You hear it routinely during congressional events involving defense issues, when a defense secretary wants to protect his budget (or his legacy), and when candidate Barack Obama or hisoperatives defend the administration’s national security record: The American armed forces are “the best in the world.” It has become such an unremarkable bit of conventional wisdom that the comment is usually prologue to some other point the speaker wants to make.
Many think that because the United States spends multiples of any conceivable opponent or even combinations of them, has the largest modern navy and air force, and can operate all over the world, there is no conceivable enemy or enemies that can take on America successfully. The history of warfare is full of this kind of arrogance before the fall; it has occurred from the beginnings of recorded warfare until today. Consider Xerxes and Darius against Greece in antiquity, the British in America in 1775, the Russians before their war with Japan in 1904, and the United States in 1964 facing Vietnam.
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