What ‘Vital to the National Interest’ Means
‘Vital to the national interest’ means that American lives are worth losing to solve a problem.
When I hear ‘vital to the national interest’ , I look at men and women in uniform and think, “them dying for this is worth it.” Will they die by mortar? By IED? By sniper? By suicide bomber? By hand-to-hand combat?
America talks about military action, but not the ethics of killing.
The first time I took a life, I was 24 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember looking over his body and thinking about his thoughts from that morning. Did this guy wake up thinking that it was his last day? Did he know that he’d be broken and bloodied and have flies buzzing around him before dinner?
‘Vital to the national interest’ is an ambiguous political phrase that can act as a deceitful dogwhistle. It appeals to the patriots and can weaponize America’s security like a political cudgel against opponents to military action. It glosses over the dirty muck that Americans are going to endure in the pursuit of solvency. If ‘vital to the national interest’ is used incorrectly, it stirs the best in Americans for the worst of activities.
Here’s a thought experiment: would we send military forces out around the world if a random selection of Congress was sent with our military men and women to defend our ‘vital national interests’?
Congress should define what our ‘vital national security’ interests are because America has grown accustomed to war-on-demand. Many Americans are patriotic. We want America safe and prosperous, but when analysts or pundits or politicians talk about threats across the world, they can do so selectively and because our collective fear and love of country disrupts our critical thinking. In other words, we are easily convinced that people who hate us deserve to be killed by us.
Sensationalism plays a role too. For example, China’s construction of islands in the South China Sea has larger implications for destabilizing global security than Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The quickest way to war is the failure of an economy – China could barely flex its navy to disrupt trillions in trade overnight, but people don’t empathize with islands. On the other hand, when we see decapitated Christians or a Syrian child face down in the sand or others dying from sarin gas, we empathize with the dying as people, which makes us want to do something.
That ‘do something’ reaction has justified many bad decisions.
Weapons of Mass Destruction are evil, but so is a suicide bomber killing Christians as they worship on Palm Sunday. Is the suffering of beautiful babies in Syria more than those in Egypt?
Our enemies use graphic images of dying children because they know Americans value life & will fight to defend it.
Our ‘vital national interests’, therefore, must be based on something that withstands sensationalism. The same images used to provoke us to war are the same ones used to politicize it. Meaning, dead children can provoke an American invasion and then be used to strictly regulate the Rules of Engagement of the same American military sent there to solve the problem.
Osama bin Laden told us his strategy to defeat America: “death by a thousand cuts.” Our enemies know they cannot defeat us militarily, so they lure us into wars we cannot win. They employ a long-war strategy to bleed us of money, blood, and political will. Simply put, we should not let ourselves be rope-a-doped by our enemies.
Here’s what Congress should do:
First, debate national security. Our elected representatives steward our freedoms. We have the right to national defense. Our leaders should assess what is, and what is not, worth applying military force. America’s economy leads the world – we can leverage financial warfare to shape behavior. On the other hand, we can use our economy to so intertwine countries that they cannot afford to go against us (free markets are better at peacekeeping than our military). Congress doesn’t have to publicize America’s priorities, but our political leaders need a grand strategy for America’s future; otherwise, they are steering the ship of state by emotion and political headwinds. They need to know what is worth American blood.
Second, declare war if necessary. As per the Constitution, Congress declares war. The world is full of evil, sensationalism and deceitful dogwhistles need a high hurdle to jump. If atrocities necessitated American military action, then we’d be invading the world over. Declaring war clarifies the objective, identifies the enemy, and authorizes total use of force to accomplish the mission. When we determine American blood is worth losing, then we use everything we have to overwhelm the enemy and achieve victory. Gradualism and nation-building let our enemies react – I want our enemies to lose.
Third, withstand the political headwinds. The media (and other Leftist forces) will politicize the war. When they do – either by flashing pictures of dead bodies or crying women and children – Congress must have the resolve to shield the military and allow them to win. Rules of Engagement should permit the military to defeat the threat. Our military is history’s greatest lethal force. Unleash them and expect devastation. All others will observe and be deterred. That’s what Reagan meant by “peace through strength.”
Fourth, demand results from the military. America’s military is designed to defeat threats quickly. Military men and women are trained to function as a team to apply force to achieve political objectives. If families need to be separated, separate them. If children don suicide vests, eliminate them. If elders plot subterfuge, silence them. Like that dead body with the flies buzzing around it, death is ugly and cold and brutal and dark. War uses violence to end violence. There is no light in war, only darkness. America is great because it shines for the rest of the world.
Peace does not mean unity. A safe America does not mean not having enemies. Deadly force is a last resort because life is the most precious thing on Earth. If we conclude that military action is necessary, then we agree to increasing death now to protect life later. We feed the flies and invite the cries. We flip the switch and subordinate all else to the idea of a ‘vital national interest.’
America is worth dying for only if American military deaths serve a purpose.