The Roots of American Power

In the aftermath of the war to liberate Kuwait, it is worthwhile reflecting on the conditions at home that made it possible for the United States to mobilize more than 500,000 troops, deploy an enormous armada of ships, planes and equipment halfway around the world, and wage a war of stunning technological intensity. America's capacity to execute such a vast campaign was no accident. Nor was it simply the result of the buildup of a great arsenal in the 1980s, although that helped to equip U.S. forces with the firepower to get the job done.

Such success was made possible by an underlying economy able to turn out great volumes of extremely advanced military equipment and software as well as men and women skilled in operating them. The U.S. economy would not have been capable of doing this but for a history of high American savings and enormous investment in education, industry, science, technology and the infrastructure to link these elements together. Savings and investments of earlier years were not intended primarily to bolster America's capacity to send well-equipped forces overseas, but they had the derivative effect of making that possible and, more generally, of strengthening the foundations of American global power-political and economic, as well as military.

It is an ominous sign for the future, then, that today U.S. domestic savings are close to a historical low and that investment in education, industry, infrastructure and vanguard technologies is inadequate. While the United States is likely to maintain military preeminence for years to come, savings and investment shortfalls raise concerns about America's future capacity to produce the resources, technologies and trained people necessary to maintain its current overwhelming military edge. Consequently, there is reason for alarm about this country's ability a decade or two from now to fight a gulf-type war-or any other war-so successfully and with so few casualties. Without this confidence the United States could become reluctant to act decisively, and other nations might become more willing to challenge American interests.

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