The war as in life, the secret to success is having a wide range of options. That was the basis of von Moltke’s approach to operational art, as opposed to the Schlieffen school’s myopic focus on one option. The list of commanders and nations whose single option failed is a long one.
Regrettably, whoever takes over as America’s President and Commander in Chief next January will face a rapidly narrowing range of options. With the fall of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, America was given an almost limitless range of options. A series of bad decisions since that time have reduced that range to a paltry few, none of them particularly attractive. Running the narrows with a ship of state is a perilous enterprise.
In foreign affairs, most of the rest of the world is now hoping to see America take a fall. We have alienated the Russians, irritated the Chinese and dragged the Europeans into a “war against terror” that finds little support outside ruling elites. Virtually every European public would vote to pull out of Afghanistan tomorrow if given the chance. The elites go along only because of a residual fear of “losing the Americans,” much as Berlin feared “losing the Austrians” if she did not support Vienna in 1914. Both were allied to a corpse, which at some point even the wizened moles who govern Europe may discern.
Militarily, the US has managed the contortionist’s feat of getting various body parts stuck in different pits of quicksand. Washington counts on Iraq gaining stability, but the absence of a state means it can go unstable again overnight. The Afghan war is going the way Afghan wars do, as the Pashtun slowly get their act together to push the occupier out. Spillover from the war in Afghanistan is de-stabilizing Pakistan, with Washington accelerating the process by putting impossible demands on Iran by the US or Israel acting as a proxy grows, which would in turn pitch Iraq back into chaos as all the Shiite militias ganged up on us.
More, the money is about to run out. We seem to have forgotten that no activity the state can undertake is more expensive than war. If a tanking economy cuts off the money flow, what comes next? The Sunday, July 12 Cleveland Plain Dealer quotes a local investment advisor saying, “A year ago, I would have discounted the scenario of the next depression. After what I’ve seen this year, I don’t discount anything anymore.” The Fed is trying to head off a full-scale financial panic by turning itself into a pawnshop, but no one knows how long that trick will work. The whole Ponzi scheme that is the current US economy still depends on an inflow of $2 billion in foreign, money daily. What happens if, or when, that flow ceases?
Were American politics as sensible as the average flock of turkeys in a thunderstorm, the public would be asking those running for President just how they expected to steer through this narrows filled with rocks and shoals. Instead, all the public wants are more nostrums, more empty promises that somehow Big Brother will enable them to party on. Senator Obama and Senator McCain vie in proposing programs that cost more billions, to come from…where? Why, from the printing presses of course. Those presses are churning out dollars so fast already that we can feel the rumble all the way across the country – and the world.
The bottom line reached by printing-press money is always the same: runaway inflation. Inflation is almost always one of the consequences of war, and it can be the worst, worse even than losing. If it impoverishes the middle class, the country has little if any base from which to recover.
For America to run the narrows successfully, it needs to act boldly, not to find the one course through, but to widen its range of options while it still can. That means getting out of at least a few of the quicksand pits – certainly not entering any new ones – while lowering our foreign policy ambitions, cutting government spending until the budget is in surplus, improving our balance of trade to bolster the dollar and getting unhooked for foreign oil. It will hurt, but not nearly so badly as a combination of defeat, depression and hyper-inflation.
Would anyone happen to know Count Witte’s home number?
WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.