A debt of leadership

President Obama is asking Congress for war powers authorization for another military operation against the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS.  Notice that I didn’t say a “new” mission, because it isn’t.  Sending military personnel now is a tardy attempt at the damage control from the U.S.’ withdrawing from the region too soon, declaring victory too soon, and now the situation is so unstable that we have to go back.

The talking heads are kibitzing about the Republicans’ support of war, and the Democrats’ opposing an open-ended conflict and “enduring offensive ground operations”, and who’s going to win this tug-of-war.  Maybe they’re thinking about their legacy.  The administration couldn’t spend its way out of the debt, and is now proposing to start a war to spend money, to get the Republican side of the house on board. Patriotism is not a tool to be used lightly.  If this is our battle, and we walked away before due to poor leadership, we should definitely correct the problem.

This effort, if it’s successful, might help the outgoing President’s legacy because he wasn’t able to solve the perceived domestic problems.  But starting another war is not going to save the economy – we have to have longterm strategies not a distraction.  However, instability is going to be an issue.  It is imperative that the U.S. have the resources to respond appropriately to crisis, disaster, and war.  A country consumed by debt cannot do any of the above well.

For a moment, consider this: we declared victory and left Iraq, with no follow-up plan.  There was no equivalent of the Marshall Plan to help Iraq recover; Baby Boomers’ parents installed the Marshall Plan to help provide stability for those we defeated during World War II.  Now Japan and Germany are two of the strongest economic powers in the world.  Why could we not have moved U.S. bases into the region when we left the Gulf? G.I.s spending American dollars would have helped to stabilize the local economy.  But now there are no relationships between business and government, but base construction would have forged those connections and the relationship would change.  Iraq had its factories destroyed, no industry, nothing but oil, and it can only fight over land and oil.  All there is, is sand.  The oil market has been suffering, and the sand market isn’t doing that well, either.

ISIS has taken advantage of the opportunities that have come with mass chaos.  If this region is left unchecked and unchallenged, the instability will continue to grow and spread.  And as this instability spreads, a word of caution comes to mind: with this many active armies responding and reacting to ISIS executions, countries will start responding without coordinating, and there will be accidents, there will be friendly fire.

There is only one leader of the free world.  The U.S. used to be that leader, but now we have a Lead From Behind policy that allows other nations to escalate.  The result of that policy is the chaos we see today.  If there was a time for the Leader of the Free World to lead, it’s now.  We have to Lead.

Our leadership now needs to be thinking of planning, goals, strategy, and be obvious about it.  Every response we plan now has to consider or debt first, and our debt threatens our response – and our perceived role in the world.

In Bret Stephens’ book America In Retreat, he frames this struggle – which was part of the reason the current administration chose the Lead From Behind position – as a need for the U.S. to be “the global cop [who] must continue to walk the ‘old beat [as] a reassuring presence in a still-dangerous world,’ and persuade the nervous neighbors to, in effect, put away their guns.”

It is the war that we are already fighting – the financial war – that makes it hard for most of us to see the rationale for keeping this going, when we really can’t afford to.  From a dollars and cents point of view, we would like another nation to take over the leadership role that the U.S. has held since the end of WW II.  In economics this is called the “free rider” problem: others get to enjoy the benefits without having to foot the bill.  But, as Bret Stephens put it, “‘America is better served by a world of supposed freeloaders than by a world of foreign policy free-lancers.'”

The U.S. has to stop acting like a foreign policy free-lancer: showing up a week late, and hearing what the world leaders have decided, instead of being at the table when the decisions are being made.

We have to find a way to confront the debt, and the weakness we’ve developed in foreign policy.  This is no time for the voice of reason to have laryngitis.

To stop the uncoordinated fighting, the U.S. should take leadership in forming a coalition, asserting the laws of the land over reactionary leadership. It’s obvious that ISIS is wrong.  As neighbors on the same planet, we have to do something, but there’s no time to sit down for a summit about it.  We must act together, now.

This team will need leadership.  We need a coalition like the one we had Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1992, to right the laws of the land and restore rights to the region.

But we still have to consider our debt.  If Congress does authorize going back, could we hit the unsustainable debt limit of $83 trillion by the end of 2015?

One of the things FDR did during WW II, was saying that every man in his army will know how to use a rifle, even the cook.  It was important, making each shot count.  And knowing there was only so much ammunition in the box.

We are at that point again.  There is only so much debt we can take.  Could it be the goal of our enemies is to collapse the U.S. in debt to the point we cannot feed our armies?

The U.S. has to take a leadership role, because others have failed their leadership.  We are hampered by our debt.  Those in the world who would do us harm, would love to see the debt make our country fail.  And when that happens, then it will be identified as a failure of leadership.  Now it’s just a debt.  When we fail to respond because we can’t, then we are defeated.

For us and for the world, we need to be in a position to lead.

1 Comment

  1. Paula Gregory says:

    Thank you for this much needed article. I look forward to reading more.