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May 16, 2011

The Four Challenges to National Defense

Placer County Navy League

Auburn California

May 16, 2011


Thank you for the invitation to join you today and thank you for your service to our nation.

Years ago, a man took his son to the memorial to the U.S.S. Arizona.  They gazed at the gleaming stone walls engraved with the names of the sailors who rest within the ship just a few feet below the surface.  One of those names belonged to the man’s father; the little boy’s grandfather.  And as they stood there in silence, the little boy looked up at his father and said, “Daddy.  I don’t understand something.  Why did the Japanese have to go and attack us like that?”  The father thought for a long time and finally said, “I don’t know, son.  I just don’t know.  But it was a big mistake.”

I’m sure that was the last thought going through Osama Bin Laden’s mind a split second ahead of an American bullet!

Time will tell the impact that Bin Laden’s death will have on the terrorist network with which we have been contending for these past ten years.  As we look at the deep divisions within the Islamic world, we should take a measure of relief in the fact that it represents the most backward of human impulses and simply cannot exist in proximity to free civilizations.

Churchill said it best, “Dictatorship – the fetish worship of one man – is a passing phase.  A state of society where men may not speak their minds, where children denounce their parents to the police, where a business man or small shopkeeper ruins his competitor by telling tales about his private opinions – such a state of society cannot long endure if brought into contact with the healthy outside world.  The light of civilized progress with its tolerances and cooperation, with it dignities and joys, has often in the past been blotted out.  But I hold the belief that we have at last got far enough ahead of barbarism to control it, and to avert it if, only we realize what is afoot and to make up our minds in time.”

There are many more challenges ahead as we confront Islamic fascism, but the outcome is fore-ordained, and the signs of that are all around us as we observe the deep divisions that have now formed within the Islamic world itself.

I do not mean to imply for a moment that we should become sanguine about this threat – but I also believe we face serious threats to the defense of the United States here at home, and I would offer that much of our attention needs to be redirected to four critical areas of national defense.

The first is the disintegration of the Constitutional institutions and American traditions which are the foundation of our martial strength.

America has until recently abided by Washington’s advice to avoid foreign entanglements wherever possible, or as Shakespeare put it, to “beware the entrance to a quarrel, but being in, bear that the opposed beware of thee.”

The reason the American Founders reserved the question of war to Congress was that they wanted to assure that so momentous a decision could not be made by a single individual. They had watched European kings plunge their nations into bloody and debilitating wars and wanted to avoid that fate for the American Republic.

The most fatal and consequential decision a nation can make is to go to war, and the American Founders wanted that decision made by all the representatives of the people after careful deliberation.  Only when Congress has made that fateful decision does it fall to the President as Commander in Chief to command our armed forces in that war.

The authors of the Constitution were explicit on this point.  In Federalist 69, Alexander Hamilton drew a sharp distinction between the American President’s authority as Commander in Chief, which he said “would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces” and that of the British king who could actually declare war.

To contend that the President has the legal authority to commit an act of war without Congressional approval requires ignoring every word the Constitution’s authors said on this subject – and they said quite a lot.

There’s a second reason why Congress is given the sole authority to enter hostilities – and that is its Constitutional role over the purse strings.

When we place our young men and women in harm’s way, as a society we have a profound responsibility to back them with the full might and fury of our nation – to put all of the resources of the country behind them and to get it over with just as quickly and decisively as possible.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt didn’t commit the Army and Navy to war.  His speech is very clear on the subject in two critical respects.

He said, “As commander in chief of the Army and the Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.”  He explicitly recognized that even in so clear an aggression as the attack on Pearl Harbor, his constitutional authority was limited to defensive actions only.  But in less than 24 hours after the attack, he summoned Congress to perform its constitutional role to decide whether to declare war on Japan.

And of course it did, with a very simple resolution which pledged in support of that war all of the resources of the nation.  The New Deal ended at that moment; the entire nation’s resources were committed to the war effort, and in just 3 ½ years we had vanquished the most powerful military powers on the planet.  And it has been a very long time since some young Japanese or German politician came up with the bright idea of attacking us again.

We must restore the clear and unambiguous provisions in the Constitution on questions of war and peace and demand that those who take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States understand that this means they must obey it.

The second threat to our nation’s defense is the growing trend since the end of World War II to place increasingly dangerous constraints on American military forces.  I speak specifically of the so-called rules of engagement that have made it virtually impossible for our forces to prevail in an armed conflict.

Today’s rules of engagement include standing orders that our troops must receive permission to return fire – permission that is often denied them if, for example, fire is coming from nearby a village.

A father in El Dorado Hills approached me last year to tell me the story of his son whose unit was attacked by a mortar round that hit the tent where he was bivouacked.  Two of his best friends were killed and he only escaped death because he had left a few minutes before the attack to write an email home.  The father told me his son’s unit was denied permission to return fire, because of the proximity of a nearby village.

Last Veterans Day I attended a salute to veterans in Nevada City.  I found myself in a conversation with a group that included an elderly World War II veteran and a young man recently returned from combat in Iraq.  I asked the young man about these rules of engagement.  He rolled his eyes and said “It’s just terrible.  They won’t let us fight back.  If we’re shot at, we’ve got to yell at them to stop shooting at us.  If it’s at night, we have to shine a light that gives away our position.  We can’t pursue insurgents into a mosque, because it’s disrespectful.  I had a friend who did that.  They released the insurgents and busted my friend for breaking the rules of engagement.”

All the while the World War II soldier listened without saying a word.  I turned to him and asked, “What were the rules of engagement in Patton’s Third Army?”  He thought for a moment and said, “Well, we didn’t have rules of engagement like that.  They told us to kill Germans, and that’s what we did.”

I asked, “If a German squad had escaped into a church, would you have pursued them into the church?”  “Oh, heavens no!” he said.  “We would have blown up the church.”

That’s the difference between a generation determined to win the war as quickly as possible, and our current leaders.

These constraints have been placed on our troops because, we’re told, we can’t win the hearts and minds of the civilian population if we wage an aggressive war.  When did such lunacy enter American military doctrine?  When a nation wages war it is long beyond winning the hearts and minds of the population – wars are waged to destroy the government’s ability to make war and the population’s willingness to support it.  Once you have accomplished that goal, then you can begin the process of winning hearts and minds by first establishing a military occupational government that stabilizes conditions until an enduring government to our liking can be permanently installed and sustained.

The paradigm that we have used in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya is fundamentally flawed and today threatens to dissipate and enervate the ability of this nation to meet future challenges that may arise in the near future.

The third challenge to our nation’s defense is the unwillingness of this and previous administrations to protect the integrity of our own borders.

There is no more fundamental a characteristic of any nation than the geographic control of its borders – which is the very definition of sovereignty itself.

If the federal government is not able – or more to the point, not willing – to protect its own borders, what good is it?

There is no blinking at the fact that the United States has lost control over its border.  According to the Government Accountability Office report in February, less than half of the nation’s border is under the “operational control” of our government. 

There is nothing radical about bringing armed force to bear to protect our borders from an unprecedented incursion of as 20 million foreign nationals who have illegally entered this country. 

Indeed, over the last several years, more than 200 incursions by units of the Mexican military across our border have been reported by local law enforcement agencies, most in support of drug smuggling.

Fourth, and most importantly, is the threat to our nation’s defense from the collapse of the finances of the United States Government.

Reagan rightly said that defense is not a budget issue – we spend what we must to defend our nation.  But we should not spend in excess of what is required either, for it is equally true that we cannot provide for the common defense if we cannot pay for it.  Nations that fail to maintain an adequate defense do not survive very long, but neither to those that maintain excessive forces and overextend their military. 

No nation has ever taxed and borrowed and spent its way to prosperity, but many nations have taxed and borrowed and spent their way to bankruptcy and ruin.  And history warns us that countries that bankrupt themselves aren’t around very long.

I believe the greatest battle fought for the future of our nation in the last 150 years is being fought right now – not with artillery but with argument; not with bullets but with ballots.

And each of us must enlist in this battle, because upon its outcome could well decide the very survival of our nation.

I can offer this good news – that whenever the American people have awakened to a crisis, they have set things right.  The institutions of our nation are resilient, but they are not automatic.  They require the participation of every American of good will.

Daniel Webster identified this problem 180 years ago when he said, "There is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow.  Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter:  From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence.  I must confess that I do apprehend some danger.  I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men and become the instruments of their own undoing."

Tom McClintock
Tom`s Blog