WASHINGTON, March 15, 2013 ― Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a moving, exceptionalism-themed address at CPAC, reminding the audience of America’s contributions to the 20th century and the need to ensure the United States remains a leader of the free world.
“If I were to offer advice to any president of the United States,” Romney said, “it would be this: Do whatever you can to keep America the most prosperous and free and powerful nation on earth. It is no secret that the last century was an American century. And it is no secret that over the span of the 21st century, America’s preeminent position is far from guaranteed. The consequence if America were to be surpassed would be devastating. Why? Because among the primary rivals for world leadership – China, Russia and the Jihadists – not one believes in the freedoms we take for granted. Freedom depends on American leadership.”
“American leadership,” Romney continued, “depends on a military so strong, so superior that no one would think to engage it. Our military strength depends on an economy so strong that it can support such a military. And our economy depends on a people so strong, so educated, so resolute, so hard working, so inventive, and so devoted to their children’s future that other nations look at us with respect and admiration. That is the America we grew up in, and it is the America our children deserve.”
It would be a mistake as some in the media have already done to dismiss Romney’s comments as irresponsible, dog whistled anti-Obama platitudes (or in the case of Ron/Rand Paul libertarian-leaning partisans, yet another “neocon war speech”). While the Republican Party’s hyper-aggressive war hawks have in many ways ruined the GOP’s electoral credibility, Romney’s CPAC address was a level-headed, well-founded pitch for a model of defense and security worth pursuing.
Civics 101 and Mitt Romney
To understand the wisdom of Romney’s words, we first need a brief refresher in world history. In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia was a significant development for human civilization because it ended a brutal period of bloody wars by establishing that within the jurisdiction of a state’s borders the government of that state had exclusive authority and responsibility for all lands and persons within. Immediately following Westphalia, the global order though still plagued by conflict was largely defined by a quest for balance of power as states viewed other states as the lowest common denominator on the international scene.
The conflict between states from Westphalia in 1648 right up to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was about preserving state sovereignty and geographic integrity. European colonialism left in its wake many states that achieved independence after World War II that had borders resulting not of cultural, religious or ethnic homogeneity but artificial political lines drawn by Europeans translating their interests and concessions into map ink. In many cases, brothers with properties separated by a river were told by Europeans they were in two different states hostile to each other, and nomadic tribes who had no traditional basis for understanding a “state” beyond their immediate family were suddenly forced to be “citizens” alongside individuals they had almost nothing in common with except geography.
During the Cold War, tensions between these groups and the desire to seek homogeneity began to break out in places like Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but the bipolar hegemony of the United States and Soviet Union caused client state relationships which artificially held together states through massive outpourings of foreign aid or military assistance. When the Cold War ended and the need for containing either superpower with a ring of proxy clients dissolved, we saw Balkanization of former Soviet republics along their true lines and unrest in places like Africa, where European colonialism had constructed artificial states.
The explosion of terrorism as a tactic and the emergence of intrastate warfare and insurgency is no accident since long suppressed tensions – no longer restrained – are free to come to the surface and populations seek homogeneity. Where the United States failed in its post-Cold War hegemony was to attempt to be at the center of policing and mediating disputes in nations that were in a process of fixing – albeit in sometimes bloody ways – structural flaws in their statehood.
Today, the United States is at its weakest because we are at war not with states but with an endless array of non-state actors and our emphasis is on suppressing insurgency rather than preserving our unique national identity and territorial sovereignty. America’s current policymakers see the need to instantly suppress every non-state threat – real or imagined – with the blast of an MQ-9 Reaper’s missile or the raid of a helicopter QRF team. Sadly, this policy course leads not to security or prosperity but a future that will be defined by collective security, supranational government and public impoverishment.
A defense policy that revolves around actively suppressing non-state actors is destined to fail because local populations (and markets for that matter) will ultimately seek what best suits their perceived geographic, cultural, religious, ethnic and other interests most. Direct intervention by a foreign actor such as the United States or a Western alliance is often as was witnessed in Libya, usually clumsy, poorly informed of the local circumstances and heavy handed militarily, embittering populations and stirring more counterinsurgency. Like eating soup with a sharp steak knife, America’s global war on terrorism is an unwinnable, exhausting and frustrating policy of employing the wrong tools for the wrong mission.
As Mitt Romney alluded, the People’s Republic of China as students of Sun Tzu’s Art of War would be only too happy to wait patiently and see the United States expend her vanishing remnants of superpower capital. China, which presently pursues a deterrence strategy rather than a counterinsurgency/anti-terrorism strategy, is well aware of Sun Tzu’s warning:
“When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.”
Mitt Romney’s new vision is one which appears at face value to return to the model of state deterrence. As Romney said in his address, it is necessary to have “a military so strong, so superior that no one would think to engage it.”
This idea finds prior successful precedent in Presidential Directive 59 of the Carter Administration which found “To continue to deter in an era of strategic nuclear equivalence, it is necessary to have nuclear (as well as conventional) forces that in considering aggression against our interests any adversary would recognize that no plausible outcome would represent a victory on any plausible definition of victory. To this end and so as to preserve the possibility of bargaining effectively to terminate the war on acceptable terms that are as favorable as practical, if deterrence fails initially, we must be capable of fighting successfully so that the adversary would not achieve his war aims and would suffer costs that are unacceptable or in any event greater than his gains, from having initiated an attack.”
In short, deterrence policy says we will never attack first, but if you attack us, know with full certainty that the United States has the power to hold what an adversary values most at immediate risk. Under this model, attribution of terrorism and insurgency should be applied within the context of state support if at all or handled not as a military operation but a law enforcement matter.
We now live in a world where America’s enemies are waiting for our collapse and testing our periphery for signs of weakness. America does not have the public support or the financial health to maintain an interventionist approach to the rest of the world. Rather, security through a robust military structured at deterring peer adversaries such as China and Russia is an approach that works and preserves our place and identity in the world. If America’s enemies are allowed to determine the times and places in which they will engage us, we will be whittled down by attrition until no military forces or domestic wealth remains. By contrast, if America focuses on America first and recapitalizes her deterrence force, peace and prosperity will once more be within our grasp.
An entire generation of young Americans is being born today who never knew the strong, robust and secure United States of the 20th century. If things remain unchanged, the future youth will read about America winning the Cold War, landing on the Moon, defeating Nazi Germany and preserving the peace, but they will live in an era where China or Russia successfully exert diplomatic pressure against the United States with military power and where America’s enemies are wealthier than Americans. Mitt Romney is right – our children deserve better.
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