by Zalman Shoval
On the eve of World War II, the American army numbered fewer than 175,000 and was ranked somewhere between the armies of Mexico and Bulgaria. Even at the beginning of 1941, the U.S. army was still relatively small, and its air force was a joke compared to those of Germany, Britain, Russia, and Japan. The situation changed fundamentally only after Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on Germany at the end of 1941.
This historical data takes on a current-day significance in light of the decision by U.S. President Barack Obama and his defense minister, Chuck Hagel, to shrink the American military to its World War II size, as well as reducing the offensive capability of the air force. And if we are talking about World War II, the question arises: Does this mean a return to prewar personnel, when the military numbered fewer than 200,000 people, or its size at the end of the war? Hagel's answer was in the middle -- the American military will be cut back to 450,000 soldiers, which will certainly not be enough for a large-scale operation on multiple fronts, should one be necessary.
"A senior Pentagon official," as he was dubbed in the media, said nonchalantly that "you can't carry a large land-war Defense Department when there is no large land war," which clearly shows the current government's conception of America's role as a world power, or as it was known in the past -- the "world's policeman."
As we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the ironic cartoon published recently in The New York Times International Edition -- a paper that in the main supports the Obama administration -- indeed says it all. The president is depicted sitting around a table at the White House with his advisers. One adviser observes that the terror threat is growing, another claims that Putin cannot be depended upon, a third mentions North Korea, a fourth brings up Iran's nukes, etc… until one of them finally asks the president, "So what should we do?"
"Downsize the army," the president says, a wide smile of satisfaction on his face.
The government says that the main reason for the decision to cut back the size of the military has to do with economic and budget constraints -- which cannot be taken lightly -- but this raises questions about the administration's priorities and, no less, about how the current government sees America's place on the world map. Another explanation for the downsizing is that the nature of war has changed (which is correct) and that in the future it will behoove America to a "small, smart military." This lofty expression is familiar in our parts, as well, but sometimes the practical result is an army that is small but not all that smart.
In the interim between the two world wars, most Americans tended toward isolationism, a disinclination to get involved in adventures overseas -- the same sea, or ocean, that in effect protected them from foreign attack. It would be an exaggeration to say that the America of today has returned to those times, but sometimes it appears that remnants of that same mentality are not completely absent from the mentality of the people making decisions in Washington.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said in a television interview that the war in Syria is "horrific," but that "to intervene with American boots on the ground ... is not in the United States' interests." Richard Cohen, a senior analyst at The Washington Post, says that the world is gazing at the "retreat of American power."
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