The Next War

Paul Greenberg

2/1/2012 12:01:00 AM - Paul Greenberg

It happens every between-the-wars period. It happened in the 1920s and '30s, then in the post-war 1940s. ... Now it's happening again in the 2010s. War-weariness sets in. A new chorus of isolationist voices arises. America cuts back on its defenses. Which explains why these are between-the-wars periods. American weakness invites the next war. The way appeasement invites aggression.

We never seem to learn. We just repeat the same dismal pattern: first retreat, then alarm when we're caught by surprise, followed by a massive reaction. George F. Kennan once compared American foreign policy to a prehistoric dinosaur with a huge body and a tiny brain. It takes us the longest time to sense that we're under attack, but when we finally do, we thrash about wildly, destroying everything in sight.

We yearn for an America that never was, one uninvolved with the rest of the world. The dream never dies. It is reborn after every war. Now it's Ron Paul's turn to revive it.

Dr. Paul has a simple prescription to offer: The way to deal with a dangerous world is to retreat from it, and take refuge in Fortress America. His campaign slogan might as well be Detente, not Defense!

If we'll just smile at our enemies, offer an outstretched hand in peace-and-friendship (Mir y Druzhba, as the Soviets and their friends used to say), all will be well. Our enemies will join us in a round of Kumbaya around the campfire, and there'll be no need to maintain this huge defense establishment. Think of the money we'll save!

The end of the dream can come abruptly. As on December 7, 1941. Or on June 25, 1950, when the Korean War was suddenly upon us. Or in our time, September 11, 2001.

For the moment, this administration dreams on. Its secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, has just proposed slashing troop levels, closing bases, concentrating on weapons that can be fired from afar, and retrenchment in general.

Want peace and security? Show our enemies they have nothing to fear from us. Reach out to the forces of tyranny in the world. If that doesn't work, and it hasn't under this administration, why, cutting our defense budget surely will.

The best one-line summary and diagnosis of this "strategy" may be found in an old movie called "The Bridge on the River Kwai" :

"Madness ... madness!"

Unlike isolationists past and now present again, some of our senators have taken note of the risks we're courting by economizing on security. "Taking us back to a pre-9/11 military force structure places our country in grave danger." --John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Yes, standing up to threats can be dangerous, too. Almost as dangerous as not standing up to them. It's always a temptation to think we can defend this country -- and the free world -- on the cheap. But that approach may prove a lot more expensive in the end.

An ounce of deterrence is worth any amount of empty rhetoric. The arrival of the U.S. carrier Abraham Lincoln in the Strait of Hormuz last week without fanfare said more than all this president's speeches about foreign affairs over the past three unsteady years.

These proposed defense cuts say a lot, too. And what they say is nothing good: America is going into decline again. And that message will be heard -- from Moscow to Teheran, Beijing to Caracas. Thank you, Mr. Panetta. As an old Navy pilot named John McCain put it, this package of a thousand cuts "ignores the lessons of history."

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Also the lessons of economics. Our economist-in-chief has told us the way to stimulate the American economy is to spend more hundreds of billions on "shovel-ready projects," by which he seems to mean handouts to bluer states and greener schemes. Also the better-connected lobbies, industries, corporations, labor unions and Government Supported Enterprises. The more they spend, the better off we'll all be! Call it the Solyndra Solution.

The first sign the president's stimulus package wouldn't work was that he put Joe Biden, that economic and diplomatic mastermind, in charge of it. Oh, for the days when vice presidents just stood around and waited, the days when they were seen (if you looked closely) but not heard.

What's really been stimulated over the past three years is the country's unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, the largest collection of shovel-ready, job-creating, opportunity-offering, educationally effective projects in this country -- the United States military -- is to be shrunk.

Madness, madness.

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For reasons both military and civil, political and economic, moral and practical, this country's defenses need to be bolstered -- not dismantled.