Democracy Arsenal

« A Recruiting Crisis | Main | DeJa Vu on UN Dues »

June 08, 2005

Hitting the Wall on Defense
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I've spent two days this week sitting in the jury waiting room of the DC federal court. It is a study in information contrasts. All there is to do for hour after hour is read newspapers or watch TV. Like a premonition to today's evening Senate approval vote on conservative activist judge Janice Brown -- all eight sets were set to Fox news.(This is the visual equivalent of water torture in a deep blue city like DC) I got an eight hour dose of terrorists in Northern California and long embarassing viagra ads.... the GWOT and erectile dysfunction. A disturbing and inauspicious twist on sex and violence.  And none of the sparkly blather on Fox included two noteworthy print stories on a topic of vital national security -- an issue that will determine America's ability to defend itself against post 9/11 threats: defense spending that is both unaccountable and completely inappropriate.  Thank goodness for hard copy.
As Suzanne and Derek posted earlier, The New York Times front page covered a Government Accountability Office report which gives the DoD a near failing grade on how it cares for taxpayer dollars.  Today's Washington Post continued coverage of the bilk-a-thon between Boeing and Defense Department officials on the now notorious "tanker deal."

Suzanne asks what is the progressive take on this? Outrage, of course, but that has been true for decades and hasn't gotten us a guns versus guns debate.(Remember, Democrats were authorizing body armor and uparmored tanks until 1994--when the newly conservative Congress eliminated all traces of peacekeeping) But rational defense spending suffers from the malady of so many public services that become jobs programs. It is somewhat understandable. Who wants to eat spinach when there is a honey baked ham on the table? (the free-range kind, of course ; ) The long-term objective is lost in the tempting and easy rewards of the Cold War status quo. This amounts to pork gluttony that continues on today. I suppose we're going to have to smack our heads on the wall before we see the writing on it. The Iraq war is that wall.  Maybe a combination of problems will help us get serious about reappraising what we really need--the falling recruitment numbers reported by the Army and Marines is a part of that script-- despite what the air power floozies on Fox say--we've got a major problem on our hands. 

Why are progressive ideas at such a disadvantage today? one significant failure of the left over the past fifteen years has been its inability to articulate a compelling alternative to "the arms race won the Cold War" chant on the right. It wasn't for lack of trying.  One of the best Grand Strategy books of the early 1990's was Janne Nolan's "Global Engagement"--a series of articles that defined security expansively and made international working relationships the cornerstone  of US engagement. Seeking an alternative to the power/dominance worldview, this book gave operational policy instructions for how to make the use of force a last resort.  Lacking an echo chamber (it was too sophisticated at the time for the freeze movement activists and there was no organized stable of progressive defense intellectuals or citizen advocates to rally) The result was that important and timely guidance didn't have the impact it should have.

Thinking back on my work on Capitol Hill, let me give one example of how this works on a day to day basis of funding priorities.  When I worked on defense issues for a Member of Congress, I received a three foot high stack of mail every week. From the World Peace Alliance types, I would get books and long testimonial documents, lists of signatures and sometimes even an origami peace crane.  From the submarine industry, I would receive a comprehensive district by district graphic breakdown of every single widget, dollar and job which was then indexed to every single district in the state (They did this for all 50 states) Plus its relation to the larger national defense strategy.

It was user-friendly and simple and, unlike the origami, required no assembly. So when it came time to vote on the defense bill, all the legislative assistant had to do was take a quick look at the district graphic to see if the Member--even a liberal Dem-- could risk a no vote to make an anti-pork point. As you can see from voting records, not many did.

This sort of tactical information has often been what progressives lack.  Fortunately, we are getting much better at it. For three examples, check out the  National Priorities Project and an excellent new report called Integrated Power by Robert Boorstin and Larry Korb at the Center for American Progress. And I promise its the last time I'll shill for it, but the Unified Security Budget for the United States put out by Foreign Policy in Focus and the Center for Defense Information is one of the best guns versus guns documents I've seen come out of the progressive camp in years.  Now we just need to figure out how to get this stuff into the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Any ideas?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hitting the Wall on Defense :

» Progressives and National Security from Political Animal
PROGRESSIVES AND NATIONAL SECURITY....Why do progressives have such a hard time articulating and promoting an alternative national security vision? Lorelei Kelly says it's largely because we don't have our act together:Thinking back on my work on Capit... [Read More]


"Remember, Democrats were authorizing body armor and uparmored tanks until 1994--when the newly conservative Congress eliminated all traces of peacekeeping"

That's the kind of information that would have been really useful in the 2004 campaigns. I bet a lot of people either don't remember or never knew that.

Failure to use this is yet another sign that Dems have ceded the security issue to Republicans.

I'm really enjoying this blog. you have a problem at your link above:

One of the best Grand Strategy books of the early 1990's was Janne Nolan's "Global Engagement"--a series of articles that defined security expansively ..."

The Global Engagement link is being redirected to Microsoft. Possibly the Freepers are messing with your links. Make sure that your site is properly firewalled and protected. Fix your link.

This sort of tactical information has often been what progressives lack.


They didn't lack the information- they didn't realize it's significance. Progressives didn't have a clear understanding of the interests of the various parties involved in making the decision.

In comparison, the defense contractors had a very clear understanding of the interests of the various parties: the Congressional types wanted to be re-elected, and the voters wanted jobs that paid well.

The "Integrated Power" paper is disappointing.

Korb's recommendation that we add 2 divisions to the Army is unrealistic, for reasons Derek points out below.

The idea that we should double the # of special forces is also unrealistic, and, given that the FBI estimated the hard-core Al-Qaeda network at a mere 200 fighters, seems totally unnecessary. It would also increase the black budget and the power of the president to intervene in other countries without democratic accountability.

Incidentally, NPR did a segment on the jury system this morning that included DC juror interviews.

Maybe Congressional Democrats should hire more veterans as staffers and fewer people with advanced degrees from prestigious East Coast universities that are easily dazzled by slick DOD and defense contractor presentations?

Lorelei, of course DOD contractors spend money in states and districts and the peace movement doesn't. So what?

Several unrelated points

(1) I remember when Kerry proposed to double the number of Special Forces and I could not help but laugh. SF operators do not grow on tree. It takes years to produce one, and most do not even make through the process. I think we maxed out on SF. We can still increased the regular active duty army, it has been done before. But I doubt that 86,000 is a realistic number.
(2) 200 hard-core Al-Qaeda fighters? Really bad number. Many thousands of fighter went through the training camps in Afghanistan. You have to multiply that number a few more times. Here is a concept: "train the trainers." Those guys went back and trained new generation of fighters.
(3) On Defense procurement. It would be every effective if the soldiers on the battle field be included in the process. They know what they need better than most. One way to eliminate wasteful spending.

Minh-Duc, most of the fighters who went through the camps were just foot soldiers for the Northern Alliance. Even Reuel Marc Gerecht, former CIA officer and member of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, thinks the #s are grossly exaggeratted.

And a Rand analyst says that "in the attacks that were instigated by Al Qaeda, the same handful of people were involved in virtually every was a few men persistently pursuing a few deadly enterprises."

And of course, the FBI documents show there only 200 hard core fighters, as of September 2002:

Are any of the Democrats who were authorizing body armor and uparmored tanks until 1994 still around?

I guess I should expand on that. Shouldn't those guys get up and say something about "we told you so" followed by "when the *&%#! are our troops going to get their *&%#! equipment?!".

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use