The Future of 21st Century Warfare: Lessons from Iraq

It’s a habit of human nature that today’s Generals use the strategies and tactics of the past, and more specifically those that proved decisive in the most recent war, in order to achieve victory today. In fact, this tendency is right in line with one of my favorite sayings, “Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.” We must learn from the past because those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.

What these clichés lack, true though they may be, is an affinity for prognostication. They are only successful if the enemy fails to abide by them himself and elects to engage his enemy using the failed strategies of the past. I, for one, am inclined to learn the ONE lesson that seems universal—the enemy ain’t as stupid as we wish he were.

What lessons might we be learning right now about any future U.S. conflict? Avoid the war in the first place, perhaps? (Woe to our next ally who finds itself in need of a U.S. military intervention, eh?) If we do fight, mass our troops from the outset? These seem like obvious places to start. But I believe history is giving us a glimpse of the future and, my friend, I find it none too pretty.

Colonel Nathan Jessup, the fictional character in the 1993 movie A FEW GOOD MEN, famously said, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said, ‘Thank you,’ and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post.” So I shall heed his advice on both fronts: first, to our military and to our elected officials who are standing firm and fighting the good fight against radical Islamic terrorism, “Thank you.” I do sleep better for your efforts. I am not afraid, as I put finger to keyboard, for my family’s safety.

But I AM worried that the real lessons of our efforts in Iraq are not lessons from the battlefield, but rather foreshadowing as to how war will be waged against the United States in the future. I am troubled by the prospect of economic warfare and our vulnerability to it at this point in our nation’s history.

In our successful attempt to thwart Islamofacism, we have left ourselves vulnerable to a major economic attack. China, specifically, has us in an extremely tenuous position by virtue of the overwhelming amount of our foreign debt they hold. It is not ridiculous hyperbole to suggest that China has financed a major portion of our war effort in the Middle East. The Congressional Research Service, in a January 2008 report for Congress, reported that, “From December 2001 to December 2006, China’s share of total foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities rose from 7.6% to 18.8%.” China holds almost $400 billion in U.S. Treasury securities. The effect of China dumping those securities on the open market would be an economic nuclear bomb for the United States.

China has many reasons to buy U.S securities, first and foremost of which is to keep its own currency, the yuan, at its present exchange rate with the dollar. Additionally, China has at least one major reason not to use their great weapon—it would have a significant negative impact on their economy as well. The United States is China’s largest trading partner with a more than $20 billion trade deficit each year in their favor. (Although, I suppose you could make the case that a crippled U.S. economy would actually increase demand for cheap Chinese products as our Gucci-buying citizens suddenly discover coupons and Wal-Mart.)
Without ever firing a shot, and while playing the global economic game by its rules, a nation like China is learning that it can position itself to do serious damage to the United States if it ever feels compelled to do so.

Not only does the U.S. find itself vulnerable at this very hour, but the global community is discovering that even in a one-superpower world, there may be more than one power player. Alliances with China need not be undertaken with military purposes in mind but rather with economic purposes. Other countries will want to be aligned with a winner and the U.S. is looking very vulnerable at the moment.

We can see that our ability to influence the behavior of despotic regimes is at risk. In March the United States removed China from its list of the Ten Worst Human Rights Violators. Within a week, Chinese troops were aggressively on the move in Tibet. Coincidence? Maybe. But we are in a precarious spot when it comes to playing hardball with our banker.

China is now becoming a model of repressive success. The excitement over Deng Xiaoping’s reforms has led to Chinese capitalist success, but without the ensuing liberal, democratic freedoms for which our republic stands. Power hungry leaders in countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and even perhaps African nations looking to align, see an example of how to realize economic gains without having to share their power with their burdensome citizens.

Much of this might have happened without China financing our anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East, but while a threat to individual liberty may be rising in the Far East, we have handed it a weapon to use against us as we attempt to counter their rise.

So having extended our gratitude to Col. Jessup, I suggest we get about the business of picking up a weapon and standing post. We do this best by heeding the advice of Carl Von Clausewitz who said, “To secure peace is to prepare for war,” and we can prepare for war by shoring up our weaknesses. The experience of the first decade of the 21st century may prove that The Treasury Department will have as much to do with waging war as the Defense Department. The combination of our current economic downturn and the war in Iraq is not just a dicey coincidence. It is potentially prophetic and as such shoring up our economy is not just election-year politics but national defense strategy of the utmost importance.

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Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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