TCS Daily

To Defeat Terrorism: Consolidate, Cooperate And Spend What It Takes

By James Pinkerton - September 24, 2001 12:00 AM

President Bush has united the country in the wake of T-Day -- Terror Day, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It's hard to get much higher than the current poll ratings, which show that 90% or so of Americans support what he's doing and also support future military action. But as Bush made clear in his national address before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, this will not be a quick or easy fight:

"This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

"Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen."

And so, Bush said, "we will direct every resource at our command" to the struggle ahead.

Most Americans, not being old enough to remember World War II, or even the Cold War at its coldest, probably don't know the full extent to which the United States mobilized itself to win its major wars in the past. But a look back at history suggests that what the United States has done so far -- chiefly, a $40 billion emergency spending package -- is but a drop in the bucket compared to the gushers of the past. And so here's a look at some of those earlier mobilizations, and a few key concepts --centralization, bipartisanship, and big spending -- might well recur in this century.

First, centralization. In the spring of 1861, the United States had little idea of what it was getting into when the fighting started. How could it? In the months following the surrender of Fort Sumter on April 13, the Union suffered a string of defeats -- Bull Run on July 21, Wilson's Creek on Aug. 10, Ball's Bluff on Oct. 21 -- that made it obvious that the war would be long and costly. The old American system of checks and balances, inherited from Constitutionalists preoccupied with thwarting 18th Century monarchs, proved unable to coordinate a protracted 19th Century industrialized war effort. What was needed was a modern system of command and control. So Sen. Zachariah Chandler of Ohio suggested a unitary decision-making body for both houses of Congress; the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was established on Dec. 9, 1861. Sen. Benjamin F. Wade, also of Ohio, served as chairman of the seven-member body, which oversaw the Congressional side of the war effort, not disbanding until May 1865.

With that precedent in mind, here's a prediction: the newly announced Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security will undergo a rapid maturation process, as it becomes obvious that even a nationally televised carte blanche from the Commander-in-Chief is not enough. Tom Ridge, the outgoing governor of Pennsylvania, will not be able to cope with the myriad domestic threats, real and imagined, using just a few computers and telephones. In the long run, the OHS will need the perceived permanence of a formal legal mandate.

Second, bipartisanship. For the North, the Civil War was a Republican War. Of course it was: the Democratic Party, concentrated in the South, mostly seceded from the Union. In 1859, Democratic strength in the 36th Congress totaled 139, House and Senate combined. In 1861, Democratic strength in the 37th Congress fell to 53.

But World War II was different. Many Republicans had been isolationist prior to Pearl Harbor, but on Dec. 8, a war declaration swept through both chambers and both parties. But anticipating, correctly, years of struggle, Roosevelt was determined to bind the two parties together for the duration. And so he created a substantially bipartisan government. His secretary of war was Henry Stimson, who was not only a Republican, but had been Herbert Hoover's secretary of state. That's right: FDR chose a man from the Cabinet of the man he had defeated for the presidency just eight years earlier. Even more striking was FDR's choice for secretary of the navy. Frank Knox, publisher of the Chicago Daily News, had been a fervent and vocal anti-New Dealer in the 30s. Indeed, he was the 1936 Republican vice presidential nominee against the Roosevelt-Garner ticket. Yet Roosevelt judged him, correctly, to be an American first, and so welcomed him into his Cabinet. As FDR said, "Dr. New Deal has been replaced by Dr. Win the War."

Bush was notably generous to Congressional Democrats in his speech Thursday night; indeed, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., joined together in a supportive appearance of their own after Bush spoke. But only time will tell if more such institutionalized unity will be needed. Here's another bet: it will.

Third, spend what it takes. The President got his $40 billion in short order, and more spending for more projects is sure to come. But the United States' GDP is well over $10 trillion; we can afford to do more. America wins its wars, hot and cold, through spending lots of money. It is, after all, better to fight with materiel than with manpower. Through most of the Cold War, the U.S. spent money not only to fight hot wars in Korea and Vietnam, but, just as importantly, to keep well-equipped guardians posted on the ramparts of freedom in places that never saw shooting, such as Western Europe. Finally, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Given the enormity and relative bloodlessness of that American victory, the trillions of dollars we spent look like a bargain.

If the original Pentagon budget of $328 billion was barely adequate in peacetime, then it can't be adequate in wartime.

In addition to formal military spending, America is going to have to look to other areas of our national security that have been neglected. One obvious example of this neglect is a lack of language skills. According to reports, not a single unformed serviceman or woman speaks Pushtu, the Taliban tongue. In the 1950s, Uncle Sam spent heavily to teach Americans Russian and Chinese; surely we need a similar program now. Similarly, if we hope to make this another high-tech/low-bloodshed victory, we will need to think more about education in science and technology.

The foregoing is the beginning of one concerned American's attempt to think through what will be needed to win this war -- a war, as the president said on Sept. 20, "to lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future."

And so, in this space for the next few weeks, I will be offering my thoughts on what's needed: A Grand Strategy for the United States in the War on Terror.


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