Traveling In A Dangerous World

I emigrated from the UK to the USA, I’ve traveled on business in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA and more, I’ve traveled to learn in Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, I’ve traveled for pleasure in – well, I’ve moved around a lot.  Here’s what I learned: almost all travel just confirms our preconceptions.  We go someplace new, we see something new, we fit that into the concepts we brought with us.

Only by spending long enough in an unfamiliar world with senses and mind truly open can we notice enough detailed differences and similarities to learn from travel.

Senator King (I-ME) recently visited Syria.  He’s a good man who was of course horrified by the suffering he saw at first hand.  He returned wanting us to end that suffering by intervening militarily in Syria’s civil war.  The suffering he saw reinforced the concept he took to Syria.  Better he had not gone because military intervention is the wrong concept.

When I came to the USA, we were intervening militarily in Vietnam.  One of those who was there long enough to learn, Colin Powell, was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1990/1 war in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  His doctrine, successfully applied in that war was: (1) Clear objectives, (2) Sufficient Force, (3) Exit Strategy, (4) Plan for unintended consequences.

The Powell doctrine was not applied in President Bush’s war in Iraq or President Obama’s in Afghanistan.  It was partially applied in Libya where in addition to the objective of killing the nation’s leader there was an exit strategy, just stop, but no plan for the unintended consequence of civil war fought with the ex-government’s weapons that spread into neighboring Mali.

Senator King is right about many things, not about warfare.  Here’s something he’s right about:  On Facebook today, he links to his press release entitled: “The most serious threat to national security is the United States Congress – Senator King reiterates need for Congress to pass a budget to replace sequestration”.

A nation without a government is on an inevitable path to failure, the people we elected are not governing just arguing.  As Senator King says, it’s as if they’re saying:  “Have you noticed it’s raining?  Yes, you’re right, it is raining” but nobody puts up an umbrella or goes inside.

So far so good.  In the 7 minute video linked to from the press release, his sincerity is obvious.  He went to Washington to try to get our government working.  He’s questioning a defense analyst from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.  They agree health care is the greatest challenge to our national budget.  They disagree about tax strategy.  The Heritage Foundation is committed to cutting the deficit by spending cuts.  Senator King believes there must also be tax increases, chiefly by capping deductions on high incomes.

The press release says:  “Senator King, a member of both the Budget and Armed Services Committees, worked with his colleagues earlier this year to develop and pass a FY 2014 Budget Resolution that would not only replace sequestration, but would also pave a credible path toward fiscal stability by promoting economic growth and job creation while responsibly addressing the country’s debt and deficits.”  It continues: “Republican objections have stalled the budget process, however, by preventing the appointment of members to a Conference Committee that would be tasked with reconciling the Senate budget with that passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. On May 8th, Senator King called on his colleagues to proceed with the Federal budget process. 122 days have passed the Senate passed its budget.”

Here’s an article on how the budget process is meant to work and what is happening instead:  “stalemates in the budget process … predictably result in bad policy outcomes … we are currently stuck with sequestration … a policy designed to be so awful that Congress was expected to go to the lengths necessary avoid it.”   The Executive branch, the House and the Senate have all produced budgets but there has been no move toward agreement and little prospect of any this year.

That means sequestration will continue to force cuts in spending while those who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge will continue to block any increase in revenue.  Senator King is right about all that.

Here’s where he goes wrong, what he focuses on in his press release is the effect on defense spending:  “Sequestration has already resulted in a $37 billion cut in defense spending for Fiscal Year 2013.  In Fiscal Year 2014 the Department of Defense is projected to face a $52 billion budget cut due to sequestration, and many high ranking officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have stated that the shortfall will severely compromise national security by reducing military readiness and limiting the capacity to respond to crises.”

Senator King’s press release makes no mention of what in the video he correctly identifies as our greatest budget challenge, healthcare spending.  He ends his questioning with the following prepared statement, which he also posts to Facebook:  “Our country is paying a heavy national security price because of sequestration. We live in the most complex and dangerous world that any of our military and intelligence experts have seen, and at the same time, we are gutting our military and hollowing out our readiness. Like I said at a committee hearing today, I think that’s a tragedy.”

We are not gutting our military.  We are not hollowing out our readiness.  There is no successor to Soviet Russia that could threaten us today.

We are are also not setting a military strategy.  All we’re doing is telling the heads of our defense forces to cut spending to an extent they cannot predict because it is governed by no policy.

I will soon return to the topic of these posts, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and More, Evaluation of War on Terror Strategy and Military Operations Strategy.  We have by an enormous margin the world’s greatest defense force, we have by far the world’s greatest warfare industry, and we have since the start of this century had Executive Branch  leaders who increased demand for our warfare industry’s products and services with cripplingly expensive wars without clear objectives or exit strategy , and by encouraging ever greater weapons exports, e.g., 84 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.

We have not one but three great threats to our national security, only two of which Senator King has identified:  Congress, healthcare spending and the military/industrial complex.

2 comments on “Traveling In A Dangerous World

  1. Martin, thank you for your very sensible article. Congress has been hijacked by a small group of radicals that put their principles ahead of our public good. It is no difference than what happens in less developed countries when an extemist group takes the path of terrorism to shutdown the society. The only difference is this group in the US was elected in 2010 and has been wreaking havoc ever since.

    • There’s more going on than Congress being hijacked by a small group of radicals elected in 2010. Senator King is not a radical or hijacker. He works across party lines. I’m pleased that he’s working with Senator McCain to reinstate Glass-Steagall, for example, (and horrified that President Obama is considering Larry Summers, who led the deregulation, to chair the Fed). But I’m baffled that King also agrees with McCain about military intervention in Syria.

      It’s as if King and McCain know nothing whatever about the Middle East or what we’ve done there, and simply did not hear General Dempsey explain why there is no military intervention we could make there that would have a good outcome.

      I am utterly at a loss to understand how Senator King can believe his closing statement quoted above. I believe he truly holds that belief (e.g., has not been paid off) and I don’t understand how anyone can.

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