President Barack Obama’s plea to bomb Syria fell on deaf ears. In 1975, it was “No more Vietnams.” Today, it’s “No more Iraqs.”
The American public attitude is reinforced by the absence of an existential military threat to the United States and the demand for jobs and economic growth instead of military spending. Moreover, for the first time in decades, the public pressure on American political and military leaders to formulate strategic aims worth fighting and dying for before American blood and treasure are sacrificed is enormous and growing.
Regrettably, the growing demand for a new and less belligerent foreign policy has not been matched by coherent strategic guidance from the president and the secretary of defense to the military. As a result, the U.S. armed forces are adrift, floating on a sea of strategic uncertainty.
In the absence of a viable national military strategy and vision from above, the service chiefs are left to figure things out on their own. Most of the time, they are focused on retaining dwindling World War II/Cold War “capabilities” — Marine amphibious forces, Army airborne forces, and increasingly vulnerable surface combatants like the littoral combat ship along with dubious forward presence missions that change nothing of importance ashore.
Cultivating long-term, integrative warfighting structures with vital capabilities the nation will need for the future, let alone the human capital to support them, is a very distant fourth or fifth in priority.
Sadly, Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense, has failed to provide the leadership the armed forces need to ensure Americans master the future, not relive the past. Instead, Hagel has been cast by the four-stars in the Pentagon in the role of the man on the register at the end of the checkout line in the supermarket; he takes 5 percent off whatever comes down the conveyor belt.
U.S. Army Col. (Ret.) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, Ph.D., author and executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group in Reston, Va.
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