A Better Way to NATO

Professor James R. Holmes writes in The Diplomat (“A Clausewitzian Biew of NATO”) that it is time we put Europe on notice: if you are not going to pay to defend yourself, neither are we. We will match our spending levels to yours, but we will not fight your wars for you. Brilliant.

Let’s tell our “allies” in Asia the same thing. We will always stand by our friends, but friends don’t let frends become free-riders. Not when it comes to treasure, and never when it comes to blood.

 

In Defense of a Messy System

The folks at the Strategic Studies Quarterly offer a review of Louis Fischer’s new book defending both the US Congress and the Constitution. Read this review and you’ll be buying the book.

In writing Defending Congress and the Constitution, Fisher does not seek to be an apologist for the failings of Congress. On the contrary: he points us toward a reinterpretation of the various roles of government, and notes that it is Congressional passivity in the face of Executive or Judiciary excess flies in the face of the intent of the men who drafted the Constitution in the first place.

In defining Congress in a more activist context, Fischer admittedly opens a can of worms. But few would argue that an activist national legislature would be a fair improvement over the partisan infighting that has characterized the body over the past two decades.

 

Visiting the Puzzle Palace

We focus much here on the problem of government dysfunction and waste, so it is only fair to point out examples of smart administration when they arise.

The Pentagon, which holds a special place in the conservative heart for the importance of its mission (the national defense,) also belongs in the conservative mush-pot for its inability recruit, train, arm, and field the US armed forces either economically or effectively. Nonetheless, there are signs that some things have changed in the past decade – small ones, to be sure, but signs that suggest that changing the Pentagon is possible.

On my recent visit to the Five-Sided Squirrel Cage, I was pleased to find the Visitor Center set off from (yet still adjacent to) the main building. Once a few rows of seats in an area used to provide employees with commercial services, the Visitor Center takes visitors away from the main flow of traffic, not only improving security but ensuring that service people can do their banking or get a haircut without standing in line behind a family of tourists.

Guides for the Pentagon Tour are all E-4 and below, and they manage the process brilliantly. There is no need to waste the time of a dozen good non-commissioned officers just to squire a bunch of tourists around the public areas of the building. What is more, getting junior enlisted personnel to do the job accomplishes two important missions. First, it gives promising young soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen a chance to communicate to the public at large. In an era of what retired Marine Corps General Charles Krulak called “the strategic corporal,” building leadership abilities and people skills into our most junior leaders is essential.

Second, in trusting our youngest soldiers to squire two dozen outsiders around a building bursting with national secrets, we demonstrate to ourselves and to anyone paying attention that what sets the US military apart is the strength and abilities of its most junior people. Take that, China.

One other aspect of greater Pentagon efficiency is worth mentioning. Many offices and billets in the Pentagon have allowed their people to forego the dressier classes of uniform and come to work in the respective forms of battle dress. There may be somebody somewhere who thinks this is beneath the dignity of Headquarters America. Nonsense. The move gives the Pentagon the feel of a command post rather than an office building with uniforms, helps build a mental connection with those serving in the field, and saves our men and women in uniform the expense of daily dry-cleaning.

I know what you are thinking: these changes around the edges of the Department of Defense are window dressing and not renovation. That’s true. But great changes in inertia-laden organizations often begin with small steps, and I remain optimistic that the institutional dysfunction of the DoD can be remidied. In order to stare down the Pentagon’s Perfumed Princes on the one hand and Capitol Hill’s pork-minded politicians on the other, we need a president whose dedication to and understanding of the misison of national defense are beyond question, and a bloody-minded Secretary of Defense with similar disposition.

Let that be a goal in 2016.

 

A Time to Heal a Nation

Rabbi Hillel said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

As Americans we have been given great gifts, and in most cases gifts for which we ourselves did not have to work. It is only fitting that we reach out and seek to care for others around the world in need of food, of shelter, of safety.

But we must be mindful of a painful fact: if we fail to take care of America first, we will lose the means to better the lives of others. We will cease being a shelter for others in a storm. We will no longer be a light for the rest of the world. And we disintegrate into a selfish mob.

Our nation and its resources are exhausted after seven decades of spending our treasure in defense of the world. We must rest. We must pause and tend to our people, our wounds, and repair the damage, wear, and tear of this nation’s fiber, so that we can once again stand strong when the forces of evil and hatred threaten us.

I abhor the evil done by ISIS, the re-emergence of an imperial Russia, and the rise of a China no longer focused on the prosperity of its people, but on its sense of national entitlement. But we are tired, battle-weary, and broke, and we have a passel of problems to fix at home.

Let us no longer be the iron fist to crush evil, but a finger inside the mailed glove made up of the nations of the world. We can lead the charge, but we can no longer man the lines alone.