I believe it’s the nature of any bureaucracy or bureaucrat to take whatever territory, responsibility, or power they have and expand it through any means possible. Walking around Washington, DC, there is ample evidence of that trend. If you visit the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall and make your way to one of the corridors you can see a display of two panoramic pictures taken from the top of the castle tower. One of these pictures was taken roughly in 2005, and shows the area as it is now with the exception of a few new buildings. The other picture, however, is quite remarkable to me. It was taken somewhere in the neighborhood of 1910 and shows a much different city. The major landmarks are there, and some of the large government buildings are there as well, but houses line many of the streets, there are open spaces in the neighborhoods, and there are even what looks like a few small animal paddocks or pastures. All of what was once a semi-rural suburb is now covered in massive buildings housing either government bureaucrats or the contractors who depend on them.
Over the last 100 or so years, our government has grown remarkably – each branch, division, and office bowing to the inexorable pressure to expand its size, scope, and influence. What begins as a small organization slowly expands as authorities are assumed, stretched, or granted to meet some perceived need – often derived from some form of crisis or another – and never relinquished. Power granted in an exigency is almost never withdrawn when the crisis is over, and suddenly we find we can’t live without something that previously wasn’t even a consideration. Individual bureaucrats seeking personal validation and believing in their personal superiority in whatever specialty for which they were hired or appointed push their boundaries into new territory, setting precedent for those who follow. This constant push for more influence and control spans the full breadth of the institution from the lowest level secretary or technician clear through to the President, and ultimately results in an ever growing enterprise that has more and more control over the everyday lives of us mere citizens. Of these influential organizations within the government, one stands out to me as a particular behemoth in dire need of a reduction. Oddly enough, though, it happens to be the one that employs me. In spite of the fact that I belong to the Department of Defense (DoD), I firmly believe that it is much too big and plays far to great a role in the lives of ordinary people around the globe.
In the early years of our nation, there was great skepticism by both the founding fathers and much of the general population with regard to large standing armies and foreign entanglements. Standing armies represented a concentration of power in a few people that had high potential for abuse. Large bodies of armed and angry men wield enormous power, and armies have used that power to depose governments and infringe on the rights of the people repeatedly throughout history. Recent history has demonstrated the potential for conflict represented by a standing army as several nation states have been victims of military-led coups. In an effort to limit the potential for this kind of event here in the United States we have instituted controls such as posse comitatus and civilian control of the military. While those controls have been largely successful in this nation, they are no guarantee. The existence of an apolitical and civilian-subservient military is an anomaly in the grand scheme of history, and there is nothing more than tradition and culture preventing it from going extinct. Tradition and culture are never more than a single generation from demise at any given time.
Standing armies are also expensive, especially when they are staffed by mercenaries (volunteers). The men must be fed, clothed, and paid enough to make it financially advantageous to other jobs in the economy. Unlike laborers and other employees, in the absence of a credible and substantial threat members of the military produce nothing of value for their pay. However, they do produce a source of power for those in control – power that can be used and abused. Leaders who come to rely on the power of an army are obliged to justify paying for them, and justifying a standing army has typically meant a combination of empire, international adventurism, and a string of exaggerated or invented crises. Without a public perception of an existential threat, the public might find it difficult to justify the costs. Additionally, with a large and capable army ready and waiting it quickly becomes the go-to solution for situations that should probably be dealt with in less violent manner. In essence, having a standing army is akin to having a toolbox where all the other tools are buried under a large number of expensive hammers — anything pointy begins to look like a nail that needs hammering.
Following World War II, the United States military was used all over the world to fight the spread of communism. Bureaucrats and politicians hyped up the threat posed by the communist ideology and deployed America’s strength and youth to fight in the fields of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America and South America. We supported corrupt dictators and strongmen all over the world or stirred armed rebellions in shitholes around the globe including Vietnam, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Cuba, the Philippines, Guatemala, Haiti, Argentina, Columbia, Nicaragua, Mali, Somalia, Lybia, Tunesia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and many others. None of the “interventions” I’m aware of have resulted in a positive outcome or enhanced security for the United States. In the bigger scheme of things, most of the attempts to shape the outcome have resulted in nothing but badness.
As an illustrative and essentially typical example, consider Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan was reasonably developed, and the United States had no real strategic interest in the region. It was geographically distant, politically and economically insignificant, and incapable of producing a real threat against the United States or its core interests. In spite of this, we intervened by supplying military goods and expertise to the “freedom fighters” who ultimately succeeded in bleeding the Soviet forces until they gave up and left. The resulting instability ultimately led to the collapse of the government and a major power vacuum. That vacuum was filled by the same religious zealots we had helped arm… the disciples of the Deobandi school of Islam known as the Taliban. We helped to create a world-class incubator for Islamic extremist ideologies.
Side step into Saudi Arabia… American oil companies were reaping huge profits drilling the easily accessible oil reserves of the Arabian Peninsula and needed a compliant government in Riyadh. Consequently, they structured their agreements with the Kingdom to greatly enrich the royal family and ensure their access. The large royal family proceeded to spend their wealth in riotous living that caught the attention of the local population made up of poor and highly conservative Muslims who began to stir. To counter the PR problem, the royal family started a new sport… competitive religiosity. In founding the kingdom, King Saud had enlisted the support of the Wahabi warriors to secure the kingdom, and now turned to them to solve the PR problem. The royal family put on a public show of piousness, pouring vast amounts of money into advancing the extreme Wahabi school of thought and building madrasas to propagate their message. One student of that school of thought was Osama Bin Ladin who cut his teeth with the Mujahadin in Afghanistan.
Stepping next-door to Kuwait, a corrupt dictatorship was stealing Iraqi oil by slant-drilling into Iraqi oil fields. Once our ally against revolutionary Iran, Sadam Husein (a violent dictator in his own right) reacted by invading and occupying Kuwait. The US responded by deploying a massive invasion force to Saudi Arabia. To Bin Ladin and many other Muslims, this was an act of extreme desecration of the most sacred places on earth, an act of disrespectful imperialism, and would shape Bin Ladin’s message for the remainder of his life and career as an anti-American antagonist and terrorist. If this weren’t bad enough, the US invasion of Iraq in 1992 started a fight that has continued uninterrupted to this day. US forces have been engaged in combat operations in the middle east non-stop ever since. The end result is an entire region devastated by war and instability.
I have to ask myself how this would have turned out had the US not had a large and powerful military it could turn to to provide arms to insurgents and jihadists and invade foreign countries. Was Vietnam actually an existential threat to the United States? History tells us no. We lost that war after spending immense sums of blood and treasure, only to watch Vietnam sit as an international backwater after we left. Was Kuwait of vital interest? Again, the answer is no… The United States has vast untapped oil reserves that could meet our needs. Even more significantly, any government in the middle east will only survive so long as they can sell oil, and in a global market it is essentially impossible to block the sale of oil to any given market. No matter who controls the oil in the middle east, the end result will be oil available on the global market.
Now… given this long-winded context, I get to my proposal summarized as follows:
- Recognize that there are no existential threats to the territorial sovereignty and survival of the United States (vital interests).
- Recognize that interventionism and imperialism do not ultimately further significant national interests.
- Move 85% of the active Army into the National Guard and Reserves and maintain them on a traditional reservist/guardsman status.
- Move 70% of the Air Force into the same Guard/Reserve status.
- Close ALL US military installations on foreign soil.
- Eliminate the United States Marine Corps
- Eliminate the pre-positioning fleet
- Eliminate all ground-based ICBMs, and tactical nuclear weapons. Restructure the fleet of nuclear capable aircraft to minimize the number and type. Maintain the submarine-launched ICBM nuclear deterrent
- Eliminate the NRO, NSA, and DIA. Consolidate intelligence services under the CIA with a focus on foreign human intelligence instead of a fascination and inexplicable trust in technical intelligence means and methods.
- Get out of the habit of using a $400,000 warhead when a $0.50 bullet will do. Even better, don’t react at all and accept the risk. Risk avoidance has a price tag, and it’s not always worth the cost.
- Close down all but one of the nuclear labs (Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Idaho National Labs, Pantex, etc… )
- Cancel the F35, retire the B52, KC135, KC10, C5, F16, A10, and F22. Acquire the super-hornet for AF use. Upgrade the F15.
- Reevaluate Army acquisition programs for similar cuts
- Retire all large-deck amphibious ships.
- Refocus Navy requirements on protecting US shipping and maintaining open shipping lanes worldwide.
- Eliminate the current MAJCOM structure dividing the world into combatant commands. Shut down all the staffs.
- Drop out of NATO and other mutual-defense agreements.
- Shut down all traditional special operations missions (building partner capacity etc…) and refocus a smaller special operations force on counter terrorism and clandestine high-risk operations.
- Eliminate the paramilitary programs within the CIA. Limit them to intelligence collection/processing/evaluation/dissemination
- Eliminate DHS. Use the national guard for homeland defense/security. Roll the USCG under the DoD
- Cancel the mid-course interceptor program
If I ever find the time, I’ll talk through my thoughts and justifications for these recommendations, but for now, take them at face value. I will say, however, that they all are grounded in the idea that we have no real enemies who are likely or even capable of causing a no-kidding non-nuclear disaster, that we are safest when we give fewer people a reason to hate us, and that we can best defend ourselves by staying home and protecting the ground that belongs to us. Just think about the potential economic impacts if all the human and financial capital we flush down the drain by wasting it on military adventures overseas were available to the general economy.