told me, as did many others with Iraq-era military experience, that if more members of Congress or the business and media elite had had children in uniform, the United States would probably not have gone to war in Iraq at all. Because he felt strongly enough about that failure of elite accountability, Moulton decided while in Iraq to get involved in politics after he left the military. What Moulton described was desire for a kind of accountability. It is striking how rare accountability has been for our modern wars. Hillary Clinton paid a price for her vote to authorize the Iraq War, since that is what gave the barely known Barack Obama an opening to run against her in George W.
But those two are the exceptions. For our generals, our politicians, and most of our citizenry, there is almost no accountability or personal consequence for military failure. This is a dangerous development—and one whose dangers multiply the longer it persists. O urs is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive.
Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned.
But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U. The last war that ended up in circumstances remotely resembling what prewar planning would have considered a victory was the brief Gulf War of After the Vietnam War, the press and the public went too far in blaming the military for what was a top-to-bottom failure of strategy and execution.
But the military itself recognized its own failings, and a whole generation of reformers looked to understand and change the culture.
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In , a military-intelligence veteran named Richard A. Gabriel published, with Paul L. Three years later, a broadside called Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era , by a military officer writing under the pen name Cincinnatus later revealed to be a lieutenant colonel serving in the reserves as a military chaplain, Cecil B.
Currey , linked problems in Vietnam to the ethical and intellectual shortcomings of the career military. The book was hotly debated—but not dismissed. Today, you hear judgments like that frequently from within the military and occasionally from politicians—but only in private. William S. He wrote recently:. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it—and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way.
Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Partly it is because legislators and even presidents recognize the sizable risks and limited payoffs of taking on the career military. When recent presidents have relieved officers of command, they have usually done so over allegations of sexual or financial misconduct, or other issues of personal discipline.
These include the cases of the two famous four-star generals who resigned rather than waiting for President Obama to dismiss them: Stanley A. The exception proving the rule occurred a dozen years ago, when a senior civilian official directly challenged a four-star general on his military competence. In that case, the general was right and the politicians were wrong.
Some of this PR shift is anthropological. And whether or not this was a conscious plan, the military gets a substantial PR boost from the modern practice of placing officers in mid-career assignments at think tanks, on congressional staffs, and in graduate programs across the country. Most cultures esteem the scholar-warrior, and these programs expose usually skeptical American elites to people like the young Colin Powell, who as a lieutenant colonel in his mids was a White House fellow after serving in Vietnam, and David Petraeus, who got his Ph. Bush and Barack Obama and whose mid-career academic stint was at Harvard Business School , told me recently.
Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military.
Chan (ed) & Mintz (ed), Defense, Welfare and Growth: Perspectives and Evidence, 1e
Citizens notice when crime is going up, or school quality is going down, or the water is unsafe to drink, or when other public functions are not working as they should. Not enough citizens are made to notice when things go wrong, or right, with the military. The country thinks too rarely, and too highly, of the 1 percent under fire in our name.
This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors.
Scales, in this issue. In an America connected to its military, such questions of strategy and implementation would be at least as familiar as, say, the problems with the Common Core education standards. Those technological breakthroughs that do make their way to the battlefield may prove to be strategic liabilities in the long run. During the years in which the United States has enjoyed a near-monopoly on weaponized drones, for example, they have killed individuals or small groups at the price of antagonizing whole societies.
When the monopoly ends, which is inevitable, the very openness of the United States will make it uniquely vulnerable to the cheap, swarming weapons others will deploy. The cost of defense, meanwhile, goes up and up and up, with little political resistance and barely any public discussion.
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After adjustments for inflation, the United States will spend about 50 percent more on the military this year than its average through the Cold War and Vietnam War. It will spend about as much as the next 10 nations combined—three to five times as much as China, depending on how you count, and seven to nine times as much as Russia. The world as a whole spends about 2 percent of its total income on its militaries; the United States, about 4 percent. These planes were relatively cheap, pared to their essentials, easy to maintain, and designed to do a specific thing very well.
For the F, that was to be fast, highly maneuverable, and deadly in air-to-air combat. The A needed to be heavily armored, so it could absorb opposing fire; designed to fly as slowly as possible over the battlefield, rather than as rapidly, so that it could stay in range to do damage rather than roaring through; and built around one very powerful gun. There are physical devices that seem the pure expression of a function. The Eames chair, a classic No. The A, generally known not as the Thunderbolt but as the Warthog, fills that role in the modern military.
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It is rugged; it is inexpensive; it can shred enemy tanks and convoys by firing up to 70 rounds a second of armor-piercing, inch-long depleted-uranium shells. The weapon in whose name the A is being phased out is its opposite in almost every way. In automotive terms, it would be a Lamborghini rather than a pickup truck or a flying tank. In air-travel terms, the first-class sleeper compartment on Singapore Airlines rather than advance-purchase Economy Plus or even business class on United. These comparisons seem ridiculous, but they are fair.
The A shows the pattern.