By Colonel Kenneth Allard (U.S. Army, Ret) ~
Although Luke’s Gospel details the angelic choir, the shepherds and the miracles of Christmas, Matthew tells a far more sinister story. Obsessed with protecting his throne, King Herod ordered the systematic slaughter of every male baby in Bethlehem, as if he were the patron saint of Planned Parenthood. Herod’s soldiers missed Jesus only because Joseph had been warned by an angel that the Holy Family needed to flee to Egypt.
Whether the warning results from divine intervention or simply paying attention to adverse trends, the only wrong move is failing to listen. You can ignore your doctor’s advice to lose weight or dismiss your broker’s counsel that the downside risks of your investments make them liabilities rather than assets. You can do both with optimism or resignation but, either way, a day of reckoning is likely to be in your future.
While it is not the cheeriest way to begin 2016, the reality of the New Year means coming to terms with this sobering fact: Two troubling trends will intersect this year, possibly leaving their collective mark on American history – and maybe even redefining it. On the one hand, the threats to our national existence have never been greater. Indeed, the only real question dividing the national security community is this: Which one gets us first? The laundry list of fatal ailments only begins with our ballooning national debt, much of it held by peer-competitors.
But it can be argued with equal merit that our demise will be orchestrated through military means adapted for the 21st century. Like cyberwar – the “electronic Pearl Harbor” prophesied for a generation but now directed against our creaky national power grid. But like the litany of sins recited by Marley’s ghost, the list goes on. While we are slowly awakening to the domestic terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State, or ISIS, have you noticed that there are growing possibilities for war with Russia, China or both? The U.S. Army in Europe has been downsized so much that defense expert Loren Thompson writes in Forbes that, “Internal Pentagon estimates suggest Russia’s military could occupy the Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania) in 2-3 days – well before NATO could organize a coherent response.” We regularly challenge Chinese expansion in the South China Sea with lone American ships or aircraft operating on their own far, from reinforcement. It is as if the legacy of Soviet containment and the seizure of the USS Pueblo had been erased from our national memories.
If the one leg of this scissors-like crisis is military, then the other is resolutely political – bicameral, bipartisan and comfortably ensconced at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. We twice elected Barack Obama, a man pledged to end wars, not to extend them or to search for new ones where American boots on the ground might again be ordered into battle. Small wonder, then, that our defense establishment fully reflects those national priorities – the declining numbers of our combatant forces matched by their rapidly diminishing capabilities. Equally important: Those authorizations were passed through defense bills enacted by bipartisan majorities of both Houses of Congress. One of the most basic measurements of a nation’s strategic capability is how efficiently it builds, equips, trains and fields military forces to carry out the nation’s will. Ours have been declining across the board for the last eight years and our adversaries have taken careful note of the resulting deficiencies.
Bad as that is, the American electoral system – the quadrennial, brawling, push-me-pull-you contest designed specifically for self-correction – to this point has utterly failed its constitutional mission. President Obama, prior to his latest Hawaiian vacation, demonstrated that he has no clue about ISIS or anything else, enduring a pointless trip to the Pentagon only as b-roll for his equally pointless pledge to “stay the course.” Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, assuming she isn’t indicted, seems persuaded that Mr. Obama’s policies will work just fine, newly aided by another U.N. resolution deploring the use of senseless violence.
Which brings us to the Republicans. Far from being inspired by the ongoing Democratic debacle, one of the most promising Republican fields in years seems determined only to lose. As usual, the best and worst example is Donald Trump. While he may be leading the polls, he seems intent only on becoming the star of his own upcoming reality show: “The (Sorcerer’s) Apprentice.” He declares his supreme toughness in fighting ISIS but urges us not to ask how, where, how long or with what? He even ducks a question insistently demanded by our system and its current challenges:
How will you, Mr. Trump, persuade the American people to set things right – and do so before it is too late?
A version of this piece previously appeared on Washington Times
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Colonel Ken Allard is a widely known commentator on foreign policy and security issues. For more than a decade, he was a featured military analyst on NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. That experience provided the backdrop for his most recent book, Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War.