Nov 2, 2014 0
Conrad Black writes Battle of the Cliches in The National Review
“No more Munichs” must mean no more complicity in foreign aggression — it must not mean that the West will prevent any injustice that occurs everywhere in the world even if it is not significantly affected by it. “No boots on the ground”must become a comfort level that the country’s leaders can judge successfully how much force to apply in different crises by calibrating accurately the cost-benefit ratio and ensuring an acceptable exit strategy before getting involved. In general, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush Sr. made these vital calculations correctly, and Presidents Johnson, Carter, Bush Jr., and Obama have not. The shocking enfeeblement of once useful allies, especially in Western Europe, illustrates the propensity of under-contributing allies to become mere passengers and the need for the United States, as alliance leader, to keep and exercise control, even if it prudently reduces foreign commitments.
“Boots on the ground” has become a frightening cliché. There is nothing wrong with the insertion of forces into a foreign conflict if the national security and international law justify it, the defined goal is attainable at reasonable cost in lives and resources, and there is a plausible and honorable exit strategy. The distinction must be drawn between the toleration of what is inconvenient in the foreign-policy antics of other countries because they cannot be deterred or countered at acceptable cost, and appeasing and facilitating and even pridefully collaborating in odious conduct. The Sudeten crisis did not justify Britain and France in going to war, but association by those powers with that policy was dishonorable. As Winston Churchill said at the time: “You chose shame and you will get war.” Those were not the only alternatives, and, in general, war should be chosen only when shame is the alternative. And military force can be used without, as “boots on the ground” has come to mean in the popular imagination, the indefinite commitment of ground forces in an inhospitable place for an indefinite time, sustaining casualties and material costs that it is impossible to justify.