"Send in the Marines!"
For many generations, successive U.S. presidents have given those orders, from early in our Nation's history in places like Montezuma's palaces in Mexico to the Barbary pirates' shores of Tripoli, and more recently from the halls of Saddam Hussein to the pirate-infested coast of Somalia.
Of late, the question occurs: Will Barack Obama be the first American president to say, "Send away the Marines" - as in permanently?
That is a not-unreasonable inference to draw from the myriad steps being taken by the Obama Defense Department at the moment, steps that threaten that could the future viability of the Marine Corps. Consider the following examples:
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has repeatedly indicated that he believes the United States must focus its shrinking defense resources on fighting counter-insurgency operations like today's conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. (The latter, of course, continues, even though Mr. Obama has unilaterally declared an "end to combat operations" there - the triumph of a campaign promise over conditions-on-the-ground-based considerations or national interests). As a result, the Pentagon's capacity to project power around the world is being deemphasized, and in come cases seriously eroded. As a key element of the "pointy-end of the spear" for U.S. power-projection, such trends bode ill for the Corps.
Worse yet, Secretary Gates has launched a major review of the Marines' mission. Although he conveyed in a speech in San Francisco last month an appreciation of the Corp and its unique "from the sea" warfighting capability, the Gates review seems intended to challenge the need for amphibious assault capability. Arguing that the proliferation of advanced anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, mines and other sophisticated weapons into the hands even of Third World nations is making endangered species of the vessels that form the backbone of "over-the-beach" warfighting, Mr. Gates and his senior subordinates seem disposed - all other things being equal - to argue for scaling back, if not eliminating, such platforms.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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