The only successful American military tradition - the one established by Generals Washington and Grant - is very straightforward: the U.S. should have a volunteer force that can move faster, with more force than any other military in the world and that force should only be committed under a formal declaration of war by Congress that identifies the specific enemy and seeks unconditional surrender. Any other policy/strategy/call it whatever buzzword you choose is and always has been folly.

When Eisenhower gave his warning about the military-industrial complex, he was not arguing against absolute American superiority. On the contrary, his forebodings were that strategic plans for defense were being set aside in favor of pork barrel procurement for "limited" warfare - troop deployments and weapons programs designed to match the needs of Congressional districts for Keynesian spending on activity for the sake of activity and "engagement". Those would, he feared, have the U.S. promising to help the world because, if you had the Green Berets, you would have to find places to send them. He knew, from direct experience, that counter-insurgency would always be a dismal failure. The U.S. had been, by his count, 0 for 3: in the Southern Philippines, in Haiti and in Honduras. Had he lived another half century, he would have seen us strike out again: in the Central Highlands, Iraq (excluding the initial conventional success) and now Afghanistan.

Grant had the same shrewd understanding of what was necessary in war and what the political pitfalls were. His Frontier policy remains our only successful counter-insurgency precisely because Americans stopped trying to win hearts and minds. As President Grant allowed the Army to fight without allowing either the Quakers, the land-grabbers or Sheridan to have their wishes come true. Grant succeeded in disappointing them all and in keeping the broad citizenry from forcing Congress into a policy of annihilating "the savages", even after Custer's defeat. The Sioux were defeated but neither they nor the Blackfeet nor any of the other Plains tribes suffered the absolute genocide that the Mariposa, Monache and Snake had a decade earlier. The Army did so well that, within a decade, they had to add gardening to their duties; they become directly responsible for our first national Park - Yellowstone.

Thanks largely to Grant the United States has the enviable record of having its populations of native Indians and former slaves become full citizens without their having to deny or abandon their heritage; that has happened in no other "civilized" (sic) country - not Brazil, not Mexico, not Australia, not New Zealand, not Canada. Yet, somehow, the very accomplishment that no other country in the world has managed to achieve within its own borders is one we modern Americans think we can successfully export to countries that have neither our faith nor our tolerance. As our 3rd great President/General put it: "There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard."

Peter Saint-Andre writes: 

Stefan, would you mind expanding on your point about native Americans and African slaves not needing to abandon their heritage, as such people did in Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada? An argument for this position seems important in the light of the 1491 and 1619 crowds.


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