The Decline and Fall of American Deterrence

A few days ago, America experienced the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  At the end of September, the world observed the 75th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, whereby Britain and France surrendered Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland to Hitler's Germany.  Nazi Germany annexed most of the rest of Czechoslovakia within months, and invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, thus beginning the Second World War.

What do Pearl Harbor, the Munich Pact, and Germany's invasion of Poland have in common?  The common thread running through these events is that western democracies' military weakness tempted aggressors to strike.

Add to this the fecklessness of western leaders, who did nothing when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, Germany annexed Austria, and Japan invaded China and murdered thousands of civilians, and one sees how toxic the witches' brew was.

If that's true, then why are we doing it again?

Most western democracies spend a pittance on their military, probably because they depend on the United States to defend them and most of their budgets go for welfare-state programs. 

We saw one result of the western allies' skimping on their military in NATO's performance during the Libyan crisis.  Once NATO's bombing campaign began, NATO's air force -- always short of reconnaissance aircraft and aerial tankers -- ran critically low of essential ordinance.   Had the U.S. not entered the fray -- even though "leading from behind" -- there are grave doubts that Gadhafi's regime would have fallen.

America's military strength is also being curtailed.  In addition to the meat-ax approach to America's naval, air, and ground forces required by the Sequester (which originated in the White House), the Obama Administration is reducing the Pentagon's budget by hundreds of billions of dollars.  Obama is also slicing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Once all the military budget cuts are in place, the United States will have the fewest naval vessels at sea since before World War I, the smallest Air Force ever, and an Army and Marine Corps with severely diminished capacity.  The nation will have only 300 or so nuclear weapons.  The hollow military which we heard so much about during the Carter years will be back.

The Obama Administration has also manifested a record of diplomatic fecklessness which compounds the problem.  In 2009, the Administration canceled installation of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, hoping it could "reset" U.S.-Russian relations.  (American solicitude did not deter Vladimir Putin from pursuing his goal of re-establishing Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.)

We also see America's retreat from the Middle East in the recent surrender to Iranian mullahs' long-term goal of achieving nuclear weaponry.  Mark Steyn's "Surrender in Geneva" (12/02/13) and Abraham Miller's "The Iranian Agreement and the Strategy of Deterrence" (12/07/13) both highlight just how craven the Obama Administration has been in its rush to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, thereby throwing Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other middle eastern countries under the bus.

Trouble is also brewing in Asia, where mainland China recently extended its air defense territory to cover space claimed by Japan and South Korea.  This new manifestation of Communist China's growing military threat has been correctly assessed by Bill Schanefelt and Gary Crowder on The American Thinker blog (12/05/13).

America's response to China's expansionism has been minimal.  First, the U.S. sent two unarmed B-52s through the air space newly claimed by Red China.  Naturally, the Obama Administration apologized for the flight.  The Administration also ordered U.S. airlines to avoid the territory.  Then Joe Biden raised the issue during his recent visit to China, only to be told "go fish" by Communist China's top honcho, Xi Jin-ping.  (As of now, Japan's response has been more muscular.)

Some analysts, noting the Obama Administration's feckless foreign policy, are predicting that Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia will probably soon acquire nuclear weapons, and that Israel may acknowledge it possesses these devices.  (Fifty or sixty years ago, people worried about "nuclear proliferation."  To quote Eddy Cantor, they "ain't seen nothin' yet.")

No discussion of potential aggressors' threat to western democracies would be complete without mention of Putin's goal of restoring Russia to the superpower status enjoyed by the old Soviet Union.  For example, Putin is planning to expand Russia's nuclear arsenal.  If the Syrian imbroglio is any indication, Russia may already have replaced the United States as the dominant power in the Middle East.

Two new polls indicate that sizable percentages of the public are aware that American military might and the country's importance and power in the world have declined.

A poll of likely voters by Rasmussen Reports (11/25-26/13), for example, found 37% felt the U.S. spends too little money on the military and national defense, while 29% opined the country spends too much, and 27% believed America's level of military and national defense spending is "about right."

Every four years since 1993, the Times Mirror/Pew Research Center has asked random samples of the American public about "America's Place in the World."  Drawing on polls of American adults sponsored by the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations and other organizations, some of these questions go back to the mid-1960s.  Pew's latest poll was conducted between October 30 and November 6, 2013.

Perhaps the biggest headline to come out of that poll is that Americans' views of U.S. global power have fallen to a 40-year low.  In 1974, a poll for the Chicago CFR found 39% of the public believed that "the U.S. is less important and powerful than 10 years ago."  Currently the figure is 53%.  Moreover, 70% of the public now believe that the U.S. is less respected around the world than in the past.

Do most people care that America is less powerful and respected than formerly?  Possibly not, for Pew's latest poll also found that 52% of the public opined that "the U.S. should mind its own business and let other countries get along as best they can on their own."  That's up from 20% in 1964 and 30% in 2002.

Should we worry if large portions of the public seem aware that the country's military might and national power have declined, but aren't unduly exercised because they think America ought to "mind its own business?  Yes, according to Mark Steyn's thesis, developed in After America:  Get Ready for Armageddon (2011).

Steyn's book is about America's demise, brought on by economic chaos, cultural rot, and its collapse as a world power.  The most important facet of his book for our purposes is that America's end as a superpower will result in a less stable, more violent, world.

The likely flash-point will be in the Middle East, already a tinder-box, where we may see a war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ia Iran.  We could even see Israel and Saudi Arabia -- both betrayed by Obama -- jointly attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

An old principle attributed to the 4th or 5th century A.D. Roman, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, who asserted that "Si vis pacem, para bellum" ("If you want peace, prepare for war.").  Renatus' observation resonates throughout history.  Why, then, can't we learn it and live by it?

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