Outside View: Myth of U.S. omnipotence

UPI Outside View Commentator

WASHINGTON, July 20 (UPI) -- First of two parts


Voices that urged America to occupy Iraq and forcibly transform it into a democratic state are urging wider war with Iran and Syria.

The same individuals are now calling for World War III, a new kind of moral crusade. They are addicted to the idea that "greatness" and "power" must be routinely demonstrated, invoking America's role in World War II. They insist the only alternatives for U.S. foreign and defense policy are "isolationism" or a very intrusive, self-righteous strategy of direct confrontation. But this approach is problematic, given the fact that World War II, the last "Good War," was itself a rich source of political myth and fantasy.

After World War II, the popular interpretation of the Normandy invasion and subsequent occupation of Germany presented Americans with a picture of limitless American military power spreading freedom and democracy everywhere. Yet, contrary to what Americans learn in school or from Hollywood films, it was the sacrifice of 40 million Soviet dead on Germany's Eastern Front where Soviet soldiers between 1941 and 1944 inflicted 93 percent of German combat losses that secured Nazi Germany's defeat, not the short duration campaigns in the West, where British and American forces faced a fraction of Germany's combat power.

In fact, by January 1945, U.S. manpower reserves were used up and the shock of Germany's surprise counter-offensive in the winter of 1944-45 induced extreme caution in U.S. and British military leaders, caution that enabled the Russians to reach Central Europe faster than our forces did. The result was an incomplete victory that left the exhausted Russians in control of half of Europe and set the stage for a destructive 50-year Cold War.

No one understood these facts better than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as president harbored no illusions about the limitations of American power. Eisenhower remembered the U.S. Army's tremendous losses in the Battle of the Bulge. He was well aware that by the spring of 1945 the English-speaking democracies' tolerance for the social dislocation, inconvenience and military hardship of a long war was at an end.

Unlike many in the United States, heady with victory in the summer of 1945, Eisenhower also knew that America's postwar rise to superpower status was not the result of a surplus of American power, energy or cultural superiority. Our new, strategic preeminence was the consequence of an absence of competition in the aftermath of two catastrophic World Wars -- wars that economically and physically devastated almost all the combatants, with the exception of the United States.

As president, Eisenhower was not bashful about asserting American influence and power, but his wartime experience led him to resist interventions that involved the open-ended commitment of U.S. ground forces to missions that were not vital to U.S. interests. In Korea, he saw the futility of expanding the war to secure a pyrrhic victory and he ended the conflict. In Eisenhower's view, America's mission was not the exportation of democracy at gunpoint. Instead, it was to be the world's engine of prosperity, an engine so compelling in its beauty and strength that it would invite emulation, not attack.

When Eisenhower left office, he left a budget surplus, a strong economy and a condition of unchallenged U.S. nuclear superiority, but the general's understanding that U.S. forces won World War II as part of a victorious alliance, an alliance of many nations against two, was lost in translation. As the saying goes, "When myth becomes legend, print the myth." This myth of limitless American military power overshadowed reality, a myth Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson fervently embraced.

As a junior officer in the Navy, John Kennedy saw a different picture. He saw thousands of ships, millions of men and inexhaustible wealth throttle Japan, a nation with an economy 10 percent the size of America's. For him, America's engine of prosperity could be harnessed to the new, global mission of creating democratic regimes on the American model as a corrective to the regional conflicts of the past and as a defense against communism, a mission, Kennedy insisted, for which the youth of America should proudly and selflessly "bear any burden." Kennedy's rhetoric was the inspiration for America's crusade in Vietnam, a crusade that destroyed millions of lives and accomplished nothing of strategic value for the American people.

Outside View: U.S. vulnerable in Mideast

UPI Outside View Commentator

WASHINGTON, July 20 (UPI) -- Second of two parts


The current neo-conservative "bear any burden" rhetoric is aimed at Iran, the agent that directs the operations of Hezbollah.

Iran also meddles in the Arab-Israeli conflict by supporting its ally, Syria. And it provides aid to both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front insurgency in the Philippines and its Abu Sayyaf splinter terrorist group along with Laskar Jihad's anti-Christian pogroms in Indonesia.

The strategic dilemma for the United States is that the war would involve both Iran and Syria. In such a conflict, the military leadership must answer tough questions: What to attack, what to destroy, what to disable in order to weaken, neutralize or eliminate Iran's nuclear facilities along with Iran's national military capacity to resist U.S. forces?

Answers to these questions must explain how the U.S. responds to Iran as it creates havoc in the Persian Gulf, halting the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz with large stocks of mines, land-based anti-ship missiles, including Silkworms and hundreds of fast, missile patrol boats. To these capabilities, add more than 500,000 troops, plus 200,000 reserves with an inventory of thousands of tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery guns, rockets and missile systems and it is clear that an offensive by U.S. air and naval forces to seize control of the Straits of Hormuz would be difficult and expensive.

Of course, if simultaneous air and missile strikes by American air and naval forces fail to destroy Iran's nuclear capability and precipitate the collapse of the Iranian government, only two options remain open to the United States. The first is to continue bombing until the Iranian nation is destroyed, a tall order given Iran's huge size and population. The second is to change the political objective to suit what can be achieved with limited force.

For the Bush Administration, however, scaling back objectives would equal defeat. That is, of course, unless the President launches a ground offensive into Iran. And there's the rub.

Even if the U,S, Army and Marine Corps were able to launch an offensive, which they aren't, the situation in Iraq makes the commitment of Army and Marine combat forces to a new mission in the Persian Gulf very dangerous. Any American military offensive, air or ground, that drags on and fails to rapidly crush Iranian resistance risks strategic failure. The longer operations take, the more likely Pakistan, North Korea, China, and the Central Asian Republics are likely to offer assistance to Iran, assistance of the WMD type. And there is good reason to fear for America's fixed installations in the Persian Gulf, especially U.S. ground forces concentrated in large, fortified bases in Iraq.

But figuring out what to destroy will also not solve the larger problem of how to defeat Iran and replace its current government with one more willing to align its interests with those of the United States. Iranian nationalism and radical Islamist sentiment are not inextricably intertwined. Separating one from the other would seem important, but it is hard to see how bombing Iran would achieve that outcome. Lebanon's destruction is instructive. While it is doubtlessly satisfying to the Israeli government, it has actually made matters worse by recruiting new hordes of regional enemies for Israel.

Democratic states love to fight in anger, to punish "evil-doers." But attempting to wage a limited, righteous war against Iran will not improve American or Israeli security any more than fighting in Vietnam contained communism. Unless Bush adopts Eisenhower's prudent policy of decent regard for the interests of others, the United States could end up like an old Brontosaurus, a dinosaur with a large body and a small brain, running about, roaring loudly, trying to crush its enemies under foot without realizing that, meanwhile, the rodents are eating its last clutch of eggs.




(Retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas A. Macgregor, PhD is lead partner in Potomac League, LLC. He is the author of "Breaking the Phalanx." Macgregor served in the first Gulf War and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe during the Kosovo Air Campaign. he was an adviser tot he Department of Defense on initial Second Gulf War plans and is an expert on defense policy issues of organization and transformation.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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