America’s Military: The Spirit Is Willing, But Is the Flesh Too Weak to Win an Old-Fashioned War in the Age of Wokeness?

By Timothy Furnish Published on April 23, 2024

Wars and rumors of wars abound. The worst of the former right now are, of course, Ukraine v. Russia and Israel v. Iran and its legion of proxies. The latter? Most ominously, mainland Communist China moving to “retake” Taiwan, with the US becoming involved.

And those conflicts are just in the “nation rising against nation” category. There are also what are called America’s “operations other than war” in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Africa. The United States has been acting as globo-cop since 1945 — and is not immune to its own occasional brand of police brutality (such as overthrowing Iran’s government in 1953 and invading Iraq 50 years later for no good reason).

In this millennium alone, America has used military force overseas 72 times. In fact, such “kinetic diplomacy” has largely become the rule, not the exception, for presidents of both parties.

Changing Threat Environment: From the USSR to Russia to Communist China

But the geopolitical times, they are a-changin’. From 1945 to 1991, the US and USSR were roughly equal militarily. However, the latter’s command economy and strident Marxism proved no match for capitalism and Jeffersonian democracy. So the Soviet Union collapsed, and America dominated the globe for two decades.

But something happened on the way to the end of history — something the neoconservatives and globalists did not intend. The backward People’s Republic of China made great economic leaps forward, bypassing America in total wealth in 2021.

But unlike the Soviets, the Chinese don’t force Communism down others’ throats. Instead, they trumpet their system’s competence and stability. And most importantly, all that wealth has allowed the PRC to vastly upgrade its military.

Meanwhile, nationalist and Orthodox Christian Russia remains the world’s largest nuclear power with considerable conventional forces, even after losses in Ukraine. And other nations, like India, North Korea, and Iran, can no longer be ignored.

Where does that leave the US in terms of military power? Is the world’s largest Christian country, with a secular ruling elite, still the arsenal of democracy? Or was Chairman Mao Zedong prescient in calling us a paper tiger?

Good News about the US Military

First, the good news.

According to hard power metrics, the US remains the world’s top military power, just ahead of Russia and China. Our defense budget of $831 billion is greater than that of the rest of the top 10 combined. We lead the world in combat aircraft, armored fighting vehicles, attack helicopters, aircraft carriers, destroyers/cruisers, and combat drones. (Russia is ahead in total surface ships, submarines, tanks, self-propelled artillery and, as noted, nuclear weapons. China has the most manpower, however.)

Also, the US has far more institutional warfighting experience. Since World War II, we’ve fought conventional wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan. The USSR/Russia has engaged against China (yes, briefly, in 1969), and in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine (twice). China has really fought only one major conflict, against Vietnam in 1979.

The Bad News

Now the bad news. We’ve been losing our technological edge for some time.

Many Air Force planes are not “mission capable” at any given time. No wonder, since some of them are over 50 years old. (There are B-52s only 20 years younger than Joe Biden.)

Ditto for our Navy ships, many of which are Cold War leftovers and kept sailing only by cannibalizing others.

The Navy can’t meet its recruiting goals, and the Army does so only by lowering them.

Weapons ConvoyThe Biden administration has depleted our stockpiles of munitions by sending so much of them to Ukraine, despite questions about whether we even have the capability to replace some of them.

We’ve Won a Lot of Wars Recently — but Not against Equals

Yes, we’ve fought in a lot of wars since defeating Hitler and Hirohito, but none against a peer competitor since, arguably, Korea — when the Chinese got involved.

For almost a quarter-century, since 9/11, our military endeavors have been almost entirely counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Taking on technicals is a far cry from battling Chinese T-99 or Russian T-90 tanks, however. Ditto for the Taliban v. Russian Spetsnaz and/or the People’s Liberation Army. (Keeping in mind that even the former did eventually drive us out of Afghanistan.)

And how long can we continue massive military spending when we’re over $34 TRILLION in debt, $20 trillion of which is external? By contrast, Beijing’s external debt is only $2 trillion, Russia’s $500 billion.

Neither “Paper Tiger” nor “Arsenal of Democracy” Right Now

Our troops have made many great sacrifices, some heroic, when called upon over the last several decades. Their bravery and sense of duty is unquestioned. It is our policymakers and top military leadership who have become comfortable beating up on second-rate powers (like Iraq), sending SEALS after would-be caliphs, and droning terrorists from afar. We’ve gotten great at asymmetric warfare, at least when it’s not tied to nation-rebuilding fundamentalist Islamic countries.

But how will we fare against, God forbid, a symmetrical force like Russia or China? Or both at once? Too many of our politicians seem all too eager to find out. We probably can’t win a two-front war any more, as was our defense policy for many years. We may not even be able to fight one. The US is no longer the world’s military hyperpower. so we need to plan accordingly.

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Yes, we’re still the single most powerful military force on Planet Earth. So to paraphrase the Beatles, “don’t go carrying water” for Chairman Mao, or his modern incarnation Xi Jinping, on this point. Alternatively, however, democracy’s armory is not what it used to be. There are too many rusty weapons in there. That can be remedied, but not in the short term.

A Grand Strategy Warning from the Gospel of Luke

Besides warning us about wars, Christ told the brief parable of the warring king. President Joe Biden and his successor(s) need to consider whether they are able with their 1.3 million men and advanced (but aging) weapons systems to oppose China with its two million soldiers and very short supply lines to Taiwan. (Haven’t we learned our lesson about land wars in Asia?)

The same applies to Russia, with its 1.3 million troops, legions of tanks, and nuclear superiority, in Ukraine.

The spirit of America’s fighting men and women is willing (despite the DEI virus), but we don’t want to find out that the sinews of our armed forces’ flesh are too weak to carry all the Uniparty’s warmongering demands.

 

Timothy Furnish holds a doctoral degree in Islamic, world and African history from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor, and occasional media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults with The Stream on matters of international security.

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