Those pining for an end to our growing military/security state may be cheered to learn about the end of the F-35 alternate engine program. But they should know that it took an arduous two-plus years, dozens of Congressional votes, threats, counter-threats and the energies of most of the Pentagon leadership to finally cancel a second engine that nobody wanted. This is what counts for progress in Washington.

But if we’re going to get any progress against the MIC and the forces that undergird, we’d have to raise awareness of a recent paper out of the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (h/t) called “A National Strategic Narrative”:

The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CAPT Wayne Porter, USN and Col Mark “Puck” Mykleby) in a “personal” capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

“By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.”

There was a time when this would be an unsaid proposition. The US attained much of its wealth on the basis of a focus on educating its citizens and spurring innovation. Our social services typically left something to be desired relative to the rest of the world, but our investment in human capital was never threatened. And now that’s all changing, as defense and finance receive the bulk of our dollars.

Keep in mind that this comes from the office of the Joint Chiefs. They are pleading with the country’s leaders to reset their priorities away from the military and national security, to stop being ruled by fear, and to focus on what matters. It takes the group which most benefits from the current imbalanced structure to actually say that.

This is also a foreign policy imperative. Investing at home and building the next generation’s intellectual and social capacity will have tremendous knock-on effects with how we associate with the world. It can only help to have innovation and resources bleed out from the US into other countries. Foreigners could gush about advancements in medicine or technology coming from the US rather than bombs and mortars.

It’s a sad commentary that the best vision for the future that has been put forward in years came out of the Pentagon from some unelected staffers.