Are We Spread Too Thin?
President Obama is taking some well-earned bows for his part in the killing of Osama bin Laden. However, let us remember that the order to “get bin Laden” has been in place for more than 10 years and that the intelligence people have been working on it for well over six.
To suggest, then, that Obama called all the shots is like saying FDR ordered the postponement of D-Day from June 5 and then gave the go-ahead for June 6 despite iffy conditions. Those orders came from the commander in the field, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, as they should have. This is not meant to diminish the magnificent mission accomplished by the SEALs — it’s just to set the record straight.
Too often over the years, presidents have usurped the right of Congress to declare war. Even longtime hawks have to wonder, as we add Libya and Syria to our list of “involvements,” are we spread too thin?
We are still in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan with no exit in sight. We maintain a presence in other countries we once met in combat. To what end? What have we accomplished? What have we solved? We are still the most powerful nation on earth and arguably the most humane. We still believe in helping and aiding the downtrodden. But do we succeed?
Admittedly, the Iraqis are far better off without Saddam Hussein. But is that nation, so alien in thinking to our way of life, really a democracy? In theory, we have only fought five wars, for that is the number of times Congress has declared war and, under our constitution, only Congress has that power.
We therefore count only the War of 1812, the Mexican War of 1846, the Spanish War of 1898 and the two world wars. All the rest have been euphemized as “police actions” or “interventions” or “military actions,” usually “declared” by a president in a thinly veiled violation of the Constitution. We have won none of them.
The scary part of presidents’ evasion or ignoring the Constitution or even the War Powers Resolution has been the lack of true command experience found in our commanders in chief. Truman was a captain in the Army, Nixon a minor Naval officer. Reagan and the two Bushes were also junior officers and, of course, Obama has never even been a PFC.
We are in dire financial straits and have stretched our armed forces into too thin and too long a line. That translates into real trouble if we have to defend ourselves against a formidable enemy. More and more, we see the need for some amendments to our Constitution — amendments about removing power from those who want total control, balancing a budget and putting term limits in play.
In the meantime, let us demand that everyone abide by the Constitution we now have. And that includes not going to war under any guise and by any name.
None of this is to suggest we cut back on our armed forces. On the contrary, we should maintain the prominence and power we have always had. Our service people are already the best; let us make sure the equipment they have is also the best.
If reducing costs is needed, that can be accomplished by holding back on the philosophy of policing the world and getting into the mud with tribes and dictators who hate us. The Middle East and Africa are rife with strife, and it is nearly impossible to separate the good guys from the bad, thus impossible to know which side to support.
The end of bin Laden should send a message to the world about our determination and capability. Maybe we should do more of that, remembering what Teddy Roosevelt did over a century ago, when he sent the “Great White Fleet” around the globe to show who we are, a perfect example of the old African proverb: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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