- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

As Congress debates the defense budget and pundits wax eloquently about the wisdom and prospects of a troop surge in Iraq, the following vignette is instructive: On the eve of the battle of Chancellorsville, Gen. Hooker, commander of the Union Army, proclaimed: “My plans are perfect. May God have mercy on Gen. Lee, for I will have none.” His over-confidence had immediate and long-term effects: Hooker was crushed by Lee, got fired by President Lincoln, and his name became forever associated with certain ladies of the evening. The enduring lesson is that humility is a virtue in assessing strategic plans.

Yet humility is precisely what is lacking in today’s national security discourse. Also lacking is a holistic approach that addresses not only the daunting challenges of today but also accounts for future imperatives. Such an integrated approach is vitally important because the United States is engaged in a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy.

This enemy is not tied to geographic boundaries: It operates in non-traditional domains, employing non-traditional means, unbound by established norms of international behavior. With the world as its battlefield and globalization as its enabler, this enemy strives to usher in a new world order, dominated by its brand of militant Islam.

While trying to quell the insurgency in Iraq and resurgent violence in Afghanistan, we must understand that, since September 11, the nation has been engaged in an existential fight against an insurgency of global proportions, a transnational pansurgency, aimed at overthrowing our way of life through terrorism, subversion and war.

The breathtaking scope of the insurgents’ goals is mirrored by their desire to inflict mass casualties regardless of the identity of their victims: worshippers at a mosque, kids at a playground, policemen en route to their station, or women and the elderly in a hospital waiting room. These pansurgents truly believe they’re on a mission from God — ready to destroy everything and die trying. They are well-financed, networked, adaptive and patient. Some live among us.

The explicitly religious nature of their ideology is key because, for the true believer, there is no compromise about the sacred; there can be no bargaining, nor truce. As we see daily in Baghdad, Karachi, Darfur and Kandahar, killing has become an end in itself, as entire societies are tearing themselves apart.

The necessary focus on Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn’t blind us to the reality that the future is now. Weapons proliferation invests even marginal players with unprecedented leverage and destructive potential. Meanwhile, China has tested an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) and ordered further modernization of its air and naval forces. Russia has doubled its defense outlays financing advanced aircraft, mobile intercontinental missiles, supersonic bombers and sophisticated air-defense systems.

Iran, emboldened by what it sees as the crumbling of America’s commitment to victory, is posturing to fill the void, expand the Shi’ite crescent overlaying the region’s oil supplies and advance an apocalyptic agenda wedded to nuclear ambitions.

What keeps these threats at bay is the certitude that the United States has the requisite range, precision and payload to strike any target, anytime, anywhere on the planet. The Navy and Air Force underwrite our long-term security while flying and fighting every day to defeat the global pansurgency, and provide our undermanned and underequipped land forces a fighting chance of success. Yet, with America’s $12 trillion economy humming, our wounded veterans are fighting a bureaucracy as entrenched as the enemy for benefits they’ve earned with blood. The Air Force, meanwhile, is flying into danger in a geriatric fleet, the least modern in history, with wings and tails cracking, and speed and maneuverability restricted by age and metal fatigue. Our oldest aircraft (a KC-135 tanker) came off the assembly line in November 1957, a month after the USSR launched the Sputnik.

Our generals’ sons and daughters fly combat missions in the same jets their fathers flew 25 years ago.

This yawning gap between global realities and our readiness to provide for the common defense must be closed. Recapitalization and modernization of the military to include true fifth-generation aircraft, capable of establishing the air dominance that is the precondition of all subsequent operations; the tankers necessary to get all our flying assets into the fight; and the helicopters to rescue crews of all services flying against advanced surface-to-air missiles are not discretionary luxuries.

Satisfying these urgent needs is a debt the nation owes its defenders. No power on Earth can defeat America’s military power, except the American electorate.

The politically safe option of shuffling shrinking budgets to paper over headline-making deficiencies fails to account for the tough realities of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow. Our defense outlays are a mere 3.2 percent of the GDP — an unprecedented nadir in wartime. America can afford the best Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force in the world. The question is can it muster the will and resolve to do what it must.

Our elected officials should confront these issues head-on, with the requisite humility and realism, not merely partisan rhetoric. The future of the republic — indeed, the future of civilization — hinges on decisions now facing Congress.

Lani Kass is a professor of Military Strategy at the National War College, and is currently on sabbatical as special adviser to the Air Force chief of staff. These views are her own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Defense Department, Air Force or the National Defense University.

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