Sunday, July 10, 2011

Would Max Boot the US into the Dustbin?

It's baseball season in the US, and I have loved baseball since I was a kid (even tried out for my college team; good field, no hit).  Ergo, this time of year, baseball's terminology and metaphors are resurrected in my fevered brain.  Having explored Max Boot's surname as homonym with which to criticize him in a recent post, I hope you'll bear with me as I explore it now, to the same purpose, as metaphor - and baseball metaphor, at that. 

As any baseball fan will tell you, when (e.g.) the shortstop mishandles a ground ball into an error, he "boots" it.  Error = boot.

And Max has again Booted it in his newest at The Weekly Standard, where he once again points the finger of shame at his fellow citizens.  Except, this time, he goes after some Americans truly near and dear to his heart: Republicans, whom he now sees fit to label the "Grand Old Doves," men and women who now risk making the party of Ronald Reagan (please, bow head and lower eyes) into
the party of William E. Borah, Hamilton Fish III, and Gerald Nye. Remember those GOP giants of the 1930s? They thought a strong defense was unaffordable and unnecessary. But their reputations collapsed on December 7, 1941, when we learned (not for the last time) the price of unreadiness. That is a lesson today’s Republicans should remember as they negotiate over the budget.

Their sin then, in Boot's eyes, is to even contemplate major reductions in the US defense budget.  To many of us, such reductions make eminent sense at a time when the nation faces a massive deficit and is woefully in debt, and when some (such as Christiane Amanpour, this morning, in an interview with new IMF chief Catharine Lagarde) openly raise the possibility of a US default on its debt (even if Lagarde referred to that it as "unimaginable," perhaps more as warning than as outcome).  Boot states, however:
Those who suggest, with a straight face, paring back a whopping $700 billion more—even over the course of a number of years—should be forced to explain which missions currently performed by the U.S. armed forces they are willing to sacrifice.

Should we completely pull out of Afghanistan? Even with the overly hasty withdrawal of surge forces ordered by Obama, we still will have 70,000 troops there at the end of next year, costing at least $70 billion. Pulling out troops even faster risks giving jihadists their biggest victory since 9/11.

Perhaps we should stop fighting pirates off the coast of Africa? Stop fighting in Libya so that arch-terrorist Muammar Qaddafi can claim a victory over the West? Stop targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere? Stop deterring China, North Korea, or Iran? Stop patrolling the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil flows? Stop fighting cyberattacks emanating from China and Russia? Stop developing missile defenses to protect the American homeland? Stop supporting Mexico and Colombia in their fights against narcotraffickers? Stop holding military exercises with friendly armed forces from Egypt to the Philippines—exercises that allow us to exert soft power at low cost?

Maybe advocates of budget cuts think we should continue performing all, or most, of those missions with less resources. But that’s a cop-out. It’s a recipe for stinting on training and personnel, thus creating a “hollow force” of the kind that we last saw in the late 1970s.

The reality is that there is no way the armed forces can perform all, or even most, of their current missions with less money.

Note how often the theme of "victory" crops up - the fear that jihadists might be able to claim one, that Qaddafi "can claim a victory over the West" [my emphasis].  And, note how ubiquitous the US military presence must be, in Boot's view.  Across the planet, the US must take the lead.  No matter the cost, no pulling back; for the US must dominate, seemingly always and everywhere.

And Boot would place no limits on that cost, at least in terms of new weapons.  Max waxes at length about what he sees as the impending shabbiness of the American arsenal,
the armed forces remain reliant on weapons systems designed in the 1960s and 1970s and procured in the 1980s: aircraft such as the A-10, F-15, and F-16, helicopters such as the Apache and Black Hawk, warships such as Los Angeles-class submarines and Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and armored vehicles such as Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. These are all superb weapons, but they are rapidly aging—and are either being overtaken, or soon will be, by competing models produced abroad that are certain to fall into the hands of our enemies.

Moreover, competing powers such as China and Russia are designing weapons such as computer bugs and antisatellite missiles that could render much of our current equipment useless. We will have to develop defenses. And that won’t be cheap.

For Boot, there's only one possible course of action: massive spending for the military.  At a time when Americans at home are reeling from rampant joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, and failing schools - not to mention an electorate more addled by NASCAR, Casey Anthony, and reality television than focused on grappling more effectively with the future - Boot wants us to believe that US global leadership is all, and only, about not falling behind in its ability to dominate the planet militarily.

Taking a longer historical view, can't one see some myopia - and surely, some irony - in Boot's embrace of Ronald Reagan as icon of American victory and role model for a wavering GOP leadership?  Many Americans have elevated Ronald Reagan to statesman sainthood as the president who brought the US its great victory in the Cold War with the USSR?  In fact, though, we know that the USSR's demise was brought about more directly by the Soviet leadership's decision to spend billions upon billions of rubles on military and space programs in the (ultimately vain) hope of keeping up with America's, even as Russian citizens were standing in bread-lines, often living in semi-squalor, and forced to deal with living in what barely qualified as First World quality of life.

Today, with the US having launched hugely expensive (and mostly unsuccessful) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and having opted to (again, very expensively) "project power" by building and maintaining military bases across the planet, how can Boot fail to see that the US has brought itself to a condition eerily - and uncomfortably - parallel to that of the Soviets in 1988?  Has he not taken the time to ponder that NASA's final space-shuttle mission is about to end (and with a smaller than normal crew, at that), and that the US is about to (for all intents and purposes) mothball its manned space program,  once upon a time the epitome of both the brightness of America's "civilization" and the unlimited promise of its future?  It ought not be difficult to read the tea leaves here.  But Boot seems content to simply rinse and swirl them from the cup, and then refill it with his poisonous elixir: billions and billions more dollars, for victory!

Any competent baseball manager knows that when a player begins to boot plays consistently, it's time to bench him.  I hope - and even suspect - that some GOP worthies - the ones who understand that the US no longer has any business aspiring to be master of the universe - are already at the point of benching Max.  The Boots are becoming too many, and too obvious.

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