Politics & Policy

The Lessons of History

Combat Outpost Spera in Khost Province, Afghanistan (Photo: Army Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander)
Our enemies take notice when we scale back our military.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

— George Santayana

We should study history not just to memorize dates and places but to analyze trends. I see our country once again following a particular disturbing trend at a critical time when we should be more prudent.

Now, I will be one of the first to say that we can find savings of taxpayer dollars in the Department of Defense budget. Before I was sworn in as a member of Congress, I stated on Meet the Press in the waning months of 2010 that we could find fraud, waste, and abuse in that budget.#ad#

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I backed up that assertion in April 2011 when my first piece of legislation, which identified and eliminated funding for several wasteful programs in the DOD budget, made it to the House floor. It passed 393–0, and the savings to the American taxpayer was $35 million per year.

However, what I see occurring now is not judicious cost-cutting but the degradation of our military capability. We are once again forgetting that the preeminent responsibility of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense.” Some people have confused this with providing welfare and guaranteeing happiness on the notion of limitless rights.

Since World War I, we as a nation have viewed any end of major combat operations as an opportunity to achieve fiscal responsibility through cutting the military budget. When World War II ended, we ramped down, and then we had to ramp back up for the Korean War. After the Vietnam War and the Cold War, we once again gutted our military capability.

I was commissioned as a second lieutenant on July 31, 1982, and the following year, after graduating from the University of Tennessee, I went on active duty. I witnessed the transformation of the U.S. military in my early years: Humvees, Bradleys, Abrams tanks, Apache attack helicopters, Blackhawk transport helicopters, and Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) artillery, the A-10 close-air support platform — all this new technology and equipment was instrumental in my first combat tour, Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

We were highly trained and ready for action thanks to our soldiers’ preparation at places like the National Training Center in the California desert. But after the victory came the reduction in forces, and defense cuts became the source of funds for government spending on other programs, such as midnight basketball.

In those days, we did not have enough small-arms ammunition for rifle qualification. We had to carefully budget our annual allocation of artillery rounds, so we did more dry-fire operations. The shortage of spare parts and tools made maintenance operations very intense. But the one thing we could not control was that the world was growing yet more dangerous. The enemy pays attention to our weakness, and they have a vote.#page#

Now, I am not a fan of nation-building excursions. I have been there and done that. I believe we must move away from a forward-deployed military and toward one that projects power focusing not on occupation-style warfare but rather on strike-operations-oriented warfare. We must use our greatest asset — strategic and operational mobility — to deny the enemy sanctuary, to interdict his flow of men, materiel, and other means of support, to cordon him off, and to win the information-operations aspect of engagement. Those are the premier strategic imperatives on the 21st-century battlefield.

Unfortunately, we are ceding regions where the enemy, after exploiting chaotic situations, find themselves in power. I am concerned about the radical Islamic threat that now extends from the Maghreb to the Middle East and into southwest Asia; the rise of Iran’s drive for regional hegemony, which now reaches into our hemisphere; the economic juggernaut of China, which enables the belligerence of North Korea, and those two nations’ collusion with Iran on nuclear capability. And we must not lose sight of our dear friend Vladimir Putin in Russia.#ad#

I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but our world is more Machiavellian than Kantian. There are only two ways to end a combat engagement, an armed conflict, or a war: win it, or lose it. By simply stating the date on which you are going to retreat, you only embolden your enemies.

When anyone can see that the major focus of our military is social reengineering, the wolves salivate and prepare to feast. These are indeed times that try men’s souls, but let us not forget that the president is commander-in-chief, and that our national security is his primary responsibility.

— Allen West is a former United States congressman representing Florida’s 22nd congressional district.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen West is a former congressman from Florida and a current senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, leading the Booker T. Washington Initiative.

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