Maybe not. Probably not.
One President after another brags that America has the strongest military in the world – even those presidents unwilling to use it when necessary. Consequently, the “strongest military in the world” has not won a war since World War II – unless you count our incursions into Panama and Belize (In case you do not recall those brief battles, we ousted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and put down a Commie effort to topple the U.S.-friendly government in Belize).
The theory that the U.S. still has the strongest military on earth may no longer be true.
And that is significant in terms of overall world leadership. President Teddy Roosevelt put it simply – “speak softly and carry a big stick.” That “stick” is the military.
No nation can exert world economic, political or moral leadership without superior military capability. Successful diplomacy is predicated on the military option – as a credible threat or a reality.
During occasional dinners with President Reagan’s Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger some years ago, he would convey to me that America needed a “two war capability” to maintain world leadership and national security.
He said that if we were in a war in the Middle East – and only had the military resources to fight one war – every other adversarial nation – such as Russia, China, North Korea and even Cuba – would engage in international expansionism and aggression against the interests of the United States.
Weinberg feared back then that America was losing its two-war capability – hence the Reagan military build-up and arms race with Russia, our most dangerous adversary at the time. The strategy was successful – and the old Soviet Union was dismantled. For a period, the United States military was far superior to any other nation on earth.
Today, many military experts believe that we have ceded military dominance to China. They have a larger Navy and Air Force than the United States. While we have a number of warships in the Asian waters, China has more than enough ballistic capability to take them out of commission within minutes.
The folks at the Pentagon – who run various war scenarios through their computers – have made an alarming assessment.
In a full-scale war with China, we would likely lose. That’s right. The allegedly most powerful military on earth cannot be guaranteed to win a war against one enemy – much less more than one.
Military experts also contend that Iran has developed such a large modern military, that it would be too costly for the United States to engage in a real war with Tehran.
For several decades, the United States lacked the will to EFFECTIVELY engage our military. This resulted in long wars of attrition, but no victories. Today, we appear to lack more than the will – but the very resources. Every nation on earth – allies and adversaries – now know that America cannot even make a credible threat of military action to enforce our national policies.
The Chinese can and will continue to build man-made island military installations and claim hegemony over the South China Sea. They can crush the democracy movement in Hong Kong with impunity. Despite our longstanding defense treaty with Taiwan – both China and Taiwan know that the U.S. does not have the resolve or the ability to stop any China aggression.
Russia can extend its influence in the Middle East without fear of American reprisal. North Korea and Iran can pursue their nuclear ambitions – knowing that we will not be able to stop them. They ignore all agreements because they know we cannot enforce them.
As a nation, America can debate and bluster in the diplomatic venues. But we are no longer the nation with the biggest stick.
So, there ‘tis.