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Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace.

Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace by William Greider Public Affairs. 202 pages. $22.00.

If Operation Allied Force teaches us anything, it is that there are two militaries: one is "in the field," and the other is in Washington. The former is agile, professional, lethal. But it is no match for headquarters.

The gulf between these communities seems greater than ever. The politically captivated, money-hungry lap dogs in Washington slip deeper into a post-Cold War geek-wonk bubble that is utterly impenetrable. The competence and abundance of available military forces oddly seems to embolden them to pull the trigger with greater and greater regularity. Washington brass position the pieces, and the professionals in the field are left to do their best given the now all-too-common hesitations, political limits, and short attention spans.

Like clockwork, Washington moves on to the next crisis, and the military is left holding the bag. From Korea to Iraq to Haiti to Bosnia and soon in the former Yugoslavia, the field officers get the task of imposing the embargoes, administering the no-fly zones, and supervising the peacekeeping forces that are left scattered behind.

What a way to run the world! It is like maintaining an ever ballooning credit card balance.

If the U.S. military weren't so good, Washington might actually be forced to resort to international security by other means. Given all the talk of post-Cold War sensibilities, such as humanitarian concerns, a limitation on military means might actually force Washington thinkers to set priorities, to rely more on the United Nations, to leave conflicts to regional actors to resolve, and--dare I even say it--sit idly by sometimes. Just because the military is always ready to go doesn't mean that it should be on a perpetual oneway flight over there.

William Greider is a lucid journalist who explained the inner workings of the Federal Reserve in Secrets of the Temple (Simon & Schuster, 1987) and predicted the current global economic crisis in One World, Ready or Not (Simon & Schuster, 1997). Now in Fortress America he has written an elegant essay on matters military. Greider seeks to unravel what happened when the Cold War ended and "peace was resumed." He says his book is a "sympathetic wake-up call."

The military, as Greider nicely puts it, is a "shark that never sleeps, that must keep moving through the water, feeding continuously to sustain itself." The Pentagon, he says, is permanently mobilized for world war, stretched thin, "dysfunctional," and addicted to monumental overspending. Meanwhile, military and political leaders "shrug off" change.

The guts of Fortress America is a paean to Army, Navy, and Air Force warriors, as well as a eulogy for the downsized military-industrial work force. And while he says "smart people" have come up with proposals about "fundamental" restructuring and drastic reduction, Greider veers off course when he comes to really explaining Washington. In this regard, his is not a very useful book.

He claims that the military is "unwilling to rethink its future, unable to let go of the past." The truth is that it is frenetically rethinking its future. Absent any equivalent political thinking from the outside, it has to make up future threats as it goes along. It has to anticipate and prepare for the worst and to consider Administration vagaries today and tomorrow. But while it plans for the future, it cannot shape the future.

Given the lack of any alternative framework for America's role in the world, the military itself will not be in a position to do anything but have an internal food fight over the dollars and then to procure the most destructive systems it can for the cost.

Since Greider never tackles the question of American purpose head on, we are subjected to the views of two Congressional reformers for answers.

The first is Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. He says--and Greider agrees--that the United States cannot afford to pay for all its military commitments. I have always found such an argument to be seriously flawed: Administrations--Democrat and Republican--have never been shy about invoking "national security" to pay for whatever they desired. The logical problem of arguing that such and such an airplane is too expensive, or that the given readiness level isn't sustainable, or that the latest operation is unaffordable is that the American public are always getting stuck with the bill.

Next up is former Senator Gary Hart, Democrat of Colorado, who thinks that reform is necessary to address "the widening divide between Washington governing elites, both political and military, and Americans at large." He puts his finger on a serious problem but then advocates greater reliance on a modern-day "Minuteman" universal militia structure made up of National Guard and Reserves. Hart believes this would "reengage the broad American public."

Without a draft, the military is becoming increasingly insular. Whether this is responsible for its moralistic and sometimes even insubordinate sensibility toward civilian leadership is unclear and unanswered by Hart or Greider. Under Commander in Chief Bill Clinton, volumes have been written about the sad state of "civil-military" relations. But the focus is almost always on what the military needs to do rather than on the flaws of the political side.

Isn't the nation more at risk from a political leadership that does not know what to do with military advice? That seems unable or unwilling to tackle the conceptual outlines of some--any--post-Cold War framework?

Isn't there greater danger in civilian leadership that cannot stand up to military "needs" and impose limits on the defense appetite, let alone offer an alternative?

Isn't Beltway culture, which is turning into its own permanent, gigantic revolving-door consulting business, America's biggest problem? (By the way, Hart is now a Pentagon consultant in Washington.)

Greider never quite gets to the vast intellectual decadence so common amongst the Pentagon's civilian so-called masters. Sure, as Greider shows, the military services fight tooth and nail over their portion of the pie. Absent adult supervision, what is to be expected? Similarly, he shows the arms industry's hammerlock against change.

But industry is hardly a major player when it comes to making policy. Of course, there is Congressional pork. What about it? The Administration does not prioritize what it needs so Capitol Hill dispenses the dollars for political gain. If there's no compelling strategic rationale for this airplane versus that one or this base versus that, isn't partisan politics just as good a way to do it as any?

Despite Greider's economic bias, not one weapon system, nor one defense contractor, nor one pork-barreling Congressperson is responsible for our being mired in Yugoslavia, and Iraq, and countless other places.

Is there a need for America to bite the bullet? Absolutely. We see it every day as the political decision-makers get to play out grand strategy fantasies in never-resolved theaters of war. But how do we engage the American public, as Greider seeks to do, in the overall discussion of our national security? It is not by focusing on cash. It is by harnessing the inherent American distrust of everything Washington and asking tough questions about the corrosive, self-perpetuating elite that uses the military as its plaything.

"The people in uniform cannot be blamed for the political vacuum," Greider concludes. He says all the right things about reordering, reducing, and reforming. But the Washington political vacuum remains only a vague rhetorical entity. He provides no sharp picture of why we are so stuck in our ways. Greider holds an inadequate leadership responsible for not moving on from the Cold War, but he never precisely characterizes that leadership. As a result, he suggests in the end that the problem is the military itself and its own interests when the true target should be Fortress Washington.

William M. Arkin is an independent defense analyst, an MSNBC military analyst, and a columnist. His DOT. MIL column appears every other Monday on the Washington Post's web site
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Author:Arkin, William M.
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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