History brings to mind the allegation that Nero played his fiddle as the city of Rome burned. Our current national political pageant is obsessed with “fiddling” as the nation is on the verge of being consumed by the fires of “scorched-earth politics” even as our enemies plot our demise.
Such distraction can be lethal as when the nation, absorbed by President Clinton’s scandals and impeachment, ignored the burgeoning threat posed by the al-Qaeda/Bin Laden terrorist group. The attacks of “9-11” occurred on a beautiful, clear-sky Tuesday morning, a literal “bolt-out-of-the-blue” attack that could have been prevented, had we only been paying attention to a burgeoning threat.
This week the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified to Congress that within five years the United States will not have the military capability to project military power in our national interest unless defense policies and funding dramatically change. The Trump administration slightly increased the budget allocation for national defense, but in an amount so low as to make little difference in overall readiness of the Armed Forces to defend the nation or protect our interests.
Sixteen years of war, 24 years of drawdowns and limited procurement to replace or modernize equipment have taken a significant toll. Maintenance backlogs among all the services are severe with some systems falling years behind in scheduled overhauls, forcing the services to engage in scavenging museums and junkyards for parts not available via normal supply channels. At this time, half of our combat aircraft are not available for immediate deployment due to shortfalls in spare parts and maintenance. When budgets are lean the first items to go after procurement of new systems are spare parts, followed by reduced training. In the latter case, pilot flight hours to maintain proficiency or attain combat competence has been cut to less than half of what is required or considered prudent.
Time after time the militaries of democracies have been forced to pay the price in blood for lack of preparedness, be it training for pilots which directly affects their ability to survive aerial combat or via provision of proper equipment for the ground troops who are required to take the fight to the enemy. For instance, during the Battle of Britain, pilots of the Royal Air Force went into combat against the Nazis over the skies of Britain with as few as seven hours in the cockpit of a British Spitfire or Hurricane. Many of those select few British pilots who saved Britain and western civilization from the Nazi onslaught in 1940 were teenage boys barely out of school. Many paid for their limited flying skill with their lives. In the Korean War America sent young soldiers on occupation duty in Japan to ground combat against battle-tested North Korean formations with anti-tank weapons that couldn’t penetrate the armor of North Korean tanks. One American lieutenant fired at advancing Russian-made WWII vintage T-34 tanks 22 times, making hits with virtually every shot fired, only to see the rounds bounce off and the North Korean formation ignore his feeble attempts to halt their advance. Today, our enemies continue to arm and modernize their military equipment to a level that, should war come, the outcome is in no way assured to be an American victory.
North Korea continues building missiles with ever-longer range, payload and reliability. Within a few short years they’ll have a credible capability to strike the American heartland with nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles, nullifying our ability to deter North Korea from attempting a conquest of South Korea via military force. America is unlikely to use nuclear weapons against North Korean aggression if we’re required to put American cities directly at risk for nuclear retaliation. The failure of America to effectively deter such an attack or successfully defend an ally of 70 years would destroy American credibility on a global scale and initiate a rush for acquisition of nuclear weapons among many other countries currently sheltering under American nuclear guarantees. That makes for an extremely dangerous world in which regional nuclear conflicts become more likely. Meanwhile, America will face not one hostile nuclear power but four: Russia, China, North Korea and soon, Iran, all of whom are building modern, exceptionally lethal nuclear systems.
Meanwhile, what are we doing at home to prevent a catastrophe in an ever-closer dangerous future? We are tearing ourselves apart in a national political opera to destroy a president and his administration. So bitter is the political fight that it subsumes every real problem facing America. No amount of evidence exonerating an admittedly unpopular president or his staff of malfeasance or treason is sufficient to put oil on the waters and allow this president to implement an agenda to address pressing national problems. Be it national defense, healthcare, exploding debt, burdensome regulations undermining economic growth or terrorism: all are going unaddressed. America is fiddling as the Republic burns.