General Eisenhower speaks with paratroopers prior to the invasion. (Photo via Library of Congress)
Seventy years ago this June 6, the Americans, British, and Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion of Europe since the Persian king Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C.
About 160,000 troops landed on five Normandy beaches and linked up with airborne troops in a masterful display of planning and courage. Within a month, almost a million Allied troops had landed in France and were heading eastward toward the German border. Within eleven months the war with Germany was over.
It was not difficult to define American geopolitical strategy over the seven decades
following World War II — at least until 2009. It was largely bipartisan advocacy, most ambitiously, for nations to have the freedom of adopting constitutional governments that respected human rights, favored free markets, and abided by the rule of law. And at the least, we sought a world in which states could have any odious ideology they wished as long as they kept it within their own borders. There were several general strategic goals as we calculated our specific aims, both utopian and realistic.
(1) The strategic cornerstone was the protection of a small group of allies that, as we did, embraced consensual government and free markets, and were more likely to avoid human-rights abuses. That eventually meant partnerships with Western and later parts of Eastern Europe, Great Britain, and much of its former Empire, such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In Asia, the American focus was on Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. The U.S. military essentially guaranteed the security of these Asian nations, and they developed safely, shielded from Soviet or Chinese Communist aggression, and more recently from Russian or Chinese provocations. Continue reading “America’s New Anti-Strategy”→
The Roosevelt administration once talked loudly of pivoting to Asia to thwart a rising Japan. As a token of its seriousness, in May 1940 it moved the home port of the Seventh Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor — but without beefing up the fleet’s strength.
The then-commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral James O. Richardson, an expert on the Japanese Imperial Navy, protested vehemently over such a reckless redeployment. He felt that the move might invite, but could not guard against, surprise attack.
Richardson was eventually relieved of his command and his career was ruined — even as he was later proved right when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Britain at the same time promoted a loud Singapore Strategy, trumpeting its Malaysian base as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” But London did not send out up-to-date planes, carriers, or gunnery to the Pacific.
Japan was not impressed. It surprise-attacked the base right after Pearl Harbor. The British surrendered Singapore in February 1942, in the most ignominious defeat in British military history.
By 1949, the U.S. was pledged to containing the expansion of Communism in Asia — even as Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson (who had been chief fundraiser for Truman’s 1948 campaign) declared that the Navy and Marines were obsolete. He began to slash both their budgets. Continue reading “Loud + Weak = War”→
An ascendant Vladimir Putin is dismantling the Ukraine and absorbing its eastern territory in the Crimea. President Obama is fighting back against critics that his administration serially projected weakness, and thereby lost the ability to deter rogue
regimes. Obama, of course, rejects the notion that his own mixed signals have emboldened Putin to try something stupid that he might otherwise not have. After all, in terms of planes, ships, soldiers, nuclear strength, and economic clout, Putin must concede that he has only a fraction of the strength of what is at the disposal of the United States.
In the recriminations that have followed Putin’s daring intervention, Team Obama has also assured the international community that Putin is committing strategic suicide, given the gap between his ambitions of expanding the Russian Federation by threats of force and intimidation, and the rather limited means to do so at his disposal. Perhaps Putin is pandering to Russian public opinion or simply delusional in his wildly wrong calculations of all the bad things that may befall him.
Do any of those rationalizations matter—given that Putin, in fact, did intervene, plans to stay in the eastern Ukraine, and has put other former member states of the former Soviet Union on implicit notice that their future behavior may determine whether they too are similarly absorbed?
History is replete with examples of demonstrably weaker states invading or intervening in other countries that could in theory or in time bring to their defense far greater resources. On September 1, 1939, Hitler was both militarily and economically weaker than France and Britain combined. So what? That fact certainly did not stop the Wehrmacht over the next eight months from invading, defeating, and occupying seven countries in a row.
Hitler was far weaker than the Soviet Union. Still, he foolishly destroyed his non-aggression pact with Stalin to invade Russia on June 22, 1941. Next, Nazi Germany, when bogged down outside Moscow and having suffered almost a million casualties in the first six months of Operation Barbarossa, certainly was weaker than the United States, when Hitler idiotically declared war on America on December 11, 1941. Continue reading “The Hitler Model”→
The new administration party line is that Putin is now weak and acting out of just that weakness by sending troops into Ukrainian territory — a sort of chihuahua who took on a pit
bull because he knew he was weak.
But even weak states do not typically invade others because they accept that they are weak (and thereby expect to lose?), but usually because, even if weak, they at least still expect to be strong enough to win. Even demonstrably weak Mussolini apprised the political and military landscape and thought that he could win something when he opportunistically invaded a tottering France in June 1940.
Of course, the point is not so much whether Putin is acting out of weakness and frustration at Obama’s purported strength (a fantasy), or even whether he is acting out of strength due to Obama’s clear weakness (most likely), but rather that he is acting at all.
The interim agreement negotiated by the Security Council and Germany with Iran is a serious advance toward what Winston Churchill called the Munich agreement: “a total and unmitigated defeat” and a “disaster of the first magnitude.” Nothing in the agreement guarantees that Iran will fulfill its promises, or that inspectors will be allowed access to all of Iran’s enrichment facilities, let alone its secret sites, or that serious consequences will follow violations of the terms of the agreement. Continue reading “Obama’s Munich”→
In the latter years of World War I, Winston Churchill met with the novelist and poet Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was a winner of the Military Cross––he single-handedly routed 60 Germans and captured a trench on the Hindenburg Line––and a fierce pacifist. Sassoon’s reminiscences of that meeting reveal how odd my title question would have struck most people before our time. He recalled that during their conversation, Churchill “gave me an emphatic vindication of militarism as an instrument of policy and stimulator of glorious individual achievements.” Continue reading “Why Should We Study War?”→
The United States has ridden — and tamed — the wild global tiger since the end of World War II. The frantic ride has been dangerous, to us, but a boon to humanity. At the same time, America’s leadership role has been misrepresented and misunderstood abroad and at home, including by some of our country’s own leaders. Accordingly, our current president, Barack Obama, has decided to climb down from the tiger, with the certain consequence that it will run wild again.
The crowning achievement of postwar American policy was the defeat of Soviet Communism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, America aimed at a “new world order.” There was to be no place, at least in theory, for renegade dictators like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. After 9/11, the U.S. declared a “war on terror” and led an international effort to stop Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and Islamist jihadists.
Despite the occasional mishaps, setbacks, and errant strategies, U.S. leadership nonetheless ensured worldwide free commerce, travel, and communications. When it could, America promoted free-market economies and democracy in authoritarian states. Continue reading “Jumping Off the Global Tiger’s Back”→