How do you maintain the most effective fighting forces in the world, which you promise you will only use for your own national defense or the defense of weaker entities who deserve protection, without ever actually fighting anyone except when it absolutely counts?
The United States prides itself on its military forces. We also try to maintain the image that we stand for Truth, Justice, Freedom and Democracy around the world, which means we don't openly condone the kind of rape, pillage and murder with which despots of old used to reward their loyal troops. How do you keep those forces sharp without letting them actually fight someone once in a while?
The troops, once trained, may want to use some of the cool hardware and lethal maneuvers they worked so hard to perfect. Sure, some of them might have joined just for three hots and a cot, or a college loan, but you will have some enthusiastic fighters in there as well.
To keep it real, even a practice war has to carry a risk of injury or death. Play dates like Grenada or Panama don't raise a warrior's self esteem. So the leader has to find something useful, dangerous, but still winnable as a goal.
The first Gulf War turned out to be great for morale. It was too short to descend into slogging combat and atrocities. We came, we shocked and awed, we conquered. So a second Iraq war could well have looked like a tonic for the American military and the American people. Prophets of doom could predict quagmires, but the American leadership knew the Iraqi military would crumble. Then our forces could swoop in, kick ass, mop up a little and leave a vital oil-producing region in better shape than they found it. The troops would have gotten a little live-fire experience, the few casualties could be lauded as heroes and we'd all get back on the highway in our SUVs with the feeling of a job well done.
The American leadership had to know that the real story will happen elsewhere. The real war has yet to break out. Except this little training war won't go away.
While we continue to waste time engaging small nations of primitive people in the outmoded confrontational style called War, the nations and cultures that really stand to topple us from dominance are doing it the new way, in business. We supposedly bankrupted the Soviet Union by forcing it into an arms race and proxy wars it could not afford. Now, with no one forcing us, we drain our own substance into bush wars and fall further and further in debt to foreign financiers.
Corporations, given the legal status of persons, become the new despots who transcend national boundaries and allegiances. While we still have a representative government of any kind, we need to vote for some controls on corporate power.
Ha. Who am I kidding? But it feels good to say it as if it could be so.