The best Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coasties, spooks and cops on the planet can only accomplish what their political masters allow them to. Their political masters decide what weapons and equipment they will have and how much training they will get on them, and what capabilities they will have to deal with whoever will be recognized as an enemy. We the People are supposed to be the political masters of our defender’s political masters, and could, if enough of us cared to, punish those politicians whose stewardship of our Republic’s security fails to measure up to our standards by voting the bums out. Not enough of us bother. Bums rarely get voted out. That’s on us. We fail in that responsibility. We’re supposed to be the Quality Control/Quality Assurance element. Congress now has around 11% approval rating. If we were doing our part they’d be up around 55%.
War is a political act. Supporting or opposing, furthering or hindering, helping or hurting, empowering or diminishing, strengthening or constraining are all political acts. How do We the People gather the information we need to make a decision on how to act, or not to act, or not to care? How do we “know” what we think we know? How do we know that our information hasn’t been spun to guide us to desired conclusions? There are lots of people in the world who don’t think America should be a super power, or don’t think America should fight wars, or don’t think America is progressive enough, or multi-cultural enough, or green enough or whatever. There are a lot of people in America who agree with them.
Ian Lawrence, writing in Global Politican, explains how the Lilliputians without and their brethren within work to tie us down:
It was said that during the Vietnam War the face of America at war had greatly transformed. With fresh footage screened right across American homes on the nightly news, the reality of war was presented into our living rooms for the first time ever. The political repercussions of a nation at war were now real, and potentially threatening to the government’s ability to handle national security objectives in the strategic interest of the country.
The extent, to which the media would change America’s military capability, or more correctly credibility, would not be realized however, until the Iraq war in 2003. The reach of today’s media now spans news, and the reality of a nation at war is brought in much deeper than the living room. Between the multitude of 24 hour news channels, youtube, online media, troop reporting, and the rest of the endless blogosphere, the American people are constantly flooded with the impression of the enormous number of lives being lost at this war and the immense cost to the US economy. This is not a true reflection of reality, and not only poses a danger to the challenge of winning this war, but America’s military posture in the future.
Communism was defeated with some 500,000 troops deployed in Europe and Asia, at an average cost of 7% of GDP. This is double what is being spent on defense now. Furthermore, World War II saw defense spending rise in some years to 50% of GDP. These figures should put the cost of the current Iraq war into perspective, yet today many doubt whether the American economy can afford “the mammoth cost of this expensive war”.Although the Iraq war is referred to as a ‘quagmire’, there were some 7,000 casualties per year in Vietnam, 9 times that seen in the Iraq war. The US observed some 16,000 murders during the year 2001, and loses some 700,000 Americans die each year from the leading cause of death, heart disease. Perhaps these figures also put into perspective this ‘quagmire’, when compared to previous wars, with 3.5 deaths per day a relatively small number for a major war.
American families are willing to lose lives and spend money so long as they see they are fighting a war that is necessary to win. However, when constantly fronted with images of bodies being flown home each day, fear campaigns of the “overwhelming cost” of the war, and given the nature of the threat, it has become increasingly difficult for the Bush administration to convey to the people the necessity of winning this war. Less and less do the people listen to the words of their leaders, despite them having all the intelligence and strategic advice that the rest of us are not privy to.
More and more do we listen to teenage and celebrity bloggers on the internet, whose source of information often comprise merely of other blogs, online propaganda and the general media. Less and less are we reading the reports of the state department or any of the numerous think-tanks employing analysts. often ex-government agency officials or prominent strategic advisors themselves. No, celebrities, teenagers and layman bloggers appear to be today’s analyst of choice, and this widening distrust between elected leaders and the people is placing the pursuit of national security in a far more challenging space.
Terrorists know this. This is the real front of this war. The mere concept of terrorism as a method of fighting is not focused around killing the enemy. It is the media coverage, instilled fear, and subsequent political response targeted by these attacks that are the goals of the enemy. The Sunni Jihadis in Iraq do not measure the success of their war by the number of US casualties they cause, but rather the swing in election polls and the resultant political change within Washington, as was seen in the 2006 midterm elections. By forcing the Bush administration into the political quagmire it sits in today, without even achieving high casualty rates, winning support of local Iraqis or achieving strategic objectives on the ground, the enemy is capable of igniting troop withdrawals from the world’s greatest military power thanks to the mass communication technologies we use today and the resultant increased sensitivity of the general public to casualties on their TV and computer screens.
Will this war serve as a precedent by which no future US president will take what may be necessary military intervention to deal with a major threat because we now know it to be political suicide? This would certainly be the US government stripped of one of its most powerful tools in dealing with issues of national security. The US [will] be rendered politically unable to project its power abroad given its unwillingness to make good on its threats as it embarks on the geo-strategic challenges of the 21st century. [Bolding added by me]
If we don’t figure out how to prevail in the battle space between the ears of the American voter, we’re screwed.