Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rules of Engagement - War in the 21st Century

I've heard the Obama Administration accused recently of being soft of national defense. "National Defense" is a euphamism commonly used by the Right to mean American Exceptionalism - the idea that we're better than everyone else and that the rules that apply to other nations (like, not invading each other) do not apply to us.

I'm no fan of suffering, but this idea that we as a nation need to right every wrong on earth is just dumb. First off, who decides which wrongs get righted? When Iraq invading Kuwait, we were the first to step in and say no. When the ethnic cleansing episodes in eastern Europe threatened to wipe out millions, we stepped in, and good thing. But all around the world, people are oppressed while we sit idly by. Is it a question of severity? Is it a question of money? Is it a question of manpower? The point is, we cherry pick the causes we're willing to commit troops to while situations like Darfur fester in the open with little more than lip service from Washington.

The truth is, our insistence on using our military will ultimately be our undoing. We may not have the best education system in the world, but we have some smart people. They're smart enough to know that words can have a more profound and lasting impact than bombs. And yes, this is a plea to consider exhausting all possible diplomatic channels before resorting to war.

Therefore, I am laying out my suggestions for how to conduct ourselves as a nation in the future, in the unfortunate case we need to rattle our sabers:

  • Don't even go to war in the first place. What does war really resolve? Who's better? Who's morally superior? Who's got the right to all that gooey oil? We talk about our troops "over there defending our freedoms", but with all due respect to our brave fighting men and women in uniform, that is a crock. Nothing that would ever happen in Iraq or Afghanistan will ever affect my freedoms. It might affect their freedoms, but let's not get me involved here. Regardless of how it plays out over there, this will always be America, and my rights aren't going anywhere.
  • Exhaust all possible diplomatic and economic options first. Even the most gung-ho military will tell you, war is hell. And before marching into some meat grinder, it should be noted that we have a lot of diplomats in this country who can attempt to reason out solutions with countries before the bullets start flying. Believe me, they don't want us there, no matter how willing they say they are to die for their glorious cause. As for economics, I'm no economist but it seems to me that the United States can still wield a little influence in the form of trade embargoes, humanitarian effort, etc. If we can make it worth their while for a few million dollars to reconsider their positions, it would save billions in war expenses.
  • Define our objectives before we get started. I think that if we're going to go to the trouble and the expense of committing to war, we damn well ought to be able to say why we're doing it. If it's to depose a regime and replace it with a democratically elected government, then fine. We go, overthrow the evil dictator, set up the new boss, stick around long enough to see the new leader take their oaths of office, and get the hell out. None of this nebulous "bring peace and stability to the region" crap. Let's have a checklist.
  • Finally, declare War. When was the last time Congress passed a resolution declaring war? I know we did it in World War II. Korea was called a "police action" and was a United Nations effort. Vietnam, who knows. I mean, we call it "the Vietnam War", but did we ever declare war on Vietnam? And in my lifetime, I can't recall a single military campaign where we had the balls to actually declare war with an act of Congress. It seems to me that if we are going to send our soldiers, our aircraft carriers, or bombers and tanks to some country with the intention of blowing stuff up, then we ought to just make it official and have Congress pass a resolution, have the President sign off, and then go kick some ass.