Caspar Weinberger is something of a household name, and while his address, "The Uses of Military Power," delivered to the National Press club on November 28 lacks the revolutionary ring of Lin's speech, it has some odd similarities. With Third World conflicts raging in our Central American backyard, and the United States involved up to its knees, Weinberger seemed to be rationalizing a massive expansion of the regional conflict. If U.S. troops are to be sent, he said, "We should do so wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning." But the consequences of those words could be more defensive than aggressive. He proposed six "tests" for the dispatch of U.S. forces to a foreign war. Besides the commitment to total victory, he would need guarantees that the military action is vital to U.S. interests; clearly defined political and military objectives; policy reassessments in response to changing conditions; and "some reasonable assurance" of support on the home front. Going to war must be a last resort.
It would be hard to find a war that would meet all those criteria. The invastion of Grenada, which Weinberger used as his model for an acceptable intervention, could not reasonably be categorized as an action vital to U.S. national security interests. And neither the political nor military objectives of that blitzkrieg were clearly defined to the American people, the Grenadians or the world. (President Reagan is still calling it a "rescue mission" to save American medical students.)
Beyond that, how much popular or Congressional support could be guaranteed for an invasion of Nicaragua or a commitment of troops to prop up the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, South Africa, Lebanon or the Philippines, to name only a few likely future supplicants? How could it be assured that any of those interventions would result in total victory or unconditional surrender? Wars in the Third World--the kind Weinberger was discussing--may be unwinnable by First World countries. The theory that the United States played softball in Vietnam with one hand tied behind its pitiful, helpless, gigantic back is ludicrous. The Pentagon spent more money, lost more soldiers, dropped more bombs and generally waged more violent war against a small and backward country than in the great wars of the century, and to no avail. The lesson of Vietnam is not that we didn't try hard enough but that we lost.
Is Weinberger's doctrine, then, like Lin Biao's, an isolationist treatise veiled by expansionist rhetoric? Behind the words lurks an inscrutable Occidental logic that often contradicts their apparent meaning. Weinberger specifically told the Press Club audience that the United States would avoid "being drawn inexorably into an endless morass where it is not vital to our national interest to fight." But while Central America, for instance, might not be "vital" today, it could be tomorrow, with one stroke of the Presidential pen. And why not throw the whole U.S. military machine into an invasion in those nether regions? Never mind that a couple hundred Cuban construction workers (they were just that, much to the Pentagon's humiliation) held a super-high-tech U.S. deployment force at bay for days in tiny Grenada. There are always tactical nuclear weapons available to insure total victory. As for the Administration's objectives in Central America, they have been fuzzy for a while, but they could be quickly clarified. How about "the overthrow of the Marxist-Leninist government of Nicaragua and the annihilation of the armed opposition in El Salvador" for a start? Would it be all that hard to whip up Congressional and popular support for a war? Surely the Great Communicator could manage a successful media campaign to that end. And last resort? That is last which calls itself last.
While the pieties of the Weinberger speech should not give anyone a sense of security, as a whole it does express the military's traditional suspicion of gunboat diplomacy and its contemporary equivalents. American diplomats often seem more bellicose than their military colleagues because they see war, in the Clausewitz cliche, as an extension of politics. The generals have it the other way around: diplomacy is the last act of war. Weinberger, who speaks for the generals, is wary of letting civilian policy-makers drag soldiers into every ill-considered adventure, to resolve every botched plan. The Pentagon is not happy about its role in sticky, ambiguous conflicts where there is a high risk of snafu. Better that old soldiers be left alone to play with doomsday toys. There are no retreats in the Star Wars scenario.
Part of Weinberger's message was addressed to those in the Administration's foreign policy apparatus with whom he and the brass disagree. As for the rest of it, the politics of the next weeks and months will count more than Weinberger's tests, for events in Central America (and later in Africa and the Asian Pacific) will determine the U.S. military response more than words from a Press Club podium.
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|Title Annotation:||Caspar Weinberger's policy on entering foreign wars|
|Date:||Dec 15, 1984|
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