Wednesday, August 9, 2017

when the military becomes an interest group

I have long worried about the politicization of the U.S. military. When officers openly identify with a particular party, they risk undermining their role as an instrument of whoever have legitimate power to control them. When American politicians court the armed forces and line up retired luminaries, they risk having the elected leaders seek out only Republican or Democratic officers for key posts.

That hasn't happened too much, yet, in the U.S., but it's a danger to be avoided. We now have another example where a foreign leader coopted the military to his own domestic policies -- Venezuela.

The NY Times explains how President Maduro has given military units and their leaders control over various domestic economic organizations, linking their personal interests to his own political success. He has created over 2,000 generals, using the army as a patronage bonanza. I believe the armed forces should be limited to their military roles, not used as a tool of political power.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

the next Korean war

It's time to get really concerned about a renewal of fighting on the Korean peninsula. There was only an armistice, not a peace agreement, that ended the fighting in 1953.

We have long been used to bombast from the Korean media and its leader. Now the American president is trying to match the explosive rhetoric. What makes Trump's comments more threatening is that they come at a time when U.S. public opinion is becoming increasingly hawkish. A quickie CBS poll  is "uneasy " about the Korean situation, and about Trump's ability to handle it. Some 29% favor "military action now." A more substantial survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs finds 40% of Americans favoring airstrikes on North Korean nuclear production facilities and 28% favor sending U.S. troops into the country to destroy its nuclear facilities. Only 11% of respondents are willing to accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Although large majorities of 68-78% prefer sanctions against North Korea and China to try to end the nuclear programs, that approach has regularly failed in the past. I personally favor Bob Gates' proposal for joint US-Chinese inspection of a North Korean commitment to freeze its existing missile and warhead programs in return for US diplomatic recognition and other normalization. That's the best possible deal at the moment. But it would mean accepting a world where DPRK had a modet but real nuclear capability, a very tough stance for any US president to accept.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

war weariness in 1945

Americans like short, successful wars; they don't like long or unsuccessful conflicts. I've long viewed U.S. national security policy between the Nazi surrender on V-E Day and Japan's surrender on V-J Day as a struggle over the costs of an American invasion of the Japanese home islands and over the role of the emperor and the meaning of "unconditional surrender." I now see that there were powerful domestic factors also shaping U.S. policy in those crucial months.

As part of my summertime reading, I found Waldo Heinrichs and Marc Gallicchio's Implacable Foes. While the main focus of the book is on military planning for the defeat of Japan, it also provides surprising chapters on the domestic politics of the period. Truman's decisions on the atom bomb and Japanese surrender were made in a context where--

-- Congress was pushing for rapid demobilization and "reconversion" to a civilian economy and was skeptical of the need for large numbers of troops and military production once America had tro fight only a one-front war.

-- Soldiers and their families were pushing for rapid implementation of the Army's promised demobilization schedule, starting with individuals with the most points under a scheme that emphasized length of service and especially time in actual combat -- despite the disruptive impact on military units.

-- Many in government and in certain economic sectors demanded special treatment for soldiers with particular skills, such as coal minors and railway workers. Officials had to spend a lot of time responding to individual requests, often backed by congressional sponsors.

-- Congressmen regularly leaked details of classified hearings with Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and others to bolster their own calls for different military or economic policies.

-- The Army was faced with the nearly impossible task of organizing the movement of forces and equipment from Europe, where they were no longer needed, to the Pacific theater, often with 30-day furloughs en route.

One of the lessons for me is that American war weariness was a powerful factor in the spring and summer of 1945. Victory in Europe led many to switch prematurely to a civilian focus as if the war were already won.  This wasn't the last time we saw such sentiments.