By Fr. George Welzbacher
April 21, 2013
The young - perhaps now in his late twenties?- Kim Jong On, recently installed as Grand High Panjandrum and Warden-in-Chief of the vast prison camp that is North Korea, still continues his public rant and rave, threatening to start, any day now, a war against his "cousins" to the south, with, tossed in as douceur, the possible firing of a missile or two in the direction of American Guam. Many will have it that this is all talk, its sound and its fury aimed at enhancing Kim's image as a world-mover and shaker, thereby impressing his cadre of generals but otherwise signifying nothing.
Let's hope that such is the case. But who knows for sure? It may be that this young egotist, deferred to from infancy as a kind of god, actually believes in his own omnipotence and grossly underestimates the potential for catastrophe inherent in the fantasies he loves to entertain. Some of our military leaders have noted that, whereas Kim's father and grandfather always provided themselves with a face-saving path of not dishonorable retreat when they made their blustering threats, the wild proclamations of this young "Caesar" allow him no such easy exit. He seems to have painted himself into a comer. And who can say that it is out of the question that in his insane self-delusion he might simply decide to "shoot the works" and press the button to start a new Korean War (or, if you prefer, Phase Two of the old one that was never formally concluded). Those familiar with the chain of miscalculations that led to the disaster of World War I have a right to feel uneasy. As Russia's Vladimir Putin stated in a recent joint news conference with Germany's Angela Merkl: "I would make no secret about it; we are worried about the escalation on the Korean peninsula, because we are neighbors. And if, God forbid, something happens, Chernobyl, which we all know a lot about, may seem like a child's fairly tale. Is there such a threat? I think there is... I would urge everyone to calm down."
Our military leaders assure us that we have sufficient power at our disposal to respond effectively should Kim invade the South. One hopes and prays that such is the case. One recalls, however, that in the opening phase of the North's invasion of the South back in June of 1950 our forces were nearly pushed into the sea. Further, regardless of how "effective" our response should prove to be, an all-out war in Korea could easily result in the loss of a million lives or more, perhaps far more, putting at risk the lives of tens of thousands of Americans now working or deployed militarily in South Korea. And the relentless drawing down of our military power over the last few years gives cause for troubling doubt. After all, as recently as this past September when our consulate in Benghazi was besieged by a rag-tag rabble of jihadists for a full eight hours, with our ambassador and three other Americans slain, there was NO effective American response. Apparently we had NO adequate rescue force stationed in the Mediterranean theatre -- on or around the huge body of water that from 1945 through 2008 could realistically have been described as "our" sea. Nor is confidence reinforced in America's will to respond to unprovoked aggression when one recalls that throughout the whole eight hours of the Benghazi siege, our president, once informed of the developing crisis, made (according to sworn testimony offered to Congress) one single telephone call to the Department of Defense and then, it would seem, turned his mind to other affairs.
An extremely sobering and detailed account of just how fast our military power has been swirling down the drain over the course of the last few years appeared under the byline of the military historian Mark Helprin in the April 10th edition of America's top-of-the-line daily newspaper.
* * * * *Benghazi's Portent and the Decline of U.S. Military Strength
The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2013
In the rush to paper over its delinquencies in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the Obama administration seems unaware that its failures are fundamental rather than merely anomalous. They are, unfortunately, a portent of the future.
On March 26, this newspaper reported that "In the wake of the attack, the military has examined how to improve its rapid response forces," specifically by "adding special operations teams of roughly 10 troops to ships carrying larger Marine Expeditionary Units." MEUs [Marine Expeditionary Units] ship-borne in amphibious ready groups usually number 2,200 Marines in special forces, reconnaissance, armored reconnaissance, armor, amphibious assault, infantry, artillery, engineer and aviation battalions, companies and platoons. They can get over the beach fast, and they fight like bell.
On March 21, 2011, during Operation Odyssey Dawn, an American F-15 went down in Libya. Immediately after the Mayday, the 26th MEU started rescue operations from the USS Kearsarge, and a short time later two of its Harrier fighter jets, two CH 53 helicopters, and two MV 22 Ospreys were at the scene, with more than a hundred Marines. HUNDREDS more might EASILY have arrived IF required. Forces like this COULD have shattered the assault in Benghazi in MINUTES. Adding 10 men to such echelons rich in special forces would have little relevance. Fine in itself, the proposal is an obfuscation. The issue is not the composition of already capable MEUs but rather that ONE WAS NOT AVAILABLE [on September 11, 2012] when the [Benghazi] attack took place.
From World Way II onward, the U.S. Sixth Fleet stabilized the Mediterranean region and protected American interests there with the standard deployment, continued through 2008, of a carrier battle group, three hunter killer submarines, AND an amphibious ready group with its MEU or equivalent.... No MEU could respond to Benghazi because NONE WAS ASSIGNED TO, OR WAS BY CHANCE IN, THE MEDITERRANEAN....
Today - with the Muslim Brotherhood watching over the Egyptian powder keg, terrorist warlords murdering our diplomats in Libya, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb reaching up from the Sahel into the Mediterranean littoral, instability in Tunisia, Bedouin kidnappers in the Sinai, Hamas rockets streaming from Gaza, Lebanon riding the Hezbollah tiger, Jordan imperiled, and a civil war raging in Syria - what possible reason could there be for a powerful Sixth Fleet?
Benghazi is a lesson in failings of PROBITY writ small and large. Our policy, relentlessly pursued by the president, is to DISARM. AS CHINA AND RUSSIA INVIGORATE THEIR DEFENSE INDUSTRIAL BASES, WE DIMINISH OURS. We are STRIPPING OUR NUCLEAR DETERRENT TO AND BEYOND the point where it will ENCOURAGE proliferation among opportunistic states, endow China with parity, and make a FIRST strike against us FEASIBLE.
In Korea, we depended upon tactical nuclear weapons, then pulled back after the North deployed chemical and biological weapons to check them. The obvious course was TO BUILD UP CONVENTIONAL FORCES but instead we CUT them DRASTICALLY. Although now with precision-guided munitions we can pick off much of what the North has, it will retain sufficient MASS to make war's OUTCOME UNCERTAIN and inflict millions of civilian casualties.
We hide behind nearly toothless Europeans who provide skittish diplomatic cover rather than substantive military support. With reduced naval, air, and ground forces, we BLUFF in the South China Sea, nurture adventurism in quarters of which we are not even aware, yet, and prove that though our diplomats may BEG for protection, terrorists can spend eight hours attacking an American diplomatic post with utter impunity.
One finds in the Companion to British History the telling lines: "In the absence of most of the [Roman] troops, there was an insurrection.... Colchester was burned ... the IXth Legion ambushed and mostly destroyed."
Would that the president, or Hillary Clinton, possibly the next president, would comprehend this.... Notably, her husband, .... ALWAYS kept an MEU in the Mediterranean.
History and the present tell us unambiguously that we require VAST reserves of strength used JUDICIOUSLY, sparingly where possible, overwhelmingly when appropriate, precisely, quickly, and effectively. Now we have VANISHING AND INSUFFICIENT strength used INJUDICIOUSLY, promiscuously, slowly, and ineffectively.
Since 1972, the Democratic Party has reflexively advocated the reduction of American military power, even at the defining junctures of the Cold War.... The tea party, knowing ONLY the importance of FISCAL discipline, does not understand the risks it is willing to accept to national security. And to the extent the current administration actually perceives the need to provide for defense, it always seems proudly to decide not to.
Do Americans understand that war and death abhor a VACUUM of strength and will rush in when WEAKNESS opens a place for them? Do we care? At the moment, the power of decision rests with those who don't.
For the sake of comfort and illusory promises, a false idea of goodness, and the incoherent remnants of New Left ideology, we as a people have chosen DRASTICALLY to diminish our powers of action in the world even as they bear upon our self-defense. Having established and advertised this, we will rue the day we did. Benghazi, a brightly illustrative miniature, is only a symbol of things to come.
Mr. Helprin is a senior fellow at the Claremont.
* * * * *