Some thoughts on Robert Gates’ recent remarks

I like that headline. Sort of 19th century-sounding in its plainness. Anyway, moving on…

Back on the previous post, Phillip said:

This is somewhat indirectly related to issues raised by #1, but I couldn’t help wondering what you made of Sec’y Gates’ remarkable speech at West Point last week:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/world/26gates.html

And I responded in a comment that seems worth a separate post, to wit…

Phillip, I had several thoughts about Gates’ remark (which, for those who missed it, was “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”):

  • First, my facetious reaction — Asia? Africa? Middle East? So that leaves what? Europe? Australia? South America? Antarctica? Quite a sweeping set of eliminations. Next thing you know, we won’t be able to go war anywhere, and he’ll be out of a job. Golly, I wonder if the world will cooperate with us on that, and make sure, out of sympathy to our preferences, that the next crisis demanding a deployment of U.S. ground troops happens in, say, Sydney. MayBE, but it seems unlikely.
  • I like Robert Gates (here’s a column I did about him in 2006), have liked him ever since he became CIA director in the 80s (and especially liked him when he delivered us from the disaster of Rumsfeld), so he has my sympathy. And I fully understand why someone who’s had the challenges he’s had as SecDef.
  • From a pragmatic standpoint, what he says makes all the sense in the world. That’s why the option we’re looking at in Libya is a no-fly zone — you know, the mode we were in in Iraq for 12 years during the “cease-fire” in that war against Saddam that started in 1990 and ended in 2003. It’s manageable, we can do it easily enough (we and the Brits are the only ones with the demonstrated ability to provide this service to the people of Libya and the world). Air superiority is something we know how to assert, and use.
  • Ground forces are a huge commitment — a commitment that the United States in the 21st century appears politically unwilling to make. If you’re a pragmatist like Gates — and he is, the consummate professional — you consider that when you’re considering whether the goals are achievable. We’ve demonstrated back here on the home front that we’re unable to commit FULLY to a nation-building enterprise the way we did in 1945. It takes such a single-minded dedication on every level — military, economic, diplomatic — and that takes sustained commitment. One is tempted to say that there’s something particular about Americans today that prevents such a consensus — our 50-50, bitter political division, for instance — but really, this is the norm in U.S. history. The anomaly was 1945. It took two world wars for us to bring us to the point that we could make that kind of commitment.

So there you go. I had another bullet in mind, but was interrupted (blast that person from Porlock!), and it hasn’t come back to me yet. Please share your own thoughts…

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Robert Gates’ recent remarks

  1. bud

    With oil prices sitting just below $100/barrel and gasoline prices soaring the last thing we need is to interject ourselves into the middle-east quagmire yet again. Isn’t it time we focus on domestic issues like unemployment and union busting? Last time I checked our nation was saddled with a $14 trillion debt. At a time of budget problems and unemployment doesn’t it make sense to cut in areas that contribute little to economic growth? Seems like overseas military bases serve only to boost the economies of those nations that host our troops. Time to bring them home from Iraq, Afghanistan and yes Germany, Japan and Korea too. Folks in other parts of the world are perfectly capable of solving their own political issues.

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  2. martin

    “no-fly zone — you know, the mode we were in in Iraq for 12 years during the “cease-fire” in that war against Saddam that started in 1990 and ended in 2003. It’s manageable, we can do it easily enough ”

    You may want to listen to Adm. Mullen’s news conference today. He really disagrees with the your idea of the easiness of this idea.

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  3. Brad

    If you’re comparing it to tiddlywinks, then no, it’s not easy. It’s an extremely complex military operation, and millions of things can go wrong. Getting a single high-performance military aircraft into the air, even once, is a complicated and dangerous proposition that defies all sorts of odds. But as extremely complex military operations go, it’s easier than, say, nation-building.

    Think of it this way: Which was easier — what we did in Kosovo, or what we did in Iraq?

    That’s the sort of comparison I’m implying.

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