America's Military Decline: What Does It Mean?

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America's Military Decline

What Does It Mean?

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Most citizens would agree that the first and primary duty of any state is protection from hostile outside forces, including rogue nations and terrorist groups. The preamble of the U.S. Constitution states that a key reason for its establishment was to "provide for the common defence" of the nation and its people. So how is the nation doing in that regard? Let's take a hard look at America's temperature in terms of its national security.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once wrote that "to lead, a great nation must command the respect of others" ("Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-First Century," Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007). Countries well understand and respect the message of awesome military might—and more importantly a nation's willingness to use it. Former President Lyndon Johnson said during the Vietnam War that "it is our will that is being tried, not our strength" (State of the Union Address, Jan. 17, 1968). This insightful observation seems truer today than it was over 45 years ago during that other tumultuous time.

Yet America's actual military strength is also being eroded—through many years of war, continuing interventions abroad and intentional downsizing. Where will this ultimately lead?

The downside of massive military cuts

Substantial and continuing cuts in U.S. troop strength, essential military hardware and advanced weapons research seem inevitable. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that "the sweeping budget cuts over the next 10 years could leave the nation with an ill-prepared, under-equipped military doomed to face more technologically advanced enemies" ("Chuck Hagel Warns of Deep Army and Navy Cuts Unless Congress Acts," Associated Press, July 31, 2013).

As U.S. leadership debated what to do in response to Syrian chemical-weapons attacks against its own citizenry, defense expert Bill Gertz reported in an online article that "the U.S. military, struggling after defense cuts of tens of billions of dollars, will be unable to pay for attacks on Syria from current operating funds and must seek additional money from Congress, according to congressional aides" ("Pentagon Can't Afford Syria Operation; Must Seek Additional Funds," The Washington Free Beacon, Aug. 30, 2013).

Also amid the prospect of looming massive budget cuts, the nation's army, navy, air force and marines are arguing over their respective shares of a shrinking military budget. A bureaucratic battle is well underway to determine who gets what and how much.

As an insightful article in The Wall Street Journal observed, "The emerging debate is expected to be the most intense in two decades as the branches of the military seek to retool their missions to match the needs of future conflicts" (Julian Barnes, "Branches of Military Battle Over Sinking War Chest," Aug. 2-4, 2013).

Massive military waste and scrapping

Another side to this story is the massive waste associated with military cutbacks—literally billions of dollars worth of equipment being scrapped or left in Afghanistan and incredibly wasteful boondoggles in disposing of no-longer-needed military equipment stateside.

The pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will be easy in comparison with moving out all the military equipment. As Time magazine reported:

"It is all part of a retrograde, the military term used for the dismantling of everything the U.S. took to Afghanistan to fight the war. The list ranges from aircraft and weapons systems to computers and satellites to blimps that suspend security cameras high in the air . . . Then there is what commanders call 'stuff': cables, repair parts, building materials and, yes, junk, sitting in tens of thousands of those containers . . . It could cost $5.7 billion [to move it all back to the United States]" (Nate Rawlings, "Return to Sender," March 18, 2013).

Apparently the original plan was to return most of the equipment stateside. But by early summer, reports indicated that America "will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment—about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan—because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home . . . Much of it will continue to be shredded, cut and crushed to be sold for pennies per pound on the Afghan scrap market" (Ernesto Londono, "Scrapping Equipment Key to Afghan Drawdown," The Washington Post, June 19, 2013, emphasis added throughout).

Waste in Afghanistan constitutes only a part of this troubling turn of events. Army surplus giveaways stateside have also come to light. An Associated Press report revealed that "tons of equipment discarded by a downsizing military—bicycles, bed sheets, bowling pins, French horns, dog collars, even a colonoscopy machine"—have been given away to law enforcement agencies, "regardless of whether the items are needed or will ever be used" ("Little Restraint in Military Giveaways to Small-Town Police Departments," Aug. 1).

An AP investigation of the massive Defense Department giveaway program, which was "originally aimed at helping law enforcement fight terrorism and drug trafficking," discovered that "a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 has been obtained by police departments and sheriff's offices in rural areas with few officers and little crime" (ibid.). Obviously this wasteful military giveaway exercise has been conducted with little oversight.

Allies worry about America's global commitment

At this writing, provoked by the use of chemical weaponry by the Syrian Assad regime crossing the so-called red line, the United States and perhaps France are contemplating limited air strikes on selected targets in Syria—but not without prior approval from Congress. (Normally, it's bad military strategy to tip one's hand so far in advance.) Clearly, the overall posture of American leadership remains far from encouraging.

The United States has long been the world's policeman. We are now seeing what happens when the policeman can't be depended on—growing chaos all over the world, and not least in the chaotic Middle East. A related consequence is that other countries and terrorist groups aren't afraid to openly defy the United States. Witness Syria, North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan for starters.

Gideon Rachman articulated this principle in the Financial Times: "Syria is an uncomfortable reminder that geopolitics abhors a vacuum. If the west is unable to help restore order in an anarchic situation, other forces will emerge—whether it is jihadists in Mali or a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan" ("Obama Looks Inward, America's Allies Worried," Jan. 22, 2013). Rachman reminded his readers that President Obama had stated that "a decade of war is now ending." Remember that America's reluctant approach to military air strikes in Libya occasioned the unfortunate phrase "leading from behind."

Is that the way General of the Army Douglas MacArthur conducted himself in World War II or Korea? Is that what Winston Churchill did when facing national threat? It's a well-known fact that Prime Minister Churchill had to be prevented from personally joining the Allied troops' D-Day invasion of German-occupied France by King George VI himself.

A recent headline in The Times of London is even more pointed about America's current military posture regarding its allies: "US to Us: Protect Your Own Backyard, Baby." The blurb immediately following summarized the article's point: "Today's America won't pay to send troops to the other side of the world to sort out other countries' problems" (Aug. 24, 2013).

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, summed up the state of global geopolitics when strong American leadership is absent: "There should be no doubt that the United States, alone among nations, can provide the leadership to solve the problems that will otherwise engulf the world" ("Necessity, Choice, and Common Sense," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2009).

Economics: the bottom line

Even prosperous nations cannot always simultaneously have both "guns and butter"—an advanced, strong defense as well as expensive social programs such as universal health insurance. Giles Whittell, writing in the Times article cited above, restates some uncomfortable facts: "America's National Debt will be soon be more than $17 trillion. Defence spending accounts for a fifth of the federal spending . . . It costs a million dollars a year to keep one soldier in a war zone and $6.5 million a day to keep a carrier battle group at sea."

In his Foreign Affairs essay Leslie Gelb summarized the inevitable outcome: "The United States is now the biggest debtor nation in history, and no nation with a massive debt has ever remained a great power." The blurb below the title of Rachman's Financial Times piece adds, "US strength in the world rests on the power of its economy." Without that strength, the world will increasingly disdain American leadership.

The visionary early U.S. President Thomas Jefferson foresaw America's potential legacy to the world in advance. He believed, as he expressed on leaving the presidency, that the United States was the "solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence . . . to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence" (March 4, 1809).

Mid-20th-century President Harry Truman once said, "I have the feeling that God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose" (address at a church cornerstone laying, April 3, 1951). But the United States is now beginning to falter and fail in fulfilling that great purpose, unable or unwilling to share its great legacy of freedom and self-government with other nations. They no longer listen, and not a few now see America as an enemy.

The pride of American power broken

The United States' basic problem remains a deeply spiritual and moral one. Turning our backs on God, we no longer want to uphold His spiritual laws centered on the Ten Commandments. Today we don't even want to be reminded of them in our schools or our courts. "You shall not murder" becomes meaningless in a land that has killed millions of its unborn children.

But the Bible is not silent about the inevitable consequences of such errant behavior. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 are two biblical chapters that describe the bountiful blessings God promises for obedience to His laws as well as, in sharp contrast, the multiple curses listed for casting these laws aside.

In principle these two chapters were intended for all mankind but are more specifically directed to ancient Israel and its descendants—especially the major English-speaking nations today. (For the biblical and historical evidence of our national identity, read the Bible study aid The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)

Notice one particular passage. God warns, "I will break the pride of your power" (Leviticus 26:19). At the end of World War II, America was the world's unquestioned superpower. Yet less than a decade later the United States left Korea with an uncertain truce, and the communist North threatens the South (and the United States) to this day. In two more decades America was defeated in Vietnam. Now it has withdrawn from Iraq, leaving that country in terrible shape (as the current outbreaks of violence clearly shows), and even now its forces are retreating from Afghanistan.

How was the United States beaten by such countries? The answer is sobering and fits the prophecy from Leviticus quoted above. Although America still has the most powerful military power in the world even after massive cuts, the fact is that we don't or won't use it.

Look at the plain facts. America with all its might could not prevail over comparatively primitive forces, tribesmen fighting from caves. These enemies had no navy, air force or sophisticated war machinery. Yet America abandoned the fight. Long ago God foretold our military decline due to our sins and rejection of His righteous way of life.

Civil War President Abraham Lincoln once stated: "At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? . . . I answer; If it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction, be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher" (Lyceum address, Jan. 27, 1838).

Another crucial passage comes to the fore: "The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth" (Deuteronomy 28:25).

Why? Because "righteousness exalts a nation. But sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34). Righteousness clearly involves keeping God's commandments (Psalm 119:172), but sin is the transgression of His law (1 John 3:4)—and lawbreaking carries horrendous consequences.

A warning call to repentance

Nearly every issue of The Good News magazine emphasizes or includes a call to national and individual repentance, not only to America but also to the other English-speaking nations (principally Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand). We are taking up the mantle of the prophet Ezekiel to be latter-day watchmen for the descendants of ancient Israel: "I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me" (Ezekiel 3:17).

These words are those of God speaking through a prophet (2 Peter 1:21). These prophetic utterances are often dual in nature, as they tend to be fulfilled twice or more—first in a preliminary manner and later in a more primary way. (For some examples, see our Bible study aid You Can Understand Bible Prophecy.)

Ezekiel's direct warning—a charge from our Creator—is repeated for emphasis in chapter 33, verse 7 (Ezrekiel 33:7). Another prophet, Isaiah, adds to what watchmen should be doing: "For thus has the Lord said to me: 'Go set a watchman, let him declare what he sees'" (Isaiah 21:6). On a continual basis, the editors and writers of The Good News strive to monitor and analyze significant current events and trends from a biblical viewpoint.

And this is serious business! Not only has America lost a lot of respect abroad, but the country also finds itself in serious trouble with God. There is a tipping point—a point of no return—in regard to our Creator's deep concern about our national direction.

Late in the history of the kingdom of Judah, God instructed the prophet Jeremiah not to pray for the nation's peoples because their many and increasing sins had caused them to cross that proverbial line with God (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14). Remember the proverb: "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1). This warning passage also has national implications.

Jesus Christ tells us that the great Flood came on a people caught by surprise (Luke 17:26-30), in spite of Noah's sober warnings. He was "a preacher of righteousness" to the known world of that day (2 Peter 2:5). God had given these ancients 120 years to repent (Genesis 6:3). We simply don't know how long we may still have, but God's patience is clearly running out and the curses He foretold long ago are beginning to pile one upon another.

Will Americans turn from their ways before it's too late? Pray fervently for a resounding national repentance!


[Read the articles: Cuts in Defense Spending: Australia, Britain & Canada, The American Military: A Testing Ground for Social Change and The Humiliation of America and What It Means for You]