Deployments of U.S. forces continues despite the claims of drawdown and withdrawal. The numbers may be on the decline and the use of Special Forces may be on the rise, but the issue that is emerging is why are our military forces in harms way at all. From Rand Paul to Barack Obama, from Donald Trump to Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, many are asking a fundamental question: What is the benefit to the United States of overseas deployments? It was once a question easily addressed within the context of the Cold War. But at a time when there is a quagmire in the Middle East and modest European expenditures for self-defense, the question emerging directly, and often inadvertently, is why the U.S. is burdened with defending the civilization. Why is President Obama now sending an additional 250 troops into Syria?
Isolationists from Robert Taft to Charles Lindbergh have asked the question and their answer came in Nazi jack booted invasions across Europe and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today the threat is more complicated and subtle. It does not necessarily rely on nation states. There is also a backdrop of weapons of mass destruction. And much of the enemy’s imperial drive is promoted through religious prescriptions. Hence conventional war may have its place, but it is not likely to be dispositive.
Moreover, the internationalists are also in an odd position. Former Vice President Cheney said we should clean out the “swamp” to prevent attacks here in the United States. The problem, of course, is that attacks have already occurred, “sleepers” are probably in our midst and whatever we do in the Middle East may not forestall future violence at home. The threat has metastasized making it far more difficult to confront. It is also a threat that manifests itself on and off the battlefield. Radicalization of individuals is often as notable a challenge as those firing AK47s.
What has emerged is a void, a giant whole in the foreign policy apparatus. Military officials deploy their troops efficiently and effectively, but they are not engaged in the making of policy. Policy is in the realm of an uninvited guest at a dinner party.
President Obama leads the way in formulating this position. His stance is “less policy” as policy. Hence military officials do their appointed tactical roles, but without clear defining goals in mind. We may engage in air assaults, but the end game is elusive.
Richard Weaver, the eminent philosopher, argued that “Every man participating in a culture has three levels of conscious reflection: his specific ideas about things, his general beliefs or convictions and his metaphorical dreams.” At the moment, “the void” suggests we are only pursuing dreams. The belief the nations of the world will unite and act responsibly to fight militant Islam is a dream. It is this metaphorical dream that President Obama often cites. But it is a dream from which we must awaken if we are to defeat a fanatical foe that wants to destroy us.
The “void” is the impediment that holds the U.S. back from appropriate action. But as Tennyson said, “Tis not too late to seek a newer world.” That would be a world with clearly defined strategic goals and a method for achieving them.
“The true discovery of America is still before us” maintained Thomas Wolfe. It would be a discovery that emerges from the nadir of policy formulation or the lack thereof. The “void” is our dark hole-forbidding, relentless and pushing forward. It is time to push back.