Planning for the Last War

I am in the midst of an exchange with a former colleague. He is a retired political scientist who decades ago belonged to a small but hardy band analysts who questioned the conventional wisdom about Soviet naval strategy. It turns out that he and his comrades-in-arms were right, and the conventional wisdom was wrong. He worries, with good reason, that history might repeat itself, and is working on a paper to document the events of 40 years ago and the possibility that history is repeating itself.

I have no doubt that history is repeating itself. This is from a recent message from me to him:

It seems as if the Pentagon [of the 1970s] was planning to fight the last war (or two), just because that’s the way things are usually done. Fast forward to 2018: What war(s) is the Pentagon planning to fight now? I’m not au courant with the defense budget, but I believe that it’s considerably smaller (in constant dollars) than it was in the 1980s [after adjusting for the cost of America’s present wars]. Which means, rhetoric aside, that the Pentagon is actually planning to refight the wars of the past 28 years, with a side-helping of skirmishes of other kinds. In any event, it can’t be on the scale of the two-major/one-minor war strategy of the McNamara era, which (de facto) animated the Reagan buildup after the post-Vietnam let-down. The point of this ramble is to suggest that the U.S. is in a position (once again) to be “surprised” by the not-so-sudden emergence of an aggressive power or axis of them. You may not subscribe to this view, but if you do, some discussion of it in your paper would underline the essential point: The dire consequences of [the] persistent misreading of a potential enemy’s intentions and capabilities. It’s an old refrain, which begins (at least) with Pearl Harbor and extends through North Korea’s invasion of the South, the Tet Offensive (and some later reruns), 9/11, and the emergence of IS.


Related posts:
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Defense Spending: One More Time
Pacifism
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
Much Ado about Civilian Control of the Military
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues

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