Our Culture Inchoate: Geo-Politics #15
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Congresswoman Honoria Torres speaks at the Defense Institute.
DEFENSE INSTITUTE OF THE DISTRICT, POLICY SPEECH OF DECEMBER 10, 2018
As recorded on CNF
CONGRESSWOMAN HONORIA TORRES (T): Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to speak as one of the presenters to your institute today. Even though I am not on any military committees, I am an outspoken critic of both my party, the previous administration, and the current administration in several matters, most importantly defense policy. I believe that the institute is acting in a forthright manner recognizing that there are numerous issues and opinions, but that they all must lead to one absolute conclusion… our national security.
On background, I see three existential issues for the United States: national defense, the national fisc, and our national health… not healthcare per se, although that is a part of it, but health day to day, from nutrition to pre-existing conditions, to our environment and how we respect it, to our cities and roads and water treatment and how we use power daily. Our cultural health is crucial, too.
America is the indispensable nation. And it should always remain so, but it’s more than the money that drives that.
We have about five percent of the world’s land mass and about five percent of the world’s population. We also have fifty percent of the world’s lawyers, but that’s a talk for another day.
One of our strengths on the world stage is our location. A wiser sage once said that we have large land masses of friendly neighbors to our north and south, and we are surrounded on our east and west by fish. Border and territory disputes, in respect to national security, are not in dispute as to location, but more in debate as to method of ingress. So be it. It is extremely unlikely that our nation’s shores will be under attack very soon.
Our security is at risk from within, if you listen to the pundits and hell-raisers. Perhaps. But the real risk to our nation’s existence is from the erosion of the fundamentals of friendships and allies, and our willingness to live up to obligations we have made.
We all know America’s interests span the globe. Our economy drives the world’s prosperity, safety, and health. Americans alone earn more than twenty percent of the world’s total income. And if we do not pull our allies along with us, financially and with security of opportunity, we run the risk of bad isolation, though some isolation is necessary.
At the risk of oversimplification, we have an imbalance of support of our deployed military throughout the world, and its rebalance is crucial to supporting our smaller allies and paying the bill now, instead of kicking it into the future.
First, Europe. The US has over 40,000 active military in Europe, the majority in Germany. We have steadily declined from over 200,000 in 1990, almost 30 years ago. But the mission, and the necessity of our battle ready troops in Central Europe, is no longer needed. We should continue removing our manpower presence there at a faster pace. But not our missiles.
The Middle East. It is an intractable problem, but our strongest and most important ally in the region, Israel, is an oasis of democracy there. We should be diplomatic in respect to her neighbors, but as long as they do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and still wished to push our ally into the sea, we should cut off aid to all other actors. There should be no daylight between the US and Israel.
I never believed that getting involved in Syria for the long term was a wise idea. Syria is a nasty place, governed by a despot who gasses and kills his own citizens. It is not an oasis; it is a cesspool of murderers, bad actors, and rival religious fanatics. And it is not about religion, my friends, it is about political power, using the name of the Muslim god as authority. We know it is only about power. Syria, as backward and disgraceful as it is, is still a sovereign nation. This is internal, a civil war. Yes, Iran is fueling the problem there, hoping that the USA will get mired in it. The Russians were allowed in by the previous administration during its misguided “leading from behind” diplomatic phase. Our only real ally is the Kurdish people, who have been fighting the political and military machines of all local actors, Turkey and Syria mostly, for almost a century. Assist them, of course, but not with our men and women in uniform.
Why stay there at all? Because the Russians, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War, are now back into the region, essentially at American request. Tragic and unnecessary, but there you have it. The Russians wanted a warm water port on the Mediterranean, and now they will have it. Let them earn it through their alliance with Syria. We don’t belong there.
We do belong in Iraq. As General Colin Powell said almost a generation ago, “if you break it, you own it.” We did both, and our withdrawal was correct, but I think our presence is too thin. Why wouldn’t we take the table of organization from Germany and fix it in Iraq? I have a cynical answer: because it is not a cool duty station.
No restaurants, no green forests, no easy transport throughout the castles and churches of Europe. No fun in Iraq. Forget two or three year duty tours in Baghdad as we have in Europe, with dependents; the deployments in Iraq would be a numbing 12 months. The turnover would be hard, the duty would be harder, but 5,000 troops there now barely defends the mess halls. We need a robust fully supported mechanized division there, with a full complement of air support, constantly on maneuvers, constantly at the ready. We broke it, for good or ill, and we own it. Strategically, it is centrally located in the region, giving us leverage and a base of operations for generations to come.
Iran is not an ally and is no longer a lesser actor. They are an adversary of the first order, as is Russia and China. Not enemies, per se, at this time. But we compete with Iraq for strategic interests, and we need to put our interests, and that of our allies, first. The previous administration failed here, miserably. Through executive order an agreement was made that should have been brought to the Senate as a treaty. It wasn’t and it is being undone as we speak, piece by piece. But the damage is done.
Afghanistan. We have no business being there. Our nation has been there for over 17 years, without a clear mandate and with nothing to claim as victory. It has been estimated that over 75% of the Taliban strategic targets were wiped out within the first six months after 9/11. So why have we sacrificed our best over 17 years? We have had a new theater commander there every year, each one coming home to a promotion or praised in retirement, but nothing has been achieved. No real accountability for this stalemate, or better, victory, because no clear picture of what victory looks like has been crafted… at least not one that we are capable and committed to exploring. We have almost 2,000 military deaths due to hostile action, but were you aware that there have also been almost 1,800 hostile deaths of civilian contractors? This is a mission?
There is one element that the previous administration got right: withdrawal from Afghanistan. But over nearly 8 years it did not have the political courage to articulate it to the American people, and caved under internal pressure. So we are letting a lot of ticked off poppy farmers and pederasts dictate our foreign policy and the lives of our best and brightest. Privates are maimed or die. Generals get well-heeled retirement and book tours. Insane and irresponsible.
American technology is far superior to any and all adversaries, including the potential deployment of nuclear weapons. The world assumes that we would avoid the use of WMD, but the bad and lesser actors have no such desire to show any restraint on their own. Take North Korea. This is truly a lesser actor, incapable even of feeding its own people. But they have developed the atomic weapon, and make a big showing of its incompetence at rocketry. The current administration sees low hanging fruit and an opportunity to forestall a crisis through a handshake and charm. I don’t know where this could lead, but it certainly does not address the real actor in the region: China.
China is fast becoming a world super power, economically and militarily. We kid ourselves if we do not think that communist China does not dictate the actions of its acolyte, North Korea. Watch closely as almost-crises occur with more frequency in the South China Sea. We must find diplomatic and economic solutions, but we must continue to show forward deployed strength, primarily through our US Navy.
China has no monopoly on human rights abuses and anti-religious attitudes. But we cannot forget in its march to economic dominance that China is communist, first and foremost. Capitalist nations and free peoples are an aberration to them. Communism and socialism are always wrong and on many levels are inherently evil. Communism is totalitarian in the name of equality. It kills innocents and has killed as a tenet of its political faith tens of millions of its own people in the last century. Communism and socialism aren’t dead. Neither is evil. Perhaps they never will be. Therefore we must resist these false charms with every fiber of our being.
If you’ve been keeping track, you must know I did not mention a few of our shaky allies. And I do mean shaky. Saudi Arabia. Egypt. Turkey. And to a sad and lesser extent, Venezuela.
The House of Saud is a beneficiary of our military assistance and discounting of hardware to maintain their own defense. Recent actions by its government shows the rot from within, the idea of theirs that the Saudis are above common understanding of right and wrong and international law. It is worse than that. The Wahhabism is the real power player there, and the Saudis are deathly afraid of holding that tiger’s tail. This kingdom, if you will, has had the world by its neck over a fluke of geography. They used to sit on the world’s largest oil reserves, and strangled the market by setting prices somewhat arbitrarily. The USA caved when prices set by OPEC were allowed to spike. But no more. Technological advances have made oil cheap, and in a special boon to the US, we can produce our own oil for generations. The Sauds’ money machine is steady but on the wane. Russia and Venezuela are beholden to market forces that drive the supply up and the price down.
But we still assist Saudi Arabia in its bid to assist a political solution to a civil war in Yemen. Through corruption and ineptitude, most of the casualties in Yemen have been civilian, and a crisis of epic proportions is in a full sprint. US foreign aid (among other allies) have assisted Saudi bombing in Yemen. Without a clear path to victory. Another civil war. The only reason this is not headline news here is that there are no US forces on the ground. The root of the Yemen situation is the Egyptian “Arab Spring,” another political power play. Another disaster. Another violent coup for power. Another attempt by crazed forces and despots to get larger players to interfere on their behalf. We should not take the bait.
Turkey is a NATO ally of ever weakening resolve. Its strongman and president, Erdogan, sees the vacuum of Middle East power and a chance that he can control the entire region: he has condemned Israel in stronger terms, he denies the US any Turkish airspace for military use, he brutalizes the Kurds, and he is undermining the Saudis through his subterfuge in respect to the Khashoggi assassination. Erdogan need not have tried so hard. The Saudis responsible, yes, the head of its government, are selfish, myopic, and despicable actors with no real sense of right and wrong. Just their hold on power.
The sad case is Venezuela, a country rich in natural resources but poor in integrity. Having squandered its legitimate market riches on corruption of friendly insiders, its own people are starving to death. Should we be directly involved? Not unless it extends beyond its borders; no, we should not. Aid in food and other essentials, where practical and safe and possible, but not one armed American. The Venezuelan situation is sad and disgraceful, especially in our day and age of plenty.
At the root of all four is a corruption of power. Our American interests have often trumped our American ideals, no pun intended. But we should not give up our ideals, even if our interests are at stake. To condemn a bad action by an ally or adversary is one thing. To isolate ourselves or antagonize is another. America should always maintain our ideals, keep them close to our policies, set the example, but act in our interests. The shame of our current administration is that Mr. Trump cannot separate the concepts of ideals and interests of America from his public utterances, which is often a dog’s breakfast of scattered and limited depth of understanding of the world stage and the long arc of history. I believe he is influenced by the last person in his office or on his phone. That is not a resolute figure, but an impulsive one.
It is necessary to hold our allies accountable to contracts and agreements for payment of defense, but we should not do that through public humiliation. Americans tend to shrug off churlish comments and stupid bullying. Other nations and cultures have longer and painfully bitter memories.
America must remain the indispensable nation. There are too many bad actors, too many competing interests, and our adversaries become stronger every day, with little or no outward accountability.
And we must be better allies, or they will find friends elsewhere… against our ideals, and in their own interests.
Thank you for you time. God Bless America.