Here’s a little fact to keep in mind when considering the current cuts to spending at DoD (and let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with appropriate cuts to defense spending), besides all the other ramifications it promises:
Defense accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget but already exceeds 50 percent of deficit-reduction efforts. And for every dollar the President hopes to save in domestic programs, he plans on saving $128 in defense.
And that’s without the looming sequestration cuts (keep in mind, most war fighting costs are not included in the budget) of another half trillion dollars.
Or said another way, the administration has decided that it will attempt to cut spending primarily with cuts to national defense. There is no serious program afoot to cut back the myriad of other government agencies and branches. In fact, many are expanding (see EPA, IRS, etc.).
As for sequestration, Democrats are bound and determined to see it through, because, you know, national defense is less important than winning an ideological struggle.
Charles Hoskinson of POLITICO’s Morning Defense reports (btw, if you don’t subscribe to it, you should):
BUT REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS are still far apart on one key issue: taxes. We caught up with SASC Chairman Levin at a breakfast Thursday and he said he’s counting on public pressure to push the GOP to accept new tax revenues as part of any solution – something they’ve so far refused to consider. Meanwhile, Levin and other Democrats won’t budge on reversing sequestration except as part of a complete package. "The dam has got to be broken on revenues, and what I believe will break it is the threat of sequestration," he said.
Shorter Levin, “we’re more than willing to hold national security hostage and see it gutted to get our way on taxes”.
It is rather interesting approach for an administration which is hung up on everyone paying their ‘fair share’. It seems that the lion’s share of what it will surely tout during the upcoming campaign as serious budget cutting, will come from the one Constitutionally mandated duty it has – national defense.
As for all the programs that have a future funding liability of 200 trillion dollar?
Over the years I have seen more “new” defense strategies than one can shake a stick at. And I’ve noticed one thing about all of them: for the most part they’ve been uniformly wrong. We have mostly had an abysmal record in divining what sort of a military we need in the future, and I doubt this particular version will be any better. Here’s POLITOCO’s Morning Defenses’ summary:
THERE WERE NO BIG SURPRISES IN THURSDAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT, mainly because the most important real-world effects of the new strategy won’t be known until the president’s budget proposal is released. Reaction was mainly predictable as well – Republicans were concerned about weakening U.S. power in a dangerous world, progressives blasted it as too timid and a lost opportunity for Pentagon reform, and veterans groups are concerned about future benefit cuts.
THE REAL TEST WILL BE whether the strategy will result in a military force capable of handling the unintended consequences of world events. The president is sitting comfortably right now – he’s ended U.S. involvement in Iraq, set a path for withdrawal in Afghanistan and seriously weakened Al Qaeda. Libya looks like a success story for the multilateral cooperation the strategy emphasizes for the future, and there are signs the sanctions on Iran are starting to bite. But any or all of these situations could turn for the worse in a heartbeat, and wake up U.S. voters who right now aren’t really paying attention. Nothing is settled.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RISK - Military leaders acknowledge and accept that the new strategy brings new risks, which they consider acceptable in the current environment. The United States can get away with a smaller army because its leaders don’t expect to be fighting any large ground wars in the future …
I’d actually argue that some of the assessments made in the middle paragraph are debatable. Libya, for instance, seems anything but a success with Islamist militias poised to take over. It certainly may be seen as a “military” success, but military success should tied to a strategy of overall success, not just whether it was able to defeat a rag-tag enemy. After all the the military is but the blunt force of foreign policy, used when all less violent means have been exhausted. There should be an acceptable outcome tied to its use. Libya’s descent into Islamic extremism seems to argue against “success” on the whole. Couple that with the fact that al Qaeda has set up shop there, and you could argue that even if al Qaeda has been “seriously weakened”, it has just been given a new lease on life in Libya.
That said, let’s talk about the defense cuts. The last paragraph is obviously the key to the strategy. It is about assessing risk and accepting that risk based on that assessment. The problem is the phrase “acceptable in the current environment”. The obvious point is that what is “acceptable in the current environment” may be problematic in any future environment.
So what is happening here is a political position/decision is being dressed up as a military assessment in order to justify the political position. We’ll cut land forces and concentrate on air and sea forces.
But where are we fighting right now? Certainly not in the air or at sea.
The Army is already is slated to drop to a force of 520,000 from 570,000, but Mr. Panetta views even that reduction as too expensive and unnecessary and has endorsed an Army of 490,000 troops as sufficient, officials said.
The defense secretary has made clear that the reduction should be carried out carefully, and over several years, so that combat veterans are not flooding into a tough employment market and military families do not feel that the government is breaking trust after a decade of sacrifice, officials said.
A smaller Army would be a clear sign that the Pentagon does not anticipate conducting another expensive, troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign, like those waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor would the military be able to carry out two sustained ground wars at one time, as was required under past national military strategies.
The last sentence is pure bull squat. National strategy goes by the boards when national necessity demands we fight “two sustained ground wars at one time” whether we like it or not. The strategy would simply mean we’d end up fighting those two ground wars with a less capable force than we have now. The other unsaid thing here is if you think we used the heck out of the Army National Guard in the last decade, just watch if something unforeseen happens after these cuts are made.
Also wrapped up in this new “national strategy” is some naive nonsense:
"As Libya showed, you don’t necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time," an official said, explaining the White House view.
"We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic," the official added.
Sorry to break it to the White House, but that’s not a “realistic strategy”. It’s a wish. I can’t tell you how many times, since the advent of the airplane in combat, I’ve heard it said that the necessity of maintaining ground troops is coming to an end.
Yet here we are, with troops in Afghanistan and 10 years of troops in Iraq. Libya was a one-of that still hasn’t come to a conclusion and as I note above, what we’re seeing now doesn’t appear to improve the situation for the US – and that should be the goal of any sort of intervention. I certainly appreciate the desire not to nation build, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need less ground troops available in a very dangerous and volatile world. Air and sea are combat multipliers, but as always, the only sort of units that can take and hold ground are ground combat units. That hasn’t changed in a thousand years. If you want to talk about contingencies, there are more of them that require those sorts of forces than don’t.
Finally, with all that said, what about the pivot toward China as our new, what’s the term, ah, “adversary”? Is there some clever guy who has managed to come up with a strategy that will require no ground troops in any sort of a confrontational scenario with our new “adversary”?
Of course not. Korean peninsula? Taiwan? Here we pivot toward what could be a massive threat which itself has a huge land army and we do what? Cut ours. Because we “think” that it won’t be necessary to have such a capability should our “adversary” become our “enemy”?
I’m not saying they will, I’m just pointing out that the strategy – cut Army and Marines and pivot toward China which has one of the largest land armies in the world – doesn’t seem particularly well thought out. But I’m not surprised by that. Again, when you tailor a strategy to support a political position/decision, such “strategies” rarely are.
Oh, and don’t forget:
The military could be forced to cut another $600 billion in defense spending over 10 years unless Congress takes action to stop a second round of cuts mandated in the August accord.
There’s a story out in the Washington Post about Obama’s supposed willingness to make cuts to entitlements, specifically Social Security. Also out today is a story in The Hill concerning proposals to make much deeper cuts to defense spending than previously proposed. All of this has to do with the debt ceiling debate.
The question I ask is what is really behind the Obama willingness to cut (or claim to be open to cutting) Social Security. Is it real or is it just politics?
Combine that with increased cuts in defense and one has to question what the administration is or isn’t really willing to do? My conclusion? The Social Security cut proposal is smoke and mirrors. The defense cuts are real, i.e. that’s where Obama and the Democrats are willing to go and go deep. Why have I concluded that? Well, two paragraphs, one in each story, give the game away.
Privately, some congressional Democrats were alarmed by the president’s proposal, which could include adjusting the measure of inflation used to determine Social Security payouts. But others described it as primarily a bargaining strategy intended to demonstrate Obama’s willingness to compromise and highlight the Republican refusal to raise taxes.
A president running for re-election is not going to condone cuts in Social Security in an election year. Politics 101. Not. Going. To. Happen.
But … he comes from a base constituency which would be fine with deep cuts to defense (disclaimer: there are cuts to defense that can be made – that’s understood – but not at the level they’re proposing). Here’s the paragraph from The Hill story that tells you how serious Obama is about cutting spending – he gave it away at his “Twitter Townhall” yesterday:
During his first-ever Twitter town hall meeting Wednesday, Obama said the Defense budget is so large that even modest cuts to it would free up dollars for other federal programs.
Of course the budget is “large”, thanks to him we’re involved in our third war. But that’s not the key takeaway from this paragraph. Notice what he’s talking about for the dollars freed up by cuts. Debt reduction? Nope – further spending.
But it is more than clear that Obama is willing to gut defense and attempt to claim radical spending reductions on the back of the national security apparatus as a means of satisfying voters concerned about debt. The $400 billion in DoD cuts has already been declared dangerous. $700 billion would most likely be crippling. With the first, you would trim mostly fat, but have a good chance of cutting critical muscle (i.e. critical programs such as the F-35). With $700 billion in cuts, to continue the analogy, you’re cutting through muscle straight to the bone.
Defense spending is not sacrosanct and as I mention above, there are certainly cuts to be made. But the problem with spending isn’t to be found there. It is and always has been in entitlements. President Obama has no intention of cutting Social Security – bet on it. Unless such cuts for both Medicare and Social Security are made and restructuring of both programs seriously undertaken, what is happening (other than defense cuts) can’t be taken seriously and represents the politics at its worst.
Not that anyone should be surprised, considering the political class we’ve elected to represent us.
This past weekend was the 6th Annual Milblog Conference. I attended and it was the best one yet. Our headliner was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and since I’d met him previously, I was asked to introduce him and facilitate the Q&A, which I was honored to do.
It was a fun 45 minutes as you’ll probably see if you’ve the time or desire to watch the whole thing. I start the questioning with the shakeup in the national security arena where Petraeus is going to CIA and Panetta going to SecDef. Secretary Rumsfeld reminded me that Ryan Crocker is also included in that as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.
He’s definitely right to point that out and it plays even more into the theory that we’re going to fight the war differently than we have. Petraeus and Crocker had a very tight relationship in Iraq and there’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship will be reestablished with Petraeus at CIA. It again emphasizes the probability of a more covert, SOF, “secret ninja” type of war in the future, vs. the way we’re waging it now.
And, with the demise of bin Laden, many are now going to call on us to pack up and leave claiming our mission is complete and encouraging us to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghanis to sort out. I see the pressure to do that building over the coming months (remember July is the month of the scheduled withdrawal from A’stan). About all that might dampen those cries is if al Qaeda strikes somewhere in retaliation for the bin Laden death (and I fully expect they will, however they may not mount any sort of reprisal in the next few months).
The recently announced moves that will see Gen. David Petraeus taking the helm of the CIA, while CIA director Leon Panetta moves to the Secretary of Defense post (replacing retiring SecDef Robert Gates), may have some interesting reasons behind them.
Petraeus is our most successful general in a generation and credited by many for turning the Iraq war around at a time when it seemed to be spiraling out of control. His ability to command troops in the field coupled with his ability to deftly handle the diplomatic side of his duties made him the most popular general our military has seen for some time. So popular, in fact, that he was eventually put in command in Afghanistan to replace President Obama’s hand-picked general there.
Petraeus will resign from the Army to take the CIA post. But many are asking, why CIA? Why not Petraeus as the SecDef?
Perhaps the reason is that, with the big drawdown scheduled in July for Afghanistan, this signals how we plan on fighting that war from then on: more emphasis on CIA and Special Operations Force activities and less on conventional forces. Or, the “Biden plan,” if you will. Many more covert operations and drone strikes than now. Less emphasis on coalition operations; more emphasis on training Afghan forces to take the security job over. Petraeus would have be the best man to make that transition a reality.
So what does the move of Panetta mean for the Department of Defense? Apparently, Panetta wasn’t particularly enthused about taking the job, but finally said “yes” this past Monday. Something obviously changed to have him accept the post. Most think the administration agreed to make it a relatively short-term appointment for the 73 year old Director of the CIA. Secretary of Defense is a post with a grueling operations tempo, with three wars going and budget battles in the offing. It’s a tough slog for anyone holding the post.
That means that Panetta will most likely be a “caretaker” SecDef, and as the president’s man, much more open to the budget cuts Obama wants from DoD than Gates. Gates did his best to protect DoD as much as he could from thoughtless or deep cuts to the defense budget. He also tried to get out ahead of the curve and nominate cuts of his own in order to avoid those that might be forced on the department by lawmakers.
With Panetta, it is more likely that he will be less of an advocate for DoD and more of a hatchet man for the administration. He’ll most likely be gone, one way or the other, when January 2013 arrives. So he has no reason not to do what he and the president agree on concerning cuts to defense. The only bulwark against administration cuts now will be the Republican House.
Keep an eye on these two appointments and the events that surround them. Both could signal profound changes in the two agencies effected.