On January 27, 2000 in an email during his 2000 campaign for the American presidency, the late Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne wrote,
“Today we have a strong national offense (the ability to blow any country to smithereens) and a weak national defense (the inability to defend against any two-bit dictator who gets his hands on a nuclear missile). We should have just the opposite. When we do, we will have a much more efficient defense-with a much smaller cost & a much less complex system.”
583 days later, Browne would be vindicated for the first time, sadly so. Despite all the billions (it was only billions back then) spent on the American military, 19 men came to America and hijacked planes to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the capital of finance. They also attacked the Pentagon and were foiled in one other action. True, it was not with a nuke, but horrible enough.
Browne did not predict the events, but they happened as could have been expected. We had been intervening in places in a way that was not to the liking of the people there and some actors noticed that there was an opportunity afforded due to the strong offense/weak defense situation.
Because Osama bin Laden supposedly launched the idea in Afghanistan, we invaded that land as he was not extradited. We did not go there because the Taliban struck NYC, they didn’t.
No matter, we have been there ever since and no one really gives a reason. Some give a mealy-mouthed rationale, but no one tells us why the Republic will fail if we leave. On February 2, 2019, Scott Simon gave a soulful little monologue on NPR about how women’s rights was a reason, well, rationale, sort of.
In essence, it seems we are there because we’re there.
Still, sometimes someone says something that makes sense in a way, even though it doesn’t. On Thursday, August 13, 2020, Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, specializing in defense and foreign policy issues, had an article at Brookings, with the title, Rightsizing the Afghanistan Mission.
Finally, we are going to get it right, or so he hopes. Some may remain skeptical, but the most interesting paragraph is this:
“Many will lament that the "forever wars" would continue under such a policy. But a mission focused on training Afghans and conducting counterterrorism operations, costing perhaps $10 to $15 billion and entailing 10 to 20 American fatalities a year (if the recent past is a guide), is a far cry from the clear, hold, and build operations conducted largely by U.S. ground forces a decade ago – with American fatalities reaching as high as 500 a year and costs exceeding $100 billion annually. Compared to the alternative of an American homeland again possibly at risk from extremist attack hatched in the land of the Hindu Kush, it is likely the least bad choice.”
That last sentence is where we get our Harry Browne moment. In nearly two decades we have not got our defense on track to oppose whatever ragtag band might strike us, or so Mr. Hanlon worries. To paraphrase the slogan from the XYZ affair, trillions for offense, not one cent for defense.
We have thrown sums beyond counting at the Military Industrial Complex and nothing has come up that keeps us safe except for keeping 5,000 troops there forever.
He means it, as the first sentence makes clear, but recently, the idea of “forever wars” has been getting a bad press, if only because they are forever, which does imply little purpose.
The man thinks it’s all a good bargain. “10 to 20 American fatalities” per annum, forever (it is after all a forever war) is a price he is willing to pay. One might guess they think that statistically insignificant at Brookings. Then again, nothing is really statistically insignificant if you are the statistic. Fortunately for Mr. O’Hanlon, he does not have much to worry about in that department though he has probably made field trips there.
The estimate of “perhaps $10 to $15 billion” a year may not seem too steep either, given inflation, but could not that money be better used by the sinecuricrats at the foundations? Could they not come up with a plan so that intelligence agencies could counter all those bad guys who feel offended at being helped by our internationalism without sending troops to poor mountainous countries? Kind of begs the question of why do they call them “think” tanks anyway?
“Tank,” however, makes sense as in “in the" tank. Who would donate all that moolah to such institutes unless an interest is served?
So, as the years roll on, we shall continue to have a garrison in the “graveyard of empires,” but as another 911 anniversary approaches we should remember the late Harry Brown; presidential candidate, author, economist, libertarian and, as it turns out, prophet.
We have to fight them over there so we don’t have to think about it too much over here.
Richard Morchoe is a columnist, book reviewer and article writer for a regional monthly magazine in Western Central Massachusetts. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.