Thursday, February 09, 2012

Book review: Michael O'Hanlon's "Wounded Giant"

Once again, it's book review time at Marathon Pundit. I have the pleasure of reviewing a timely book, Michael O'Hanlon's The Wounded Giant: America's Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity

O'Hanlon is a national security and defense specialist at the left-leaning Brookings Institution.

As for the title, I may have missed something, but I don't believe O'Hanlon used the phrase "Wounded Giant" in the book; Smaller Giant would be a more appropriate moniker for this volume.

For the second time in my lifetime America is militarily downsizing. It's the second time in O'Hanlon's lifetime too--we are the same age.

But our challenges are different this time. America may be a smaller giant, but our debt is much larger than it was when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. O'Hanlon mentions former chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen's comment last summer that debt is the "single biggest threat to our national security."

O'Hanlon writes, "And to attack the deficit in a serious way, defense must be on the table--just as all other major elements of federal spending, as well as the tax code, must be." He adds that our defense budget--$700 billion a year--is nearly equal to that of nearly every other nation's military spending.

And to reach the necessary cuts--generally agreed upon as $350 billion over ten years--not just fat--but muscle must be cut.

Still, O'Hanlon says "American power is nothing to apologize for. A strong United States is good for not only America but international stability, as evidenced by the very small number of interstate wars in recent decades."

Peace is benefits prosperity. A world in which most of the nations get along allows commerce to grow and ideas to spread.

O'Hanlon envisions a military that can fight one major war--an Iraq size conflict for instance--and two or three small ones. Win the big one--use holding actions in the others.

As for potential American adversaries, Iran is the preeminent one. As the supplier of most of the IEDs that killed our soldiers in Iraq, in essence we've been at war with them for years. O'Hanlon remarks that the Iranians lead the world in producing these deadly devices. Quite true, although I never thought of Iran in that way--but I should have.

"There is no reason to think the rise of China and other emerging powers must be threatening to the United States," O'Hanlon muses--I'm assuming he's excluding Iran. While he views Taiwan as a potential arena of conflict between China and the United States, I fear China may take advantage of perceived American weakness, particularly if President Obama is reelected. The contemporary notion of a Chinese attack on the United States is absurd, but the Middle Kingdom might try to resolve one of its numerous border issues with force. As I mentioned earlier, a strong American military preserves the international order--it's not just about us.

O'Hanlon advocates the use of drones as do all military experts. But they can only do so much. For instance, a defeated Iran--population 80 million--would need far more troops to serve as an effective occupation force than the much less populous Iraq did.

Of course, we may need to fight a conflict against a nation that is not on our national security radar. Few military experts envisioned fighting a war in Afghanistan until 9/11.

"Bring our troops home," a refrain of the Ron Paul campaign, is not something the author backs--having troops overseas, simply put, makes it much easier to fight a potential enemy.

Wounded Giant was published in November--and in the past three months two developments have altered O'Hanlon's narrative, the death of Kim Jong-Il and the failure of the Supercommitte to reach an agreement on deficit reduction. But the book is still is timely and a recommended volume for those interested in defense issues and the future of our international relations.

Click here to read the review by my good friends at


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

The military and military spending are issues we'll be hearing about more and more - sounds like this book will give us all one more set of scenarios to consider.

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

trish said...

Oh wow. Our defense budget is $700 billion and the proposals are to cut $350 billion? I'm all for cutting fat, but like you point out, that would most certainly cut muscle as well.