As a career military officer that has studied and taught military history all of his adult life, this is a familiar and frightening article.
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The USS Iwo Jima near Trondheim, Norway, Oct. 29.  PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. Military’s Crisis of Imagination

America’s longstanding position of dominance has tended to make strategists and citizens complacent.

“At the heart of national-security strategy is imagination. The strategist’s job is to dream up what enemies someday might do to harm us. But there’s a lot of history supporting the adage that generals forever prepare to fight the last war.

“The problem of dangers’ being unimaginable was front and center for the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission. Congress created the commission of national-security experts in December 2016. Its report, released last month, conjured up realistic near-term scenarios to show how the U.S., as a result of military deficiencies, might acquiesce to enemy aggression or accept defeat in battle.

“Unless one is blessed with stupid enemies—and you can’t count on that—the proper assumption is that they are innovating. . . It’s hard to dream up the unprecedented, and even harder to persuade large bureaucracies to heed unfamiliar dangers.

“The imagination problem favors aggressive states because they apply themselves to the task of strategizing creatively to win their aims. Status-quo powers, like the U.S. now, commonly prioritize nonmilitary spending and believe the world is more stable than it is. They must anticipate the full range of enemy actions even as their officials don’t devote real energy or resources to the task of countering possible threats. In neither Congress nor the White House has there been a vivid enough appreciation of how America’s various enemies can take advantage of its vulnerabilities. (EMP for instance and NOT climate change)

The commission’s report is sober but alarming. The president is reportedly coming around to the view that the country needs a larger defense appropriation. Will members of Congress have the imagination to be properly alarmed and the good sense to approve the funds?

And our vulnerabilities are many.


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Col. Thomas Snodgrass, USAF (retired) served over a year in Peshawar, Pakistan, working with Pakistani military intelligence. During his year in Vietnam he daily scheduled 130 U.S. Army and Air Force intelligence collection aircraft. In his final overseas tour he was the U.S. Air Attaché behind the Iron Curtain in Warsaw, Poland. In total, Col. Snodgrass was variously an Intelligence Officer or an International Politico-Military Affairs Officer (military diplomat) serving duty tours in seven foreign countries, as well as teaching military history and strategy at the Air War College, US Air Force Academy, and USAF Special Operations School during a thirty-year military career. Additionally, he was awarded an Air Force scholarship to get a history master’s degree in revolutionary insurgent warfare at the University of Texas, as well as being granted a year’s educational sabbatical to teach and to write about international relations as an Air Force Research Associate in the graduate school at the Center for Advanced International Studies, University of Miami, Florida. Following the Air Force, Col. Snodgrass was an adjunct professor of military history for ten years at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Arizona.