Aug 282011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

Last Thursday, my fellow Collegian columnist Jesse Benn wrote an excellent piece about the revolution in Libya and the U.S. military’s role in the intervention. In it, Benn wrote, “This is how the U.S. military ought to be used in the 2000s –– with a humanitarian intent, as a last resort, at the behest of the global community and in a joint effort through international coalitions like NATO and the U.N.”

I couldn’t agree more with Benn’s argument. I’ve written before about the U.S.’ bloated military budget and our appalling foreign policy decisions over the last six decades. With foreign debt and deficit spending increasingly moving toward the forefront of the public’s concerns, we need to take a long, hard look at the way our military operates from here on out.

It’s become quite fashionable lately to criticize every move that Obama makes, but it’s important to remember that he inherited two major wars. In light of this fact, his record as commander-in-chief should be judged accordingly.

I’ll admit to being just as disappointed as others on the left who feel as though Obama hasn’t done enough to draw down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Withdrawal isn’t as easy as simply picking up our toys from the sandbox and going home. We have a responsibility to leave these places with at least some semblance of stability. I hate to say it, but we’re going to have a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for quite some time still.

Instead of judging Obama based on these two quagmires, the appropriate measure is to look at his use of military resources since taking office. One of the first significant military challenges Obama faced was how to deal with the Somali pirates who had taken Capt. Richard Phillips hostage while he was attempting to deliver aid to Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda in April 2009.

The administration’s response was to send helicopter-equipped warships with highly trained snipers to the scene just off the Somali coast. As negotiations for Phillips’ safe return began to crumble, one of the pirates pointed a gun at Phillips. The snipers responded by providing all the pirates onboard with an early demise.

Indeed, the Obama administration has placed a higher emphasis on Special Operations as a tool for protecting American interests all across the globe. In June of last year, The Washington Post reported that “Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of [2009].”

Has this shift in strategy been successful? To answer that question, maybe we should ask Osama bin Laden for his thoughts on the subject.

Twenty-first century warfare poses an entirely new set of challenges, and the old way of doing things is simply not the correct approach anymore. Instead of the heavy-handed, boots-on-the-ground approach that has worked so well for U.S. forces in the past, surgical precision through Special Operations must become the new norm.

The increased use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (known as UAVs) is also a step in the right direction. More work needs to be done to reduce the incidence of “collateral damage” resulting from UAV attacks, though.

The good news is that the next generation of drones is already being developed. The New York Times published a slightly terrifying article this summer describing how a new wave of miniature drones, “are being designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world.” That should have a tremendous impact on the way that future wars are fought.

Reallocating military dollars to research and development of such technologies would help to not only increase our success in foreign military entanglements, but would also help spur job growth at home.

A strong economy and strong defense rely on one another to function properly. The success of the U.S. military since World War II can be attributed to our ingenuity, innovation and technological sophistication as much as any other factor. That is precisely why we have to stay ahead of the curve in these areas and continue to develop these next generation defense tools.

Combined with diplomatic efforts, smarter foreign policy decisions, international cooperation with NATO and the U.N. and, as a last resort, Special Operations missions, developing technologies such as the next-generation of UAVs is the best use of military resources in the future.

The U.S. can continue to have a strong military presence in the world that protects our interests without occupying foreign countries or getting bogged down in fruitless nation building efforts.

 The Obama administration has taken some positive steps in the right direction, but we need to continue being a little smarter and more deliberate in our military actions.

Joe Vajgrt is a senior journalism major who wishes we could all just get along. His column appears on Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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