National Defense

Our modern military should have the latest technology and best equipment our nation can produce.  It should have the trained manpower necessary to repel an attack from wherever it may come, launch retaliatory strikes and make hot pursuit in response to provocations.  Most of all, it must maintain the structure necessary to expand rapidly in time of actual, congressionally declared war.  No less, but also no more.

Reagan rightly said that defense is not a budget issue – we spend what we must to defend our nation.  But we should not spend in excess of what is required either, for it is equally true that we cannot provide for the common defense if we cannot pay for it.  Nations that fail to maintain an adequate defense do not survive very long, but neither to those that maintain excessive forces, overextend their military and bankrupt themselves.

Traditionally, America has not attacked another country unless it has attacked us first.  When we have faced hostile powers in the past, we instead have surrounded them with superior force and waited them out.  Usually, this has proven sufficient, and when it hasn’t we have been prepared.  When we have had war forced upon us and have placed our military in harm’s way, Congress has declared war, as the Constitution requires, and we have backed our troops with the full might and fury of the nation and gotten it over with as quickly as possible.

Since the Korean War, we have largely abandoned these principles, and the result has been 70 years of stalemate and the gradual diminishment of our nation’s resources, international respect, and public will.   We need to get back to the ancient principles that worked: a small, agile, professional and well equipped military that can fulfill core peace-keeping functions with the ability and structure to expand rapidly and decisively in time of war.


The Four Challenges to National Defense

Placer County Navy League – Auburn California – May 16, 2011

Thank you for the invitation to join you today and thank you for your service to our nation.

Years ago, a man took his son to the memorial to the U.S.S. Arizona.  They gazed at the gleaming stone walls engraved with the names of the sailors who rest within the ship just a few feet below the surface.  One of those names belonged to the man’s father; the little boy’s grandfather.  And as they stood there in silence, the little boy looked up at his father and said, “Daddy.  I don’t understand something.  Why did the Japanese have to go and attack us like that?”  The father thought for a long time and finally said, “I don’t know, son.  I just don’t know.  But it was a big mistake.”

I’m sure that was the last thought going through Osama Bin Laden’s mind a split second ahead of an American bullet!

Time will tell the impact that Bin Laden’s death will have on the terrorist network with which we have been contending for these past ten years.  As we look at the deep divisions within the Islamic world, we should take a measure of relief in the fact that it represents the most backward of human impulses and simply cannot exist in proximity to free civilizations.

Churchill said it best, “Dictatorship – the fetish worship of one man – is a passing phase.  A state of society where men may not speak their minds, where children denounce their parents to the police, where a business man or small shopkeeper ruins his competitor by telling tales about his private opinions – such a state of society cannot long endure if brought into contact with the healthy outside world.  The light of civilized progress with its tolerances and cooperation, with it dignities and joys, has often in the past been blotted out.  But I hold the belief that we have at last got far enough ahead of barbarism to control it, and to avert it if, only we realize what is afoot and to make up our minds in time.”

There are many more challenges ahead as we confront Islamic fascism, but the outcome is fore-ordained, and the signs of that are all around us as we observe the deep divisions that have now formed within the Islamic world itself.

I do not mean to imply for a moment that we should become sanguine about this threat – but I also believe we face serious threats to the defense of the United States here at home, and I would offer that much of our attention needs to be redirected to four critical areas of national defense.

The first is the disintegration of the Constitutional institutions and American traditions which are the foundation of our martial strength.

America has until recently abided by Washington’s advice to avoid foreign entanglements wherever possible, or as Shakespeare put it, to “beware the entrance to a quarrel, but being in, bear that the opposed beware of thee.”

The reason the American Founders reserved the question of war to Congress was that they wanted to assure that so momentous a decision could not be made by a single individual. They had watched European kings plunge their nations into bloody and debilitating wars and wanted to avoid that fate for the American Republic.

The most fatal and consequential decision a nation can make is to go to war, and the American Founders wanted that decision made by all the representatives of the people after careful deliberation.  Only when Congress has made that fateful decision does it fall to the President as Commander in Chief to command our armed forces in that war.

The authors of the Constitution were explicit on this point.  In Federalist 69, Alexander Hamilton drew a sharp distinction between the American President’s authority as Commander in Chief, which he said “would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces” and that of the British king who could actually declare war.

To contend that the President has the legal authority to commit an act of war without Congressional approval requires ignoring every word the Constitution’s authors said on this subject – and they said quite a lot.

There’s a second reason why Congress is given the sole authority to enter hostilities – and that is its Constitutional role over the purse strings.

When we place our young men and women in harm’s way, as a society we have a profound responsibility to back them with the full might and fury of our nation – to put all of the resources of the country behind them and to get it over with just as quickly and decisively as possible.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt didn’t commit the Army and Navy to war.  His speech is very clear on the subject in two critical respects.

He said, “As commander in chief of the Army and the Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.”  He explicitly recognized that even in so clear an aggression as the attack on Pearl Harbor, his constitutional authority was limited to defensive actions only.  But in less than 24 hours after the attack, he summoned Congress to perform its constitutional role to decide whether to declare war on Japan.

And of course it did, with a very simple resolution which pledged in support of that war all of the resources of the nation.  The New Deal ended at that moment; the entire nation’s resources were committed to the war effort, and in just 3 ½ years we had vanquished the most powerful military powers on the planet.  And it has been a very long time since some young Japanese or German politician came up with the bright idea of attacking us again.

We must restore the clear and unambiguous provisions in the Constitution on questions of war and peace and demand that those who take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States understand that this means they must obey it.

The second threat to our nation’s defense is the growing trend since the end of World War II to place increasingly dangerous constraints on American military forces.  I speak specifically of the so-called rules of engagement that have made it virtually impossible for our forces to prevail in an armed conflict.

Today’s rules of engagement include standing orders that our troops must receive permission to return fire – permission that is often denied them if, for example, fire is coming from nearby a village.

A father in El Dorado Hills approached me last year to tell me the story of his son whose unit was attacked by a mortar round that hit the tent where he was bivouacked.  Two of his best friends were killed and he only escaped death because he had left a few minutes before the attack to write an email home.  The father told me his son’s unit was denied permission to return fire, because of the proximity of a nearby village.

Last Veterans Day I attended a salute to veterans in Nevada City.  I found myself in a conversation with a group that included an elderly World War II veteran and a young man recently returned from combat in Iraq.  I asked the young man about these rules of engagement.  He rolled his eyes and said “It’s just terrible.  They won’t let us fight back.  If we’re shot at, we’ve got to yell at them to stop shooting at us.  If it’s at night, we have to shine a light that gives away our position.  We can’t pursue insurgents into a mosque, because it’s disrespectful.  I had a friend who did that.  They released the insurgents and busted my friend for breaking the rules of engagement.”

All the while the World War II soldier listened without saying a word.  I turned to him and asked, “What were the rules of engagement in Patton’s Third Army?”  He thought for a moment and said, “Well, we didn’t have rules of engagement like that.  They told us to kill Germans, and that’s what we did.”

I asked, “If a German squad had escaped into a church, would you have pursued them into the church?”  “Oh, heavens no!” he said.  “We would have blown up the church.”

That’s the difference between a generation determined to win the war as quickly as possible, and our current leaders.

These constraints have been placed on our troops because, we’re told, we can’t win the hearts and minds of the civilian population if we wage an aggressive war.  When did such lunacy enter American military doctrine?  When a nation wages war it is long beyond winning the hearts and minds of the population – wars are waged to destroy the government’s ability to make war and the population’s willingness to support it.  Once you have accomplished that goal, then you can begin the process of winning hearts and minds by first establishing a military occupational government that stabilizes conditions until an enduring government to our liking can be permanently installed and sustained.

The paradigm that we have used in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya is fundamentally flawed and today threatens to dissipate and enervate the ability of this nation to meet future challenges that may arise in the near future.

The third challenge to our nation’s defense is the unwillingness of this and previous administrations to protect the integrity of our own borders.

There is no more fundamental a characteristic of any nation than the geographic control of its borders – which is the very definition of sovereignty itself.

If the federal government is not able – or more to the point, not willing – to protect its own borders, what good is it?

There is no blinking at the fact that the United States has lost control over its border.  According to the Government Accountability Office report in February, less than half of the nation’s border is under the “operational control” of our government.

There is nothing radical about bringing armed force to bear to protect our borders from an unprecedented incursion of as 20 million foreign nationals who have illegally entered this country.

Indeed, over the last several years, more than 200 incursions by units of the Mexican military across our border have been reported by local law enforcement agencies, most in support of drug smuggling.

Fourth, and most importantly, is the threat to our nation’s defense from the collapse of the finances of the United States Government.

Reagan rightly said that defense is not a budget issue – we spend what we must to defend our nation.  But we should not spend in excess of what is required either, for it is equally true that we cannot provide for the common defense if we cannot pay for it.  Nations that fail to maintain an adequate defense do not survive very long, but neither to those that maintain excessive forces and overextend their military.

No nation has ever taxed and borrowed and spent its way to prosperity, but many nations have taxed and borrowed and spent their way to bankruptcy and ruin.  And history warns us that countries that bankrupt themselves aren’t around very long.

I believe the greatest battle fought for the future of our nation in the last 150 years is being fought right now – not with artillery but with argument; not with bullets but with ballots.

And each of us must enlist in this battle, because upon its outcome could well decide the very survival of our nation.

I can offer this good news – that whenever the American people have awakened to a crisis, they have set things right.  The institutions of our nation are resilient, but they are not automatic.  They require the participation of every American of good will.

Daniel Webster identified this problem 180 years ago when he said, “There is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow.  Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter:  From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence.  I must confess that I do apprehend some danger.  I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men and become the instruments of their own undoing.”


The Principles of War

CATO Institute – March 18, 2010

Allow me to begin by offering what I believe are the two longstanding American principles of warfare that the Bush Administration abandoned.

The first is that before our troops are placed in harm’s way, the Constitution requires a declaration of war.

I believe the Founders required Congress to declare war for two important reasons.  First, to assure that one individual could not plunge the nation into war as generations of European monarchs had done. And the second was to assure that in the rare circumstances that our nation placed its soldiers in harm’s way, they were backed by the full might and fury of the nation and a sober resolve to win that war just as quickly as possible.

The second point is not a constitutional principle but one of long-standing American tradition – that until recently, our nation has only gone to war when our nation has been attacked.  When faced with potential threats we surrounded ourselves with superior force and waited them out.

These principles were followed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  President Roosevelt asked for, and received, a declaration of war from Congress as provided in the Constitution.  He then put the entire resources of the nation into the war and within 3 ½ years we had utterly vanquished the two most powerful armies on the planet.  Only then did we establish military governments that ordered Japanese and German society to our liking, and only after we were satisfied that the new governments would endure did we relinquish control.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had to worry about another Japanese attack.

The attack of September 11th, 2001 was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  The Al Qaeda terrorists received succor, protection and encouragement from the Taliban government and accordingly acted as an agency of that government just as surely as the Japanese naval air forces that attacked Pearl Harbor acted as an agency of the government of Japan.

How different was our response in 2001.  Then, President Bush came before Congress, promised to bring the individuals responsible for the attack to justice and then invited the nation to go shopping.  He sought an ambiguous resolution authorizing the use of force at his discretion and deployed armed forces that were wholly inadequate to subdue and control the population of that nation.  Two years later he invaded a nation that had nothing to do with the attack.

For eight years now, the war has been one of irresolution, political correctness and incompetent leadership.  I sympathize with the current administration that has inherited an untenable situation.  But it continues and amplifies the folly of the Bush years in three critical areas.

First, the administration has defined victory not as destroying the ability and will of the enemy to make war, but rather as “protecting the population” and “winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.”  This is a fatal error.  One nation cannot win the hearts and minds of another nation while waging war against it.  The civilian populations of Germany and Japan despised the American occupation but were so exhausted and decimated that they could no longer resist it.  It was then and only then – under military government and authority – that we began to shape those societies in a manner acceptable to civilized nations.

Second, the administration has placed absurd restrictions on our forces that have greatly complicated their mission, endangered their security and resulted in needless American casualties.  War is mankind’s most terrible scourge; it is barbaric and cruel and destroys many innocent lives.  If we are to put our soldiers into combat, it must be with the freedom to wage unrestricted warfare – never deliberately aimed at civilians, but always with the recognition that in war, many civilians die because they are in harm’s way.

Third, MacArthur was right: in war there is no substitute for victory.  By committing inadequate force to win the war and simultaneously announcing our timetable for withdrawal, President Obama has assured continued stalemate and given the enemy its most valuable ally: time.  They know they have only to bide their time, conserve their resources and less than 18 months from now move into the vacuum caused by withdrawing American forces.  This policy further undermines the administration’s own civilian-centric strategy by relying on the cooperation of civilians who can reasonably anticipate a return of the Taliban within weeks of the already-announced American withdrawal.

The great tragedy in all this is that it makes future attacks inevitable.


They Awakened the Camp

Anderson, California – September 11, 2006

We gather here today for the same reason as we have gathered as a nation on many occasions during our history – to remember the sacrifices and honor the memories of those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave their lives that that nation might live.”

And as Lincoln said, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do so.”

We are met here today on the fifth anniversary of the attack upon the United States by a consortium of nations that financed, succored, protected and encouraged an agency called Al Qaida.

It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  But in many ways, the attack of September 11th was far more serious than Pearl Harbor.  More Americans were killed than at Pearl Harbor.  It was an attack not upon (what was then) a remote and distant territory, but rather a premeditated and unprovoked attack upon our nation’s greatest city and upon our nation’s capital city.  It was an attack not upon heavily armed warships, but upon utterly defenseless American citizens peacefully going about their business.

This atrocity set new records in the annals of recorded history for ruthlessness and barbarity and depravity.  Binyamin Netanyahu called it a “wake-up call from hell,” and that’s exactly what it was.

Al Qaida is not some mysterious and shadowy enemy.  It receives its protection and encouragement and support from specific national governments.  It is therefore an agency of those governments – just as the fifth column of spies and saboteurs we confronted a generation ago.  We went after the governments that supported that fifth column – AND ONLY the governments that supported that fifth column.

Like the attack of December 7, 1941, the attack of September 11, 2001 was a sneak attack that came with no warning and no provocation.  Indeed, whether it was Japan in 1941 or the nations that directly assisted Al Qaida in 2001, the United States was at peace with those nations and in fact, we had sought peaceful relations with them at every opportunity.

And like 1941, the sneak attack of 2001 produced a brotherhood of heroes – common Americans who had gone about their business one peaceful morning, and in a few brief moments found themselves unprepared and utterly vulnerable in the face of well prepared, intractable and barbaric adversaries.

And yet they rose to the occasion.  They resisted with everything they had.  On December 7th, cooks became gunners and nurses became rescue workers.  And they fought back.

The legendary courage and resolve of American citizens hasn’t changed.  On September 11th, the heroes of Flight 93 took their place in American history alongside the heroes of Pearl Harbor.    Their message was the same: that there is a moral imperative to stand up when our nation is attacked and to marshal every resource and make every sacrifice necessary to defend our country, and all that our country stands for.

Centuries from now, Americans will proudly remember the story of the young men and women aboard that aircraft as it headed for our nation’s Capitol: how they responded instantly to duty and honor and country — and armed only with their bare hands stopped cold those who would destroy our nation.  In his last words heard over his cellular phone, Todd Beamer asked – not just of his fellow heroes, but of all of his fellow countrymen: “Are you guys ready?” His answer on behalf of us all was “Then let’s roll.

The morning after Pearl Harbor,

We didn’t vow to track down the Japanese pilots and bring them to justice.

We didn’t worry about offending the sensibilities of neutral nations.

We didn’t lecture and pontificate that we shouldn’t confuse Japanese aggression with the peaceful teachings of Buddha.

We didn’t wring our hands over “Why they hate us so much?”

We didn’t try to understand their point of view.

The next morning, the President of the United States stood before the Congress and met his moral imperative as the commander in chief of our nation’s armed forces.

As the Constitution requires, he laid the evidence before the Congress.  He identified the nation that was responsible for training and organizing and financing the attack.  And then, as the Constitution requires, he asked Congress for a formal Declaration of War.

And the then we waged war.  Not “sort of war” – not “a measured response” – not “nation building.”  We waged war with every ounce of strength and fortitude and determination that our outraged nation could command.

Those who were in uniform knew that behind them stood the greatest of all democracies with every leader and every citizen focused on one goal and one goal only – in Churchill’s words – “To wage war … to wage war by land, by sea, and by air; to wage war with all the strength and with all the courage that God has given us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.”

And we continued to wage war until the other side could make war no longer.

And the result was this: on the fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor – on December 7, 1946 – the war had been over for more than a year.

Axis powers that had comprised the most powerful military force on the planet — had been utterly and completely vanquished and their will to make war against us had been utterly and completely broken.   Americans no longer faced the imminent prospect of sabotage or attack.  On December 7, 1946, the American flag flew over the occupied capitals of every one of those rogue nations.  Their leaders had been dispatched and every semblance of resistance had been extirpated.

And never since have we had to worry that those nations might attack us again.

When I think back to the spirit of our nation in the days and weeks and months following the attack of September 11th, I remember a nation that was outraged, united, defiant, awakened and determined to respond to that attack just as the greatest generation had responded.

They bore no malice to any nation that had not attacked us – but they were utterly committed to annihilating the governments that had financed and abetted and encouraged al-Qaida in the attack of September 11th.

Like December 7th, 1941, on September 11th, 2001, thousands of our fellow citizens gave their lives to awaken our sleeping nation to the presence of an enemy that has the avowed object and the demonstrated ruthlessness to wage war against us in every manner they can – and that has the demonstrated determination to persevere until we stop them cold.

Not win them over.  Not to convince them to search for common ground.  Not to make them more like us.

But to stop them as we stopped their predecessors.

The Americans who died on December 7th, 1941 did not die in vain.  Their screams awakened the camp and roused it to arms – and because they sounded the alarm – and our nation’s leaders and its people responded resolutely and with singular focus – the world was saved from monstrous tyranny.

I remember the screams of those who died on September 11th, 2001 – as do each of you.  And we are gathered today with a solemn purpose – to “here, highly resolve” – in Lincoln’s words – “that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

On that battlefield long ago, Lincoln reminded Americans that it was “altogether fitting and proper” to honor those dead – but he also reminded each of us that it is for us the living rather to be here dedicated to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly advanced.

That is our debt to the heroes of September 11th, and to every generation of Americans that has come before us.

It is not for us to foretell the future, but the past occasionally casts a flicker of light forward.  And if the past tells us anything, it is that the American Spirit that animated past generations to heroic deeds in defense of liberty and honor and justice still burns bright in the hearts of every American of this generation.

We saw that spirit ignite on Flight 93.  We saw it burn brightly in the hearts of every American in the days after September 11th.

And we see it at gatherings like this across America five years later.  It is here where the world can see the true fiber of American character.  It is not in our leaders – it is in our people.

A generation ago, monstrous tyrannies misjudged the resolve and determination of free men and women to defend their families and their liberties and their way of life.  For many years, one provocation after another was met with only half-measures, political posturing, irresolution and ineptitude from the great democracies.

They forgot that the American spirit is kept in the hearts of its citizens.  And it was a big mistake.

Let the word go out tonight directly – not from our leaders, but from our people – from every gathering of common citizens across America and from every candle lit tonight in memory of these honored dead – that we have not forgotten – and that the indescribable outrage that each of us felt five years ago – still simmers and festers unresolved just below the surface of daily life.

The sleeping giant is stirring – precisely because of the sacrifice made by the heroes of September 11th. 

Americans will put up with a great deal before they act.  But if necessary they will act, and they will act with the  strength and the resolve and the fortitude that they have demonstrated through more than two centuries of struggle against tyrannies far more formidable than the petty thugs and guttersnipes who now feel emboldened to terrorize the free nations of the world.

And from this event we can take with us this absolute certainty.  There will come an anniversary of September 11th when there are no armed guards at airports; no Homeland Security scares; no fears over ports or planes or bombs in crowded places.  Because when our nation is finally summoned to defend itself and everything it stands for, as President Kennedy said nearly a half century ago, it will come to pass again, that “we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.”