The U.S. experience in Vietnam from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s was more than a tragedy; to many Americans it was a waste of lives and treasure. The failure to defeat North Vietnam and its principle backer, the Soviet Union, coupled to the defense draw down that began even before all U.S. forces had withdrawn from Southeast Asia was interpreted in Moscow as evidence of a profound strategic and political shift. Russian foreign policy and defense experts wrote hundreds of studies and articles proclaiming that the era of U.S. military and political preeminence was over. This period also coincided with a massive expansion of the Soviet military, the attainment of nuclear parity with the U.S., the creation of a blue water Navy and the establishment of bases and alliance relationships in a number of foreign countries. Moscow saw America’s “decline” as its opportunity to expand its influence and extend its military position.
The United States appears to be at a similar point today. We are withdrawing from our final conflict in Southwest Asia and simultaneously reducing defense spending and drawing down our military. Sequestration has demonstrated that the decades-old consensus on America’s role in the world and the importance of a strong national defense no longer holds sway with either the executive or legislative branches of government. The services have published detailed lists of all the major platforms and military units that will be rendered incapable of being deployed into combat.
At the very time we are beginning to dismantle the world’s greatest force for peace and stability, prospective adversaries and competitors are increasingly behaving as the Soviet Union did during the period of U.S. retrenchment after Vietnam. China just announced another ten percent rise in its defense budget. Its naval operations around the Senkaku Islands cannot be characterized as anything but bellicose. North Korea tested a nuclear weapon and now speaks of preemptive nuclear strikes against the United States. Iran is expanding its conventional military and enhancing its capacity to enrich uranium.
In the 1980s, this was Moscow’s mistake — it acted too soon, before the U.S. had fully disarmed. As a result Ronald Reagan was able to rebuild the U.S. military and bring down the Soviet Union. The U.S. going into this draw down is in a decidedly weaker position than after Vietnam, economically and militarily.
Our adversaries and competitors are likely to interpret sequestration and its consequences as a clear sign that the way is being cleared for them to behave in an even more aggressive manner. As a result, the world is becoming less safe, the risk of major regional conflicts or even the use of a nuclear device is increasing and the security of the United States is diminishing.
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