When Bill Clinton entered the White House 20 years ago, he and his fellow Democrats were primed to claim the “peace dividend” generated by the end of the Cold War. Pentagon spending on weapons and force structure was slashed, enabling Clinton to balance the budget in his second term. But before that term was up, America had to wage an air war in the Balkans to block Serbian aggression.
Two years later, Clinton’s successor entered office talking about skipping a generation of weapons and transforming the joint force during what was expected to be a prolonged “strategic pause.” Instead, George W. Bush ended up spending the next eight years waging wars in not one but two different places. Neither of those contingencies were part of his agenda when he took office, and between the two of them they thoroughly derailed his plans for domestic reforms.
Which brings us to Barack Obama, the third president in a row who thought he could extricate America from troublesome overseas commitments. He has made a lot of progress in that direction, but now, just as U.S. forces are planning their final departure from the frustrating conflict in Afghanistan, up pops Kim Jong-Un. You know Mr. Kim — the latest heir to Kim Il-Sung’s mantle, such as it is. He has been trying to prove he is a man lately by allowing his subordinates to threaten a nuclear attack against America.
Whatever else the Obama Administration might make of Pyongyang’s threats, one thing is already clear: pivoting U.S. forces to the Pacific is no guarantee of peace. In fact, it may be setting the scene for a nasty showdown with the world’s only nuclear-capable rogue state. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that politicians aren’t the only people who decide how much money the Pentagon spends. Enemies get a vote too, and America seems to have a lot of them.
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