12 April 2012


Coyote Blog | Warren Meyer | Too Easy to Make War

I must say that I have come around to the point Drum derives from [Maddow's book Drift]
If you can get past that, though, there’s a deadly serious argument here that deserves way more attention than it gets. The book is, basically, a series of potted histories that explain how we drifted away from our post-Vietnam promise to make sure we never again went to war without the full backing and buy-in of the American public. Maddow’s premise is that, just as the founders intended, our aim was to make war hard. Presidents would need Congress on their side. The Abrams Doctrine ensured that reserves would have to be called up. Wars would no longer unfold almost accidentally, as Vietnam did.

And for a while that was the case. …

Maddow’s argument is that we need to start rolling back these changes of the past two decades. When we go to war, we should raise taxes to pay for it. We should get rid of the secret military. The reserves should go back to being reserves. We should cut way back on the contractors and let troops peel their own potatoes. And above all, Congress should start throwing its weight around again. It’s fine to criticize presidents for accreting ever more power to themselves, but what do you expect when Congress just sits back and allows it happen? Our real problem is congressional cowardice: they don’t want the responsibility of declaring war, but they also don’t want the responsibility of stopping it. So they punt, and war becomes ever more a purely executive function.
I am mostly in agreement with this (though I am not sure why soldiers rather than contractors should peel potatoes). War has become way too easy — though I would argue that Drum needs to look in a mirror a bit here.
(0) Yes, Drum needs to look in the mirror. Meyer has said it a lot, as have I, but I'll say it again: don't be so quick to let the president on your team grab some extra power, because pretty soon a president on the other team is going to be doing the same thing.

(1) Other than that, I am also on board with what Drum is saying here.

(2) Except for the contractor/potato thing. Even before I got to Meyer's comment I was raising mental objections to that line.

The only way that seems like a good idea (besides the popular reflexive dislike of contractors/privatization/outsourcing/etc) is if you intentionally wanted to make the military less efficient in some sort of starve-the-beast type gambit. Or more specifically a "file down the beast's teeth and claws" move.

If that's the goal though I can think of ways that are both less expensive and (likely) less injurious to morale. For instance, rather than reducing the number of men wielding weapons by occupying their hands with vegetable peelers, you could severely increase the standards of people enlisting.

(3) We don't just need to make war harder. We need to make everything the state does harder. We need to make it harder for the government to send us to war, harder for the government to tell us who can cut our hair, harder for the government to tell us what medical services we must insure ourselves for, harder for it to tell me how to I should travel, harder for it to subsidize sports stadiums, harder for it to dictate what sort of character a neighborhood should have, harder for it to tell me what I can eat and drink and smoke, harder for it to force me to turn over private information, harder for it to tell me what sorts of companies I can invest in, harder for it to tell us how many taxis there should be in a town, harder for it to determine which companies should be building our cars or our solar panels, harder for it to tell us how much sugar we should be importing, harder for it to ignore the Fourth Amendment when we're near(ish) the border or carrying a digital device, harder for it to tell me what the acceptable uses for money I have saved are, and harder for it to tell me who I can employ or rent an apartment.

Everything the state does should be hard. That's the point of having separation of powers, of checks and balances, and the Constitution itself. Those things exist specifically to make it hard for the state to do things.

I doubt Drum would agree with that (eg). The difficulty the state should face does not stop and start at the doors of the Pentagon. I'm fascinated by the way both liberals and conservatives do 180s from their usual course when it comes to the DOD.


  1. Way back in the cold war of '82 to '85 when I was defending the beaches of Southern California from the threat of Soviet Invasion as an officer in the Marine Corps, I came away with one piece of certain knowledge: Properly constituted the military could be 1/2 (1/3?, 1/4?) of it's current size. It could also be much more violent. That is something we Americans are way better at than the rest of the world. I also believe the military should not be deployed unless we are willing to crush the opposition. Otherwise (see Iraq and Afghanistan), what's the point?

    We should all be afraid of using the military.

    War should be much harder to do. Way harder.

    I also agree with your larger points on government activity being throttled for the same reasons.

    Team Nike and Team Reebok have a lot of explaining to do.

    Sorry about the pointlessness of my comment, it's late here in Mauritius and I've had a couple of drinks. I've also read the article about the woman jailed for buying sudafed that Coyote linked to. Depressing...

    1. Not pointless at all. It's always reassuring when I say something about the military and someone with actual experience in uniform can back up my intuition. Thanks for commenting, and enjoy those drinks.

      PS I'm several days late replying to this comment since I've been in Ft Lauderdale, where I was having many drinks (late night and otherwise) with my friends. 90% of the time that conversation turned to politics I found myself repeatedly muttering "don't get me started, all too depressing..."