- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2000

Winston Churchill described the political leadership of Europe in the late 1930s as being unwilling to "undeceive" the public when it came to the threats that were facing them. He said that this failure of leadership unquestionably led to the deaths of tens of millions of people in World War II a war that he described as the "Unnecessary War."

Pundits often say that history repeats itself, and sadly they are right. America's senior leaders have been failing to "undeceive" the American public when it comes to threats to America's national security. The Clinton administration, in particular, bears much responsibility for failing to "undeceive" the American public over the past several years, and this failure of leadership has led to an American military that is declining and unready for the predictable dangers of the coming years.

Churchill wrote his six-volume history of World War II to document how easily that war could have been prevented and to show that "the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous."

Churchill loathed and despised Hitler, and time after time he sought to warn the British government of the danger of Germany's rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. With each new aggressive move by Germany, the danger became more and more evident, but the politicians dared not "undeceive" a public that didn't want to face the gathering storm of Nazi aggression.

Today, the United States is in a position much like that of Britain and France in the 1930s. The public doesn't want to know about dangers. After all, the Cold War is over, and the Soviet Union has gone to the ash heap of history. Prosperity is all about us, and according to the Clinton administration, the United States has the best military force in history.

Like the 1930s, however, there is trouble brewing in many regions of the world. The Balkans are still unstable; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has boiled over into sustained violence; Saddam Hussein continues his quest for regional dominance and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction; and China openly advertises that it is preparing for war with the United States. Even closer to home in the Americas, Colombia is engulfed in an insurgency war, and Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador are increasingly unstable, as well.

America is genuinely at a crossroads. We can continue to hide from the problems until they erupt into the next war, or we can turn our attention to the problems and take the necessary steps to prevent the next war. To do this, the politicians must "undeceive."

This past year our senior military leadership, the Joint Chiefs, began the process. They went from the politically correct posture of parroting the Clinton administration line that America's military was the best-trained and best-equipped military force in the world (which was a true statement, but a misleading one) to the politically incorrect line that our military forces were stretched thin, readiness was declining, spare parts were in short supply and that we had too few ships, airplanes and men to win two simultaneous Major Regional Contingencies (MRCs). In other words, if Saddam Hussein acted up in the Persian Gulf region and at the same time Kim Il Sung started something on the Korean Peninsula, America's military could not handle both contingencies at the same time. In the words of one member of the Joint Chiefs, we would have to take much larger casualties and lose ground in one region while we concentrated our forces in the more important of the regions. In other words, we will pay in blood for our inability to fight in two regional contingencies at the same time.

The fact is that there are many dangers looming, and America's military might is beginning to be doubted. It did not go unnoticed by China one year ago that the crisis in Kosovo forced the United States Navy to move its one and only deployed carrier in the western Pacific Ocean from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean because of a shortage of deployable aircraft carriers.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore can talk all they want about how strong America's military is, but actions speak louder than words. Last year, for the first time in 55 years, America did not have an aircraft carrier anywhere in the Asia region. China was making belligerent noises regarding Taiwan, and the stabilizing influence of an American aircraft carrier was absent.

Fifty-nine years ago, America's Navy was in decline, and America's weakness invited Japan's attack on our fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Our leaders need to continue the process of "undeceiving" that was begun months ago by the Joint Chiefs. The Congress and the American public need to be "undeceived" before the "malice of the wicked" is once again reinforced by continuing "weakness of the virtuous." If we don't "undeceive," who will be the one to tell the grieving families of our fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen that this last war was just as "unnecessary" as was World War II?

Christopher M. Lehman served as a special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan from 1983-1985.

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