The U.S. military has come under fire as their stated objectives in the world have failed to materialize in the eyes of many, both at home and abroad. According to a report by American journalist Gareth Porter, the violence in Afghanistan has continued to increase, with civilian casualties hitting a record high of more than 11,000 last year. The Pentagon’s mission of peace and stability through military intervention seems to have fallen short of success. Some, like Porter, have labeled it a total failure.
What’s more, according to a Gallup poll released on Presidents’ Day, less than half of Americans believe the U.S. military is the strongest in the world. Experts believe this reflects Americans’ concerns about the heightened risk of terror attacks at home, as well as those carried out around the world. The vast majority of Americans believe the U.S. needs to have the strongest military, though just over a third want to increase funding to achieve it.
It seems as though our military is having an existential crisis following their performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crisis not seen since the Vietnam War—another U.S. intervention that many consider the worst failure in American military history. To be clear, this perceived failure rests mainly on the shoulders of top-echelon brass and policymakers from both sides of the aisle, not on the faceless masses of troops who more often than not performed brilliantly in spite of the impossibility of the mission: bringing peace to a region plagued by conflict since time immemorial.
I am reminded of a warning given by two presidents separated by more than 170 years. During his farewell speech and among a list of warnings, General Washington advised to “avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican liberty.” Wise advice, and as relevant now, two centuries later, as it was then, on the heels of the war that founded this nation.