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Posts Tagged ‘US Military’

Obama’s Impossible Choices on Iraq

June 16th, 2014

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Iraq was a bold U.S. experiment in nation-building. It turned out to be a flop.

That’s what we’re learning as we watch what the United States achieved there evaporate after nine years of war, after nearly 4,500 Americans were killed, 32,000 wounded and $800 billion in U.S. taxpayer money spent.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he expressed contempt for nation-building. It was a point he made in rally after rally. “I’m worried about the fact I’m running against a man,” Bush said, “who uses ‘military’ and ‘nation-building’ in the same sentence.”

But what were U.S. troops doing in Iraq four years later if not nation-building?

The U.S. military can do many things supremely well. They are all military things — like fighting wars, repelling invasions and providing security. But nation-building — the task that devolved upon them in both Iraq and Afghanistan — is political, not military. And politics is not something the military can do very well. Nor should anyone expect it to.

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‘Back to the Future’ Foreign Policy

April 11th, 2014

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The 1980s are all the rage once again—from neon clothes to Robocop and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even America’s 1980s foreign policy is back in fashion amongst Neo-Cold Warriors longing to return to the Reagan era.

President Barack Obama quipped to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election that, “The 1980s called—they want their foreign policy back,” and he’s giving the military more money, even adjusted for inflation, than President Ronald Reagan ever did. But, the Neo-Cold Warriors still can’t abandon their Reagan nostalgia, especially after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which has led some to ask “Was Mitt Romney right about Russia?”

Obama’s military outspends Russian President Vladimir Putin’s by more than seven to one. Yet, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.,) rails against the president because, “For decades, defense spending made up roughly 50 percent of the federal budget. Today, it’s just 18 percent.” While ignoring the fact that defense spending hasn’t made up more than 50 percent of the federal budget since we put a man on the moon, Ryan is also concerned about the decline in defense spending as a percentage of GDP. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., similarly bemoans the fact that America’s defense spending falls short of the 6% percent of GDP it was under Reagan, and The Wall Street Journal claims that by this metric Obama will leave his successor a “weaker” country than he inherited.

Whether or not you think the current level of spending is sufficient, defense spending as a share of GDP measures militarization of our society, but that does not necessarily mean strength.  Applying Reagan’s magic percentage today ignores changes in our economy, the threat environment and our capabilities.

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Three Myths About the Defense Budget

March 14th, 2014

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The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget request has been savaged by Republicans and even some Democrats. Critics argue it’s “a skeleton defense budget,” that will “dramatically reduce the size of the Army to pre-World War II levels,” and all of this “will embolden America’s foes to take aggressive acts.” All of these critiques have one thing in common: they’re not true.

Here’s why: Read the rest of this entry »

The Wrong Way to Measure ‘Strength’

March 10th, 2014

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The ancient Greek military historian Thucydides famously noted that in war, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Today, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, concurs.

“It’s a dangerous world, and we’re making it more so by cutting defense,” said McKeon,  responding to the president’s defense budget. “We weaken ourselves, and that is how you get into wars. You don’t get into wars if you’re strong.”

The idea that “weak” countries must fight to uphold their status might seem self-evident. However, while McKeon’s logic might have made sense in the Bronze Age, it makes little sense in the modern age.

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Keeping the Peace in Asia

December 12th, 2013

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If you’re an Asia-focused security analyst, you’ve certainly been earning your paycheck these last few months. To wit: In late November, Beijing unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone over a broad swath of the Pacific Ocean; the U.S. responded by flying two B-52 bombers straight through it a few days later. South Korea and Japan then followed suit. Just this week, South Korea declared its own zone that overlaps waters and a submerged rock that China also claims.

The situation underscores why the U.S. needs to maintain a robust naval and air force presence in Asia: because it keeps all the regional powers — rising, declining or otherwise — from escalating a crisis into a conflagration. Treaties and trade help ameliorate the jagged regional political dynamics, but American hard power on the seas and in the air is what keeps tensions from rising to a fever pitch.

How can the U.S. continue to stabilize Asia without firing a shot? One way is to continue to blunt Japan from making a serious move that would further enflame Chinese nationalist passions, and, to a lesser extent, vice versa. Once these nationalist fires are re-lit in Asia, it could burn down the whole continent, as we saw a few generations ago.

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The Costs Are Crippling

November 6th, 2013

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The bureaucracies that surround top commanders have grown drastically. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, military and civilian positions at the combatant commands that some of the military’s approximately three dozen four-star officers oversee has increased by about 50 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office. The number of support personnel that top generals and admirals command has grown so much that the ratio of civilian personnel to troops is higher than it has ever been.

War-fighters looking to make quick decisions on the battlefield are buried beneath this colossal bureaucracy.

“In some cases the gap between me and an action officer may be as high as 30 layers,” bemoaned the former secretary of defense, Robert Gates. The result, according to Gates, is “a bureaucracy which has the fine motor skills of a dinosaur.”

In addition to stymieing military effectiveness, the cost of the top-heavy military is immense. Just the basic pay and compensation of a four-star officer costs taxpayers more than $225,000 a year. When they retire, each of these generals and admirals can cost taxpayers over a million dollars a year. The taxpayer-financed perks these commanders enjoy is immense and, as a Third Way report documents, includes: mansions, private jets, chefs, gardeners, drivers, personal assistants and even string quartets for dinner parties.

But the greatest costs are from the expansive bureaucracies that have grown beneath these top commanders. According to the G.A.O., the cost to taxpayers of the combatant commands many of these generals and admirals sit atop more than doubled from 2007 to 2012 — topping $1 billion.

Despite efforts to curtail this problem, the trend toward a more top-heavy military has continued. This threatens the effectiveness of the brave men and women who fight to defend our nation, and wastes money the Pentagon needs to combat 21st century threats. Curtailing the bloated Pentagon bureaucracy isn’t simply a matter of promoting efficiency or eliminating waste, it’s a national security priority. Failure to act now will result in a military that’s more expensive, less effective and less capable of defending U.S. interests.

This piece was orignially published via The New York Times.