Discussion of President Obama’s decision to send 100 U.S. Special Forces to Central Africa has focused largely on the political nature of the decision. Much less attention has been given to the fact that the United States is one of the few nations that is capable of rapidly deploying military power on a global scale. Other nations, primarily our European allies, can manage small deployments to nearby regions such as Africa and parts of the Middle East. But the last time a European nation was able to project power to the other side of the globe was in 1982 when Great Britain sent forces to liberate the Falklands.
Yes, 100 soldiers is not a large force. However, the U.S. military is capable of doing this virtually anywhere on Earth and to replicate the current African operation over and over again. As demonstrated in Desert Storm and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the United States can also send large joint forces just about anywhere. Let’s remember that the United States was able to mount Enduring Freedom approximately a month after the attacks of September 11.
The 100 soldiers in Central Africa are backed up by a military of over one million people in uniform and hundreds of thousands of government civilians. If you look a little farther behind this force there are another million people in the defense industrial base. This is the capability that essentially guarantees that the United States can act globally in defense of its national interests, friends, allies and humanitarian impulses.
Today’s defense debate in Washington is focused entirely on how deeply to cut the defense budget and with it the U.S. military. Before we blithely decide to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from future defense spending it is worth pausing a minute to reflect on how much military capability is needed across the world to support as few as 100 soldiers in places like Central Africa or Afghanistan. Certainly we do not have to go to the heart of Africa. But we choose to do so and for the best motives. The ability to do that is critically dependent on having a large, robust, sophisticated and expensive military.
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