Carl von Clausewitz, the imposing German general whose theories about war remain influential nearly 200 years after his death, observed that "public opinion is won through great victories and the occupation of the enemy's capital." Not anymore. For one thing, it's hard to determine what "great victories" look like these days. We may have gotten rid of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, but three years later, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, is telling us that the profusion of jihadi fighters in Syria means that "Syria has become a matter of homeland security." In other words, what happens in the killing fields of the Middle East has consequences at home.
Meanwhile, military planners, with one eye on the experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq, are increasingly wary of the political costs of putting boots on the ground. After 9/11, military spending surged from 3.5 percent of GDP in 2001 to 5.7 percent in 2011. Many Americans now believe that it's time to rein in such profligacy and to spend our money on domestic concerns. The palpable sense of "war fatigue" stretches all the way from the left of the Democratic Party to the Senator Rand Paul wing of the GOP.
But while Americans may have tired of foreign wars--particularly wars without defined endings--foreign wars haven't tired of us. That's why we should continue debating what our defensive posture should be and how much we should spend to maintain it. But instead of having that debate, we have sequestration--the process in which progressively deeper forced cuts are apportioned roughly equally between defense spending and discretionary domestic spend-ing--resulting in a completely pointless public blame game over whose fault it will be if those cuts take place.
Derived from the Latin verb "to withdraw," sequestration conjures up unfortunate associations with a declining Roman Empire. The American version, of course, stems from the 2011 Budget Control Act and was meant to force us to get control of the budget. As far as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is concerned, though, sequestration itself is among the most tangible national security threats we face. As he told the House Appropriations Corrunittee in March, further sequestration in fiscal year 2016 will endanger "America's traditional role as a guarantor of global security, and ultimately our own security"
Hagel is far from alone in loathing sequestration, which has all the subtlety of a Russian tank crossing an international border. In...