Wineke: Defense spending is the elephant in the room

Russia seems to have annexed, or to be more accurate, re-annexed the Crimean portion of Ukraine, and the blame game is now in full force.

Sen. John McCain blames President Obama. He assures us in a New York Times op-ed that he doesn’t hold the president to blame, and then proceeds to do just that because Obama ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and didn’t bomb Syria last fall.

Sen. Lindsay Graham blames the president because he hasn’t made unnamed perpetrators pay a price for Benghazi. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney blames the president for not being more on top of things.

What the critics all seem to have in common is that Obama doesn’t project a tough enough image. The consensus is that if the president would just be tough, Putin would back down.

But what no one ever really looks at is the elephant in the room, the fact that this nation places its eggs in the basket of the greatest military force the world has ever seen that operates in a world in which military force is largely irrelevant.

These numbers vary from year to year, but in 2011 the United States spent as much on its military as the next 13 nations combined, and several of those nations — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia — are our allies.

Why doesn’t that expenditure give Putin pause?

Well, look what has happened when we have used our military might. Korea ended in a tie. We lost in Vietnam. We may have “won” the first Gulf War, but Iraq now seems bogged down in a civil war, and we are leaving Afghanistan about the same as every other invading power — including Russia — that left Afghanistan.

This isn’t the fault of our military. The problem is that military power can’t solve non-military problems.

Our military might have toppled the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it couldn’t replace them with governments that were neither corrupt nor incompetent. We “won” militarily, but we basically lost the wars.

No one, absolutely no one, wants us to invade Syria. But Obama’s critics seem to believe that a government willing to murder its own children will cringe in fear if the United States were to lob in a cruise missile.

And Republicans seem to believe that Ronald Reagan single-handedly won the Cold War by telling the Russians to “tear down that wall.” Really?

What we’ve done is make an idol of military might, investing it with all sorts of powers that it doesn’t, in fact, possess. And that leads us to another fallacy, the idea that all problems can be solved with guns, or, as Sarah Palin said, “The only answer to a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

It’s a fallacy that has enabled the National Rifle Association to obtain its current standing as an untouchable source of evil in our national discourse.

In the meantime there are other ways to stand up to Putin. We could provide the government of Ukraine with financial aid so it could better stand up to Russian economic pressures.

Congress was asked for $1 billion to do so. Instead, it left town on vacation.