A return to serving America's vital interests

By Lt. Col. (ret) Daniel L. Davis

Since its creation in 1775, the purpose of the U.S. Armed Forces has been to defend the nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now, however, the U.S. military, in the vast majority of cases, are deployed not to defend the country, but to execute a long list of tactical tasks which have little, if any, association with securing our vital national interests. 

The evidence is clear and overwhelming. Just under 200,000 American military personnel are currently deployed in 177 nations around the world. The mission in Afghanistan has largely degenerated into merely keeping the regime in Kabul from falling to insurgents. U.S. military personnel in Syria are supporting various so-called “moderate” Islamic militia and Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces, while across the border in Iraq, American troops are also supporting Iraqi Security Forces. 

Air power, Marines, and special operations troops have been sent to fight in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and other locations in Africa. Yet there are no American vital national interests i in any of those conflicts.

With the weakening of the Afghan Security Forces and the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, Administration and military officials are signaling that U.S. forces are going to remain in both theaters for the foreseeable future. In not one of the military excursions listed above is there a military strategy whose objective is to defeat an enemy. There are no tactical benchmarks whose attainment would herald the successful end of the mission. 

Bluntly stated, the purpose of the U.S. military has now become, unequivocally, to engage in permanent combat operations in dozens of countries around the world––and none of them enhance American national security. 

This is an egregious violation of what ought to be the purpose of the Armed Forces, which is to defend the American homeland, protect U.S. citizens abroad and to fight and win America’s wars when all other course of action have been exhausted. This perversion of the military’s purpose is a counterproductive drain on national resources, ensures the perpetuation of a never-ending stream of enemies who will rise to fight against American interests, and perhaps worst of all, routinely requires the blood of our citizens for dubious or no benefit to the United States. 

I first joined the U.S. Army as a private in 1985 and did so out of a desire to serve the country. Like every other member of our Armed Forces, I raised my right hand and swore an oath of allegiance to defend the Constitution of the United States. Everyone who volunteers to serve tacitly recognizes they may one day have to lay their lives down in defense of the country. It is a perversion of their oath and abuse of their loyalty to instead ask them to spill their blood and give their lives for the interests of other governments.

The problem is that while Washington policymakers routinely keep the military employed on missions unrelated to our national interests, those areas that are essential are being neglected.

America does have a stake in ensuring the global commons remain accessible for free and open commerce, and that neither Russia nor China militarily subjugate Europe or Asia. It is critically important that neither Iran nor North Korea obtain or expand nuclear arsenals. We must stop wasting limited U.S. national treasure on missions that don’t support the major interests of the country.

Continue with the status quo––dissipating our national strength on too many missions that rise merely to the level of ‘interest’–– and when that next major crisis unexpectedly arises, we may not be able to prevail. The best way to ensure the U.S. military is trained, ready, and able to answer the call when genuinely needed is to stop wasting their strength on things that don’t contribute to our security.

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1

This piece was originally published by The National Interest on August 8, 2017. Read more HERE