Why The Neutralist? The term Isolationist implies a narrow Fortress America outlook and is used as an epithet. The term Neutralist does not indicate someone hiding out from the world. No one calls the Swiss isolationists. The Wilsonian world view is old, tired and wrong. Our interventions have been less and less successful and now the failure can no longer be covered up.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
"Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions"
I was wrong on the course that the occupation has taken. I thought the resistance would not arise for long while. After all we are dealing with a people who have a proverb that goes, "You must kiss the hand you cannot bite." I thought they would suck us dry while taking our measure before they started shooting at our troops.}
"Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions"
I think I was about eight years old when I first read those lines. Not at all a precocious child, I'd heard some older family members talk about the Roman Empire and went to the local branch library to ask if there was something I could read. The two lovely women who ran the place always got excited if a kid showed some interest in books. Though they did not have a budding scholar on their hands, they did find me a book that began with Aeneas and ended with Odovacer.
The Roman defeat and loss of three legions at the Teutoburger Wald in A.D. 9 are the origin of the words of the title. Augustus screamed them as he would beat his head against the door posts. It was a disaster for Rome that could not have happened. Heretofore hapless German tribes caught the legions of Rome in a giant ambush on ground unfavorable and annihilated them.
A tribal leader, Arminius, had been watching the Romans for quite awhile. He studied their tactics, he studied their leaders and he was ready when his opportunity came.
So what? There were many military defeats in history. Why is this one so important? After all, Rome herself had suffered much worse and she would continue on for a few hundred years more as a going enterprise.
It was serious because Rome was never able to raise those legions again and this may have implications for us as well. Augustus had been trying to establish a stable frontier in the north. He had made great progress toward the goal under the able generals, his stepsons, Drusus and Tiberius. At Teutoberger Wald, the able generals were not there. Instead, as it was, or seemed, peaceful enough, the region was left in the care of Varus, a political appointee. Military historian J.F.C Fuller called him a "camp attorney." Of course no such animal could ever infest our military.
When Augustus learned of the debacle, he did beat his head against the wall, but he also set to work. To bring Roman forces back to strength, he set to calling up the available men of military age. According to the historian Dio, "when no men of military age showed a willingness to be enrolled, he made them draw lots, depriving of his property and disenfranchising every fifth man of those still under thirty-five and every tenth man amongst those who had passed that age. Finally, as a great many paid no heed to him even then, he put some to death." All this to little avail.
Thus ended the democratic and patriotic army of Rome. In the future, it would be an army of mercenaries. Oh, Roman citizens would still man the legions for a long time, but they would be of the under classes (as they had mostly been since Marius) and of naturalized peoples from many nations. Most who enlist for twenty plus years are thinking more of the reward for service and less duty, honor and country, even if they do have an affection for such sentiments. Or so it has been my observation.
So why implications for us? 911 has given us an outpouring of patriotic fervor not seen in my lifetime. Everyone seems to have a flag in front of their house and a window decal or a "These colors don't run" bumper sticker. However this has not translated in a rush to the colors, understandable in that Admiral Bin Laden did not launch his attack with a carrier fleet and an expeditionary force and did not seize Puerto Rico preparatory to an assault on Little Havana. Still, if President Bush had gone on television the night of the attack and had said, "I am therefore asking Americans of military age to join the armed forces of this country that we might defeat this most grave challenge," does anyone believe that the call would have been answered? Certainly, there would be some small increase in enlistments, but the US Army is sold as an opportunity for self fulfillment. The recruiting ad slogans were, "Be all that you can be," and are now, "An army of one." Of course, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" would not sell even if our young people knew what it meant. The smell of battle will not bring an avalanche of recruits.
From the Civil War to World War II, during wartime, we had a democratic army. By that, I mean there was general participation with a lot of enlistments and, other than a few Civil War draft riots, the rest made up with conscription that was not resisted. During a rare moment of lucidity while pretending to be a college student, I remember a professor talking about Helmuth von Moltke. This Prussian general had come to the United States to observe the American Civil War. The lecturer mentioned how von Moltke had observed the railroads in America and went home to invest and make a killing in German trains. Von Moltke also had another observation. He contradicted any idea that the spread of democracy would lead to a more peaceful world. Rather, democracy would lead to mass armies as the whole nation needed to be involved in the war effort and the people propagandized for the national crusade.
Time has dulled my memory, so I do not claim to have the general's thoughts right. I have searched half heartedly to find his writings on the subject and failed. Even so, I think World Wars I and II prove the point sufficiently.
We were able to keep our democratic military through Korea and part of the Vietnam war. As the Vietnam war progressed (or didn't), one portion of the age group subjected to conscription revolted. This seems a bit surprising in that if you were a college student at the time, you were exempt and I knew almost no one who had to serve even after graduation. If you could not find some excuse or physician to ease you out of harm's way, your parents had wasted the tuition. Notice how a lot of today's cheerleaders (Cheney, Bennett, Wolfowitz et al) never went. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Nevertheless, as more American youth are co-opted into the maw of the education industry, they seem to feel they are part of an elite even if they are majoring in bowling science at Pepperidge Farm Junior College. They may condescend to "volunteer" in the Freedom Corps* if the stipend is ample, the honor great and the burden light, but military service is something they will avoid like the plague and short of Augustus coming back to execute the recalcitrant, will fight any attempt at a draft.
Alas, it is doubtful that we shall suffer a defeat on the scale of the Teutoburger Wald. It may be possible that a small team of terrorists could place a mine that would be able to sink a navy vessel with significant loss of life, but such an event would take immense skill and even greater luck. What is more likely is that we'll be bled over time. No matter. Our Teutoberger Wald really was the Viet Nam war. Our Varus was the "Camp Attorney" Westmoreland.
Today, only the underclass serves as enlisted men in the combat arms. The implications of this are many. As the section of the population that has received the least of the benefits of our prosperity, they will have the greatest tendency to be mercenary about their service. Any loyalty will be first and foremost to their fellow soldiers who share the same burdens. As time goes on, these feelings can only intensify.
One would also suspect that we would see a deterioration in Reserve and the National Guard reenlistments. You saw all those lads and lassies at the airport or some other facility during what everyone understood was an emergency. Well if we are going to constantly call up units for overseas and other duty, something has to give. It is one thing to have a claim on you for the big event, quite another thing to be subjected to mobilization after mobilization in a force used for international adventure as opposed to national defense.
How all this is to develop over time can only be rank speculation. I assure everyone that had I any confidence in my own abilities as a seer, I would take them to the stock market or Foxwoods and with the results, hire a staff to help my screed appear more polished. Still, I aver my abilities are no worse than the average blogger. So let us go forth.
While the civilian defense establishment gets bolder, the actual military brass will get more timorous. We see this happening already. From Colin Powell being (rightly) appalled by Madeline Albright's remark on what good is it if you can't beat up someone to the generals' reaction to all the DoD staff yelling to get Saddam. One set gets to play chess and the other, twister. The boys with toys are saying they don't have enough and the warmongers are claiming Hussein has just about everything one could want in the way of WMDs and has cleverly hid them under every mattress in Mesopotamia.
I suspect that a squad of PX managers could probably defeat Iraq. According to David Hackworth, whom I heard commenting on a local talk show, we only needed a third of what we sent to Gulf Storm** and I doubt, considering all the problems he has had that Saddam has been able to rebuild his forces such that we need worry. Also, I doubt anyone really wants to stay long in the field in his service. Surely, a heck of a lot of Iraqis are looking forward to our reign. These are a people with a long history of cynicism of big government. Heck, they invented both big government and the cynicism thereof. No doubt they are audibly salivating on how they can manipulate our occupation forces who will be staying a long time if they get there. After all, the only successful "exit strategy" we have ever executed was at the end of the Viet Nam War. Maybe I'm wrong and Iraq will give us a black eye before succumbing and the warmongers will be chastened, though I doubt it.
The Iraq adventure should be popular and everyone should enjoy the spectacle. Adam Smith explained it thus:
"In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they have been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory, from a longer continuance of the war."
In the absence of a draft, it should all be great fun to watch.
Of course over time, it should get expensive, if only for Flyover Nation. Foreign adventure, whether one calls it imperialism, colonialism or benevolent hegemony, always has a constituency. Conquistadors or patroons, some crucial class wants something and has the influence to get it, while the rest of the country gets little but expense. In our case, being a nobody from nowhere, I can't say who exactly is pushing what in what proportion. Still, there are many well connected. There are a number of centers of power that would benefit from our world mission. From oil companies to military contractors to some deputy something who dreams of his own bureaucratic mini empire as well as allies who need a favor. Of course, when the contractors who build Camp Babylon are about to be paid, it is not likely they will request a reduction in their stipend as their part in the War on Terror. In the next several years we can expect to see a lot of profits privatized and costs socialized.
Is there anything that could stop the trend as it is now developing. It does not look so. President Bush said at West Point that we're the good guys and we have the right to get the bad guys anywhere anytime, and, by jingo, we can do it. True, the polls show that people don't think we are winning, but that probably does not translate into a lot of dissent. An occasional scare on US soil can allow the government to justify support for taking the war to the terrorists. No, things should continue on the same way until it collapses naturally.
It matters not what you call it, the old Marxist "correlation of forces" or the alignment of the planets, things should continue to go forward no matter the administration (I remember conservatives moaning that there had been more deployments in the Clinton administration than in......). Could anything stop it? Well yes, say we alienate enough Afghanis such that they go after us as they did the Russians. Say the rebels are successful in Columbia such that only US troops could prop up the regime and we took the bait. If both groups could bleed us enough such that we had to make ever larger commitments of troops, maybe a reassessment would be possible. My guess is that our "best and brightest" are smart enough to devise a strategy of an acceptable level of mayhem such that the bleeding won't be noticeable until the last drop has drained away. Our army will change, our nation will change until Odovacer drags Romulus Augustulus out of the Oval Office.
* Freedom Corps as I vaguely remember it was in the wake of 911 a briefly proposed new children's crusade outfit.
**Of course on the same talk show, Hack hailed the capture of Padilla as a great intel coup even though a former deputy director in State's office of counterterrorism said he "couldn't make a dirty burrito, never mind a dirty bomb."