June 16, 2009 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Middle East

After Afghanistan, Will We Squander the Victory?

"Victory deserves a future." That thought was a guiding light for one of the 20th century's greatest leaders -- Winston Churchill. He lamented the "wilderness years" that followed his resignation from government during World War I.

Out of political power, he found himself impotent to shape the future, unable to stem the descent into another global conflict.
That disappointment, however, was nothing compared to what Churchill experienced in 1945, when British voters rejected him at the polls. Having led the nation through its darkest hour and on to victory in World War II, Churchill was heartbroken at being shunted from his post as prime minister.

But Churchill continued to live the words of his famous speeches. Vowing to "never surrender," he clawed his way back to the pinnacle of power once again, driven -- as always -- by the desire to give victory a future.

The old lion returned to lead the country from 1951 to 1955. It was a time when nuclear confrontation between the Soviets and the West threatened to turn the Cold War very hot. Churchill stood determined to find an alternate path.

In a 1953 speech to the House of Commons, he declared: "There is no doubt that if the human race are to have their dearest wish and to be free from the dread of mass destruction, they could have, as an alternative, what many of them might prefer, namely, the swiftest expansion of material well-being that has ever been within their reach or even within their dreams. We, and all nations, stand, at this hour in human history, before the portals of supreme catastrophe and of measureless reward."

Having secured the hope of freedom during the long war against the fascists, Churchill refused to let that victory slip away in the postwar world confrontation with communists.

Within the next few years, America will likely face its own "Churchillian moment." Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, recently made news predicting the U.S. military may well be engaged in Afghanistan for another decade. He also said it might be several years before the good guys reach the "tipping point" in their battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was, however, optimistic that the battle could and should be won.

Casey may be right, particularly about eventually winning this long war. The U.S. has a new and better strategy, a new command team in the field, and commitment from the new president here at home.

It is not too soon, however, to be looking to the future beyond the war's end. Already there are signs that Washington, D.C., is squandering it away.

After attending a regional security summit in Singapore, defense Secretary Robert Gates had to ground his own plane because of mechanical difficulties. That incident may be a metaphor for what Gates is doing to today's military. The defense secretary is funneling resources to Iraq and Afghanistan, but cutting back elsewhere to keep defense spending down. In the long run, the readiness of the force will suffer for this trade-off.

Gates has also pared down investments to deal with future threats, canceling, for example, the program to develop a future bomber. This came after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told Congress that some form of long-range strike was "an important part of the [Air Force] portfolio." The Air Force has to have, the chief insisted in a presentation at The Heritage Foundation last week, some capability between modern fighters like the F-22 and F35 and ICBMs. He has since declared the service will have to find some way to develop this capability, despite the proposed cuts to the 2010 budget.

Looking at the administration's long-term plans for funding defense, however, it's difficult to see where the Air Force and the other services will find the resources to maintain readiness, much less develop the new capabilities needed to protect America in the future.

Winning wars, as Churchill well knew, is not the final word. Winning requires winning the peace, too -- and peace requires eternal vigilance.

Winning the peace is the after-battle effort to protect and defend the liberty secured in conflict. The Pentagon today looks to have only half a strategy.

James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First Appeared in the Examiner