Boots on the Ground

Lorelai Kelly has an absurdly good post thinking through the implications of the call for 100,000 more troops that's been echoing around. Do we need that many boots on the ground? Nut grafs:

We need more than boots. In fact, over-reliance on boots may be a primary cause of our public relations problems with the rest of the world. We need loafers, pumps, Birkenstocks, waffle-stompers, sensible flats and tourists in tennis shoes out around the planet… working to retrieve the golden reputation of the good ole USA. The more the face of America is seen in uniform and holding weapons, the less this reputation holds up.

Now, I love the Army as much as anybody, so why do I have a problem with it expanding to carry out ever more duties around the globe? This question needs to be answered with perspective sharing. The American experience with the military institution is by and large positive and mutual. Civilian control over the military is scrupulous and most military officers themselves know democratic principles backwards and forwards.

This is, however, not true for many countries. Just think back two or three decades. In Central and South America, military dictatorships crushed popular participation and democracy. Today, countries where the military is the most functional government organizations are not considered healthy (Pakistan) by any democratic standard. If the United States bills itself as the paragon of democracy, it should model balanced partnership between civilians and the military. Today, as is discussed frequently on this blog, that is just not the case in our tools for engagement.

Well put. If you're interested in America's current over-reliance on military for all manner of foreign engagement (diplomatic, humanitarian, peace-keeping, well-building, etc), you can't do much better than to read Dana Priest's The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military. Priest follows our military in a number of war zones, former war zones, and simple trouble spots as they attempt to conduct all sorts of American business that has nothing to do with fighting or force. It's a real problem, though likely a necessary consequence of the country's unwillingness to cut the smallest ounce of defense spending, willingness to accept massive tax breaks, and proclivity to elect myopic administrations during international crises that require at least a bit of vision. Without some high level force explaining that other countries need to see Americans who don't carry weapons, and without easy money to put towards such a program, it's really no surprise that the burden has fallen on our grunts.