The foundation of all diplomacy is a powerful military. It picks up where diplomacy ends, when negotiations fail. A powerful military is what usually keeps aggressors at bay. Nations do not commence aggression unless they believe they can prevail.
Following World War II, the United States unmistakably had the most powerful military on earth. But that did not prevent the old Soviet Union (the Russian post WW II evil empire, for those of you under 40) from creating a nuclear stand-off known as the Cold War.
American hardly basked in the glory of defeating Nazi German and imperial Japan when we were dragged into the Korean conflict by President Truman – who mistakenly drew his Communist “containment policy” line in the South China Sea – giving China the false belief that the United States had no interest in the nations of Southeast Asia that stretched across the underbelly of the Middle Kingdom. Once China exerted hegemony over the Korean peninsula, Truman scrapped his containment policy and sent troops into Korea to preserve the Seoul government.
Korea was a proxy war between Communist China and the United States. Our interest was to prevent the nations of Southeast Asia from falling to Communist regimes in a series of civil wars that the diplomats referred to as the “domino effect.”
After about four years of mounting casualties, President Eisenhower ended the shooting war by agreeing to a cease-fire – an armistice – but no surrender on either side. Technically that war has not ended. It is merely on hold. The United States – with the most powerful military on earth — did not win.
In just a few short years – and against the advice of Eisenhower not to get dragged into a ground war in Southeast Asian – President Kennedy sent in the military to fight a limited war alongside our allies in Vietnam — the next “domino.” We basically took over from the war-weary French, who were getting their butts kicked.
President Johnson took over the war in Vietnam after the assassination of Kennedy. Frustrated with the possibility of another Korea-like stand-off, Johnson escalated the war repeatedly. With tens of thousands of Americans dead or missing in action – and a Republican candidate promising to get America out of Vietnam – Johnson chose not to seek another term. President Nixon was elected – and, as promised, got America out of the Vietnam War – but it was not pretty, and America did not win.
Unlike Korea, it was not a stand-off that divided the nation. It was a clear victory for the Viet Cong and the rebel forces of Ho Chi Min. The most powerful military on earth was defeated. It is no small irony, however, that America’s fierce enemy is now a friendly nation – almost an ally against Chinese interests in the South China Sea. American businesses are flocking there like they did to China after the Nixon diplomatic coup. It is now a popular American tourist destination.
By the 1980s, we were becoming more deeply involved in the Middle East’s millennia of tribal warfare. Military might, however, failed to stop Muslim theocratic extremists from taking over Iran. The Desert Storm conflict launched by President H. W. Bush forced Iraq out of Kuwait, but it left Saddam Hussein in power as one of the major disrupters of Middle East peace.
President George W. Bush successfully ousted Saddam Hussein from Iraq with a “shock and awe” display of American military might and technology. But a feeble response to regime change and the reconstruction of Iraq led to the rise of ISIS and a pro-Iran regime. After encouraging the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, our side lost under President Obama’s policy of “leading from behind.”
We are now in the seventeenth year with boots on the ground in Afghanistan – officially America’s longest war. We may yet pull out of that conflict without victory – and future prospects no greater than what we achieved in Korea, Vietnam, etc. etc. etc.
The biggest and most powerful military in the world is meaningless unless America is willing to use it with maximum determination. When we enter conflicts, it should be to win – not maintain some very costly – in human life and treasure – status quo.
Presidents James Madison (War of 1812),Abraham Lincoln (Civil War),William McKinley (Spanish American War), Woodrow Wilson (World War I) and Franklin Roosevelt (World War II) carried out victorious wars – literally saving the civilized world for democracy.
Only one President since Roosevelt understood that world leadership takes more than bragging about the power of the American military – and too often promising not to use it – was President Reagan. His surgical use of the United States’ armed forces expressed to friends and foes alike that America had a powerful military AND would use it when confronted with aggressive behavior.
Reagan used limited military action to protect democracy in Granada and Belize. He used it against Libya’s Moammar Kaddafi to end that nation’s sponsorship of world terrorism. He used it (surreptitiously) to prevent the Communist Sandinistas from taking over Nicaragua.
That was about the last time our allies and adversaries respected or feared the American military. A nation cannot be a world leader unless it is a leader in diplomacy – and it cannot be a leader in diplomacy without being a military leader willing to back it up.
The failure to use our military might effectively has led to nations, such as Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran and others to scoff at the United States. No civilized nation wants war, but they will happen as long as rogue nations see no obstacle to their aggressive ambitions. Russia re-occupies Georgia and the Crimea. China expresses hegemony over the South China Sea. North Korea goes nuclear. Iran sponsors world terrorism. And America stands down – satisfied to brag about our all-powerful military without using it DECISIVELY.
The decline of American respect in the world is commensurate with our failure to use our powerful military to effectively address aggression. We are a noble nation that does not use military aggression to gain real estate, to occupy, to loot or to oppress. We use it to protect freedom and advance democratic principles. And if America does not do that, then who can and who will?
So, there ‘tis.