President Trump is all about “strength” and he loves to tweet about our military, his own draft-dodging notwithstanding. In a sense, Trump is a perfect fit for our era, when all America has left is raw military power. Our economy has been in decline for decades, our divided society displays unmissable rot, and our politics are a partisan shamble in the aftermath of 2016. What America has left is its military, which is the ultimate underpinning of hegemony.
However, just how much military overmatch the Pentagon has left, after a near-generation of down-punching in the Middle East against fourth-rate foes without strategic success, is now America’s great imponderable. We have spent trillions of dollars on Iraq, Afghanistan, and killing jihadists all over, and the price in military obsolescence and declining morale is evident to anyone who wants to see.
Our Air Force, which hasn’t faced a serious peer competitor in the skies since the middle of the Second World War, is shedding pilots at an alarming rate, while it has far too few F-22 fighters to maintain air dominance worldwide, which Washington has taken as a given for decades. However, our Navy is in even worse shape, with a staggering number of admirals under a cloud for participation in an appalling corruption-cum-espionage scandal, while our fleet in 2017 demonstrated that it has lost grip on basic navigation at sea, with fatal results. Considering the U.S. Navy has been the guarantor of freedom of navigation on the world’s seas since 1945, the protector of international trade and the backbone of American hegemony, its sad decline has far-reaching consequences.
That said, our Army is equally unready for battle against a peer. In its shadow war in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s ground forces have demonstrated killing capabilities far beyond what America and NATO can do. The combination of Russian long-range artillery and electronic warfare has obliterated whole Ukrainian battalions, and right now they would do the same to the U.S. Army. Grave underinvestment in field artillery and electronic warfare hangs over our army. Russia has excelled at artillery for centuries, and that arm is the great killer on the modern battlefield. Armies that go into battle outgunned by the Russians historically get blasted off the field with heavy casualties. Right now, the U.S. Army is frantically playing catch-up so it can take on the Russians as equals if it comes to a fight
Our army’s opening performance has often been subpar, as demonstrated by defeats like Kasserine Pass and Task Force Smith. However, America always had time on our side to turn it around. We may not if the battlefield is in the Baltics, which the Russians may overrun in a couple days, before the U.S. Army has a chance to stop the invader. These are the scenarios that keep Pentagon planners up at night as we enter the new year.
Above all, Trump’s go-it-alone attitude is precisely the wrong take as American hegemony disappears. Some empires decline slowly, others fall fast after a major defeat; history is filled with both outcomes. Since 1945, Washington has presumed that it can deploy our military anywhere, at the time and place of our choosing, thanks to our dominance of the world’s skies and oceans. Even in a worst case, we could always get our forces home. This should no longer be assumed. The world has changed, American hegemony has collapsed, and if it’s not careful Washington may find out the hard way. Let’s hope cooler and wiser heads prevail in 2018.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.https://archive.fo/MMzUMhttp://observer.com/2017/12/president-trump-inherited-a-hegemon-in-decline-inflicted-more-damage/