“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” John Kennedy said over fifty years ago.
He was wrong.
We tried; we couldn’t. We don’t really want to.
Diplomacy? Send a Navy carrier group. Natural disaster? Send in the Air Force. Policing hostile countries? Send in the Army. Anomalous threats to world peace? Send in the Marines. Bad guy on the loose? Send a drones.
Vietnam, Colombia, South China Sea, Indonesia, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. Ebola in Liberia?
Often without a declaration of war. Sometimes without Congressional acquiescence. Occasionally without a plan.
And often it worked. But every time we used fighting forces for humanitarian or peacekeeping functions, we dulled their edge as a fighting force. We also blurred, in our own minds as well as the rest of the world, the line between defending and meddling.
We can and should use our defense forces to help others. But there is a cost higher than mission creep, budget busting and the inner confusion of the soldier facing angry folks with a weapon he’s not allowed to use.
The greater danger is that the US Department of Defense becomes the duct tape of the world. We apply them indiscriminately every problem. We forget that force, even military logistics or intelligence gathering, is not necessarily the correct solution to all problems.
Every child in a school yard full of bullies knows you have to pick your fights. And know when not to fight.