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A nation must think before it acts.
To say that the strategic landscape remains unsettled would be an understatement. In the brief seven years since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has fought one major war (Iraq), performed numerous “nontraditional” humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, struggled to adjust to a variety of social demands such as the full integration of women and gays in the ranks, and at the same time attempted to prepare for the twenty-first century. What is more, the armed services have been asked to do all this within the worst budgetary environment in fifty years. As a result, the U.S. military faces a dilemma: how to respond to the uncertainties of the new domestic and strategic landscapes, maintain a healthy relationship with American civil society, and yet retain its core raison d’etre, which is to deter or win war against the nation’s enemies.
The American military faced similar dilemmas after the Civil War and World War I, for a brief time after World War II, and following tyhe Vietnam War. At least one lesson clearly emerged from those experiences: the military profession dare not withdraw into an ethical cocoon and take on a defensive posture. Instead, it must make a prudent and positive response to the travails imposed on it and not shrink from articulating its views in the public square. In short, senior military officers must reshape the very notion of military professionalism by candidly admitting the impact of politics on the military’s ability to do its job and daring to practice constructive political engagement.