Over at Wash Park Prophet, Andrew Oh-Willeke has two very interesting posts about the military and methods in which modern wars have been waged (a first post, rather long, and a second, much shorter). Although geopolitics falls outside my usual focus and definitely outside my expertise, these posts raise some interesting points about how we live in the modern world.
It’s inevitable, perhaps, that we must accept that war is still very much a part of life at many locations around the globe, including North America, and that strategic defense needs must be monitored, recognized, and met. Of course, none of that is static, and technology in particular transforms the playing field continuously. That ongoing transformation is especially apparent after the end of the putative Cold War, with the U.S. surviving as the sole superpower and our enemies no longer, or at least not currently, being nation-states but loose networks of terrorists. (Never mind that the U.S. is “at war” with Afghanistan and Iraq. These aren’t wars in the traditional sense any more that the “war” on terrorism or the “wars” on poverty and drugs.) Terrorist targets typically aren’t militaries but have shifted to civilians and symbols of the governments and cultures those terrorists aim to antagonize.
So as history chugs along and technology, among other things, changes the rules of engagement, who’s minding the store to ensure that we adapt responsibly to current needs? That’s the question the Wash Park Prophet prompted upon my reading of his brief history of modern warfare (the first post) and the failure of the U.S. Navy in particular to recognize how vulnerable it has become (the second post). If some guy with a blog and some free time can assemble well-argued posts on the subject, I have to wonder who in government is paying attention to these issues and planning for the future? The Pentagon? Some government-sponsored think tank? No one? Waiting for an academic review, conducted from the perspective of hindsight, certainly can’t be the answer. That takes too long and, in the meantime, too many lives and opportunities are squandered.
It’s been argued for some time that traditional government, not unlike traditional warfare, no longer fulfills its mission, which itself is difficult to articulate. Significant evidence (omitted for brevity) of government failure, mismanagement, and corruption in the public sector is sometimes likened to market failure in the private sector. As with all mature systems, formalism sets in and renders long-established government bureaucracies incapable of responding to the changing face of both domestic and geopolitical issues. Considering that electoral politics dominates the political sphere (and the cult of personality, corrupt fundraising, and obvious profit taking that go with electoral politics), it’s a wonder that anything gets done at all. I don’t consider the mere shuffling of the deck that occurred when the Dept. of Homeland Security consolidated the work of several independently operated agencies an example of progress.
So as the public goes about living their lives — paying mortgages, raising children, writing the great American novel, and the like — we entrust and empower our government to develop a cohesive and comprehensive view of providing for the public welfare. On even the slightest review, however, what we actually have for government looks more like a headless beast, all bloated body and tentacles operating without coordination. We can mostly likely respond to new threats and cataclysms as they occur, but it would sure be nice to be able to anticipate them, which I fear we can’t when no one is truly minding the store.