Sending the sons and daughters of Americans to foreign lands to die or be maimed has become too easy. Mass media and technology have only helped to exacerbate this problem. Stories of brutal oppressions, including pictures of death and destruction wrought by man’s inhumanity to man can be found, beamed, or streamed to our TV’s and desktops instantly. Our humanity cries for justice, and our leaders seem too weak to standby. Yes, I wrote that they are too weak to standby. So, they use our technology to fashion justice from B2 Bombers that can travel from middle-America and back on a bombing mission. Or, they use our cruise missiles that can drive down streets and turn corners to pound bad guys from ships hundreds of miles away. When the smoke starts to rise, for some, we feel we have done something. After all, someone had to do something, right? Our rapid reaction teams, the Seals and Delta Force groups who can be inserted overnight anywhere in the world are probably there, on the ground, in whatever land we hit. If the missiles don’t do the jobs, our planes and then maybe even our combat troops will mete out justice for the western viewers who catch a little action between episodes of Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. Thank goodness someone did something. Really? Is that our American War Doctrine?
Is our American War Doctrine really “someone has to do something?” Is that how we decide who lives and dies? Who decided that we are that someone? Who decides where and when something must be done? Must we do something everywhere? When the Chinese roll over citizens with tanks, must we act? When Putin sends planes to bomb Muslim cities in Chechnya, under Russian control, should we set up a no-fly zone? When brutal dictator after brutal dictator butchers their own citizens for religious or political purposes in Africa, must we be the tip of justice’s sword in every locale? Who do we let die, and who do we protect? If someone must do something, and the someone must be us, who pays for it? Is that someone still us? Moreover, who authorizes such interventionist justice?
The War Powers Act says the President has 48 hours after taking action to notify Congress. Of course, the War Powers Act also envisions the necessity to take action to protect American interests. Is the War Powers Act even Constitutional? The Constitution provides only the Congress the right to make War. Is War not war if we don’t call it war? If I send cruise missiles, B2 Bombers, F-15 fighters, Harrier Jump jets, and electronic warfare jamming planes to hit targets, destroy buildings, attack ground forces, and kill people in a foreign country – are we not at War? Not one single American would argue that if a foreign country hit us with planes, missiles, and bombs in our cities, that it was not an Act of War. It is cynical political sophistry to argue that unleashing the most powerful army and weapons in the world on the cities and peoples of other countries is not war. It is either cynical politics or sheer ignorance.
Who gets to make war in this Country? The Congress does. Why does the Congress get to make war? It is because the elected representatives of the people have the right to determine whether those people will die and bleed in a foreign land. That is why the Constitution vests that power to make war with – and solely with – Congress. While the Constitution defines the President as the Commander and Chief, that only means that he is in charge of the military once the war has been declared. This makes complete sense. These questions of how we go to war are not or should not be nearly as complicated as the questions of when or why we go to war.
How does one country right every wrong of the world through its military might? It cannot happen. Moreover, no single country has such a right, and no single country has such an obligation. In fact, no single country has the means, morally, legally, politically, or economically to take on such a mission of wrong-righting. It is popular now in any debate for those who take one side to cite the wrong of the prior political party as a justification for their own wrongs. Only in math does the multiplication of negatives equal a positive. The addition of negatives in moral judgments does not. The fact that many Presidents might have acted wrongly does not justify this President or any future President to act wrongly. To argue otherwise defies logic. Smart people and smart nations should learn from mistakes, not use mistakes as excuses to make more mistakes.
When and under what circumstances should we use military power and risk our lives, our money, and our moral and legal standing in the world? This is the central question we must ask ourselves. Deploying the greatest military power in the world should be done sparingly, if ever. The choice to put at risk the lives of our kids, our dads, our moms, sisters, brothers, grandchildren or even grandparents, should be the choice of last resort. The political fights over the economic cost of war are laughable when viewed in the cost of human life – for which there is no price. Two smartly dressed soldiers at the door of a grieving mother to pay the country’s thanks and regrets for the service of a person forever lost is an occurrence that needs to be the rarest of occurrences in this country.
I have long considered myself a hawk. That’s right, I am a hawk, which some might consider an inconsistent notion for those who have read my previous paragraphs. I have never believed in nation building. I have supported military action where the case has been made that American interests are at stake. I have supported war in the absence of a declaration of war, though in both Afghanistan and Iraq I called for such a declaration.
Now, I want to better define what are American interests. I want to define them in a way that is simple, crisp, easy. I want to define American interests through one standard. If my son were a U.S. soldier, and he died in service, resulting in two soldiers appearing at my door to tell me and my wife that our son – our world – was forever gone, would I as an American be able to say he died for the interests of America? When viewed in that light, the bar of American interests is raised very high for me. It should be equally high for anyone else willing to send another man’s child off to war.
People believe that it is wrong or radical to say or write what I will below.
I think that every American life is more valuable than every life of any person in any country with whom we are at war. I’d rather lose 1 million lives of the country with whom we are at war, than see a single US serviceman or woman zipped into a body bag. If that US serviceman were my son, you can bet that I would rather see the entire opposing country and its people dead before my son were killed. Therein lies the problem with wars that are not wars, and interests that are not defined properly. When we can’t commit to a declaration of war, we admit that our interests are not sufficient to make war.
The making of war is not nation building, it is nation destroying. It is about destroying an enemy’s ability and desire to make war. The first can be done far more easily than the second. Micro wars and flirtations of war for political or economic purposes always leave later wars to be fought, and future antagonists with whom we must deal. Our inability to understand this can be traced to the mockery that began with Iran in the 1970’s. Once the enemy learned we were unwilling to bleed, and unwilling to kill them, they learned how to engage us. Since then, we have and will continue to die in the places of their choosing, in a perpetual state of war we refuse to fight or know not how to win.
Instead, we use our military for economic and political advantage, often making more enemies than we kill. We have created a war machine and war economy, ironically, to fight a series of wars we are unwilling to win. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not wars by definition. That’s just stupid. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands we have killed and the thousands of our kids who have died.
If we make war we must fight to win. Kill everyone you must in order to win, or don’t make war.
The American War Doctrine should be simple. Wars should be fought to total victory. All wars should be fought by declaration of war, except that when the US is actually attacked. Then, a President may take immediate action to defend us until such time as a declaration of war can be made. Wars, once declared, must have an end goal. That goal, total victory, must be defined.
The definition of total victory is the destruction of the means and desire of a country or peoples to make war against us. If this requires 10 dead, or 10,000,000 dead, that goal must be victory by unconditional surrender or defeat. Failure to fight a war this way will cost more American lives; a price I am not willing to pay. I won’t pay that price with your son or daughter … nor will I allow America to pay it with the life of my three children. Fight we will, and fight my family has. However, when you call us to battle, we want to win. We want to destroy our enemy and use every weapon we have to minimize any US death. Failure to get approval to fight a war this way means we simply do not have sufficient interests to be in the war at all. This self-policing mechanism is easy for keeping us out of war.
What are American Interests? American interests are the protection of our people, our property, and the rights of our people here and abroad. Every circumstance is different, and any President and Congress must make the case to our people before we go forward. Absent that case and declaration, we cannot and should not act with our military absent direct attack by the enemy upon us. Any action we may choose to take as part of an international coalition must be taken after a Congressional Declaration of War, and US forces shall not ever answer to operational authority outside of the US command structure.
That is an American War doctrine. Under it, a country or affiliation of peoples or countries who would justify a declaration of war by us should expect that we might elect total destruction as an option to win the war and protect American lives and interest. If we cannot commit to that, we have no business in the war business.
An American War doctrine knows no political party. Neither party has used our military wisely, and neither party has earned the right to send our kids to die on misadventures. Give our military the means to destroy an enemy; lock, stock, and barrel. We will do it. Everything else is politics, and our kids … rich, poor, legal, illegal, black, white, purple, republican, democrat, Jew, Catholic, or Muslim, need not bleed on anyone else’s dirt for the political gain of weak, soft, politicians of any party.
Patton once famously said, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”
In World War II, we fought to unconditional surrender. We firebombed city centers and used, as needed, atomic weapons. We won a world war in four years, because the aim was total victory. I repeat the most obvious truth … we should avoid war at every single cost … because the cost is so high. However, if forced to fight, we should make the enemy pay. We should fight to maximize enemy losses and minimize US losses and entanglements. We should do it under the will of our people, and for the protection of or people. If not, we ought not be bombing or shooting anyone.
Update: July 5, 2017 — The Looming confrontation presents exactly the questions I raised in this piece originally in 2011 … and again after the Syrian strike.
Note: I wrote this in 2011 as the “Kelsey War Doctrine.” With the action in Syria, tensions rising in North Korea, and Mr. Trump’s use of the #MOAB, it seemed relevant once again.
Author: Richard Kelsey
Richard Kelsey is the Editor-in-Chief of Committed Conservative.
He is a trial Attorney and author of the new book on higher education, “Of Serfs and Lords: Why College Tuition is Creating a Debtor Class”
Rich is a former Assistant Law School Dean and Law Professor. At Mason Law Kelsey conceived of, planned, and brought to fruition Mason’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, known as CPIP, drawing on his expertise as a former CEO of a technology company specializing in combating cyber-fraud.
Before returning to private practice, Rich taught legal writing and analysis and an advanced litigation seminar. In 2014 he was elected by the graduating class as the faculty speaker at their graduation.
He is a regular commentator on legal and political issues in print, radio and on TV. Rich has appeared on hundreds of stations as a legal expert or political commentator. He provided the legal analysis for all stages of the Bob McDonnell trial and appeal for numerous outlets including NPR and WMAL.
Rich also writes on occasion for the American Spectator and CNSNews.com.
In his free time, Rich is part of the baseball mafia of Northern Virginia, serving on numerous boards and as a little league and travel baseball coach.
His Twitter handle is @richkelsey.