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October 10, 2011

All Children Above Average, National Security Edition
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

From what I've seen of the speech Jon Huntsman is about to give, I expect attention to focus on his call for a faster pullout from Afghanistan than Obama's timetable, or Romney's, or the Senate neocons' (never), and maybe on the general awkwardness of someone who served in the Obama Administration overseas saying its policies have "weakened America."

But -- in a speech that overall represents what used to be the sensible center of Republican politics -- the sentences that ought to get the most attention are a call for military attacks on Iran if it gets nuclear weapons, and a call for US foreign policy to be "much more" focused on counter-terrorism.  Oh, and the idea that we should focus trade initiative on nations that share our values, which is a rather non-realist idea that I'll let my trade policy friends have a field day with.

The Iran attack call is interesting because, contrary to what you might think, the U.S. military and many nonpartisan and bipartisan national security figures think such an attack would be a disaster for our security, for our economy and for our ally Israel. A Stimson Center-USIP report found that an attack: 

would cement Iran's determination to acquire nuclear weapons, likely end the prospects for a democratic revival in Iran indefinitely, and result in significant military, political, and economic harm to the US and its allies.

Meanwhile, Huntsman says that we need to pay "much more" attention to counter-terrorism in our foreign policy.  I wonder what he means by this.  The 9/11 Commission and a number of CT scholars have written in recent months that the threat we face from terrorism remains substantial but not catastrophic.  Defense Secretary Panetta and others have said that Al Qaeda is under great stress.  And in fact, the UN just rolled out a new forum for counter-terrorism cooperation.  All this would seem to suggest more that we can right-size our focus on terrorism.  In my experience, whether you are a diplomat at the UN, in an Asian financial institution or a Latin American embassy, terrorism is in the top three items on your portfolio.  At a moment where we face such intense economic and institutional challenges around the world, I have literally never seen in the writings of any expert of any political stripe the idea that our diplomats need to do more CT work.

 

October 07, 2011

When You Say No-Fly-Zone and R2P, Do You Mean Regime Change?
Posted by Eric Martin

Fighting-falconF16

Josh Rogin published a piece earlier this week with a headline that touted Sen. Joe Lieberman's recent call for a "no-fly-zone" over Syria. (For those familiar with the Regime Change Ratchet*, this would put Lieberman in Step 3).  While such a hawkish stance from Sen. Lieberman is hardly remarkable, what is interesting is that Sen. Lieberman, like the Syrian protesters cited in the piece, is actually calling for something far more involved than a mere no-fly-zone.

Following the precedent set with respect to the Libya intervention, the term "no-fly-zone" is becoming a euphemism for a more robust military engagement - one that includes troops on the ground, arming rebel factions and the use of air power to target a wide range of military and regime assets.

Such lexical imprecision is not harmless, however. It can forestall, or at least muddle, the necessary discussion of the increased costs, greater risks and potential responsibilities that arise in the aftermath, associated with the type of military engagement that is actually being proposed under the guise of a relatively simpler no-fly-zone.  Even if "no-fly-zone" makes for an easier sell to the public, as well as prospective coalition partners.

Consistent with this euphemistic trend, the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) doctrine is being invoked by proponents of military action in Syria when, in essence, most are calling for regime change - a policy that, again, exponentially raises the stakes in terms of costs, risks and difficulty in managing the aftermath.  

Along those lines, Shadi Hamid and Gregory Gause had a very interesting bloggingheads discussion (relevant excerpt here) of what Gause termed the "bait and switch" that was perpetrated in connection with the Libyan intervention - sold to various parties as an R2P mission whereas, in practice, it was regime change. Shadi's counterpoint was not without merit: that there was no feasible way to protect the civilian population of Libya absent regime change, since Qaddafi (if left in power) would eventually retaliate.

While Shadi is likely correct, the lesson is that we should look at every proposed R2P missions with that potential escalation front and center.  At the outset, we must determine whether there is a strong likelihood that we could protect the civilian population in question by a military action that falls short of regime change. If not, it is essential that we fully appreciate exactly how serious this proposed military involvement is, and what it could entail in terms of ongoing responsibilities (this is especially true given the horrendous track record for success in terms of such endeavors - but more on that in a future post).

(*Credit Matt Yglesias for the name)

Photo Credit: PhoenixFlyer2008

No Ideas: Evaluating Romney's Speech
Posted by The Editors

Romney on a boat

This post by DA editor Jacob Stokes and DA contributors James Lamond and Kelsey Hartigan.

Today Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy address at the Citadel. It contained eight specific policy proposals. Like Romney’s previous speeches, this one doesn’t have the facts going for it. The address contained more in the way of nice-sounding rhetoric designed to enthuse his audience than it did in terms of serious policy proposals that can draw a contrast between him and President Obama. The lack of substance is disappointing because this is where Romney was supposed to get serious and lay out a platform. He released a list of his foreign policy advisors yesterday, most of whom were high-level players in the Bush administration, so it seemed like he’d be going for more.

Aaron David Miller characterized that disappointment best: “Our problems in foreign policy flow not from the lack of expertise and skill of the president but from the cruel and unforgiving world in which we operate abroad, and Mitt Romney can't fix that. He can, however, get America into a lot of trouble with tough talk, no strategy, and a failure to understand the world in which we live. We saw that movie in 2003. No sequels please."

Regardless, some of us here at DA have decided to take explore each of the policy proposals and then a couple other issues that came up. The proposals in bold. Happy reading: 

1. Restore America's Naval Credibility

Romney announced he wants to “increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15.” What he didn’t say was why. There was no strategic rationale and certainly no mention of how he plans to pay for it. The Navy requested $176.4 billion dollars for the 2012 budget year – and already proposed building 10 ships. Why is Mitt Romney proposing we build more ships than the Navy has requested – and how does he intend to pay for it? See his plan for massively increasing the defense budget below. 

2. Strengthen and Repair Relationships with Steadfast Allies

Romney stated, “I will bolster and repair our alliances. Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I will count as dear our Special Relationship with the United Kingdom.  And I will begin talks with Mexico, to strengthen our cooperation on our shared problems of drugs and security.” This is of course a neoconservative favorite line of attack. It presumes that the U.S. has “abandoned” its allies. It is an attack usually seen in terms of Israel and Eastern Europe with regards to Russia. Though Romney has spread out the theme a bit. This the strawiest of straw men. In what way is the U.S. position on Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in question or the Special Relationship not counted as “dear.” In addition, U.S.-Mexican cooperation on security and drugs is already far past just “talks.”

Just as a reminder for readers, here is what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said last month in the context of the rescue of the Israeli embassy personnel in Cairo:

“I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.    I asked for his help.  This was a decisive and fateful moment.  He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’  And so he did.  He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us.  We owe him a special measure of gratitude.  This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States.  This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East.”

3. Enhance Our Deterrent Against Iran

Romney charged, “I will enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region. I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.”

Apparently Romney doesn’t believe that the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet provides sufficient deterrence. However, his overly-militaristic approach is not without consequence. Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen has explained that the U.S. should be focused on talking to Iran – and that military action will not solve the problem with Iran. Admiral Mullen noted:

“We haven’t had a connection with Iran since 1979. Even in the darkest days of our – of the Cold War we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other. If something happens virtually – it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world. So – and I think the Pacific and Asia, stability there as the – as one of the economic engines for the world for the foreseeable future, is something we all need to spend a lot of time on.” 

Admiral Mullen has also said: "I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome… But from my perspective ... the last option is to strike right now."

Finally, the U.S. alliance with Israel is fundamental; security ties are closer than they have ever been. Since 2009, President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than any other world leader, and the U.S. and Israel held their largest-ever joint military exercise. Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, also notes "an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel's new Iron Dome Defensive System, and other initiatives." 

4. Commit to a Robust National Missile Defense System

Romney also said he would “begin reversing Obama-era cuts to national missile defense and prioritize the full deployment of a multilayered national ballistic missile defense system.” Not only was there no explanation as to how Romney would pay for this, but worse, experts agree that many of these programs aren’t worth funding until they start meeting certain testing requirements. The focus instead should be on programs that work In 2009, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen announced the administration’s new Phased Adaptive Approach, which will protect the US, our forward deployed troops and European allies through cooperation with Turkey, Poland and Romania- which have agreed to house certain components of the system. 

And as a report from the Center for a New American Security demonstrated this week, the focus on the European missile defense system is much more pragmatic than Romney’s plan to focus on national missile defense. CNAS recommends in each of its budget scenarios that the U.S. should: “Prioritize operational activities tied to theater missile defense programs, such as the Aegis sea-based system, and provide less funding for experimental national missile defense programs.”

5. Establish a Single Point of Responsibility for All Soft Power Resources in the Middle East

Romney pledged the creation of an Arab Spring Czar. He said, “I will begin organizing all of our diplomatic and assistance efforts in the greater Middle East under one official with the authority and accountability necessary to train all our soft power resources on ensuring that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter.” This is not necessarily a bad idea. What is surprising though is that for all of the talk about democracy, human rights and American interests in the speech, his position on one of the most complicated and important shifts in international affairs is a procedural one that creates more bureaucracy. It is also a bit puzzling politically to propose another new czar position, given the Tea Party’s early focus on President Obama’s czars in protests. This is not likely to go over well that portion of the Republican electorate. Either way, I wonder what Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, thinks about this proposal. 

6. Launch Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America

In the speech, Romney said, “I will launch a campaign to advance economic opportunity in Latin America, and contrast the benefits of democracy, free trade, and free enterprise against the material and moral bankruptcy of the Venezuelan and Cuban model.” Economic engagement and helping build strong democratic institutions in Latin America is a pretty good idea. And President Obama agrees. In March, following President Obama’s trip to south America, Julia Sweig, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that, "On the tangible side, Obama and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff announced ten new cooperation agreements--including deals on energy, science and technology, space, nuclear port security, and infrastructure development." The Miami Herald further reported at the time that: "Obama pledged $200 million to Central America to battle a new menace: drug cartels... He said the $200 million anti-crime package would ‘strengthen courts, civil society groups and institutions that uphold the rule of law' and address ‘the social and economic forces that drive young people towards criminality.’” 

7. Conduct a Full Review of Our Transition in Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Romney mused whether, “In Afghanistan, after the United States and NATO have withdrawn all forces, will the Taliban find a path back to power? After over a decade of American sacrifice in treasure and blood, will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?” Romney also said, “I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation’s sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban.  I will speak with our generals in the field, and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders.  The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.” Two questions flow from those statements: First, is preventing a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a vital national interest for the U.S.? If so, is Romney willing to add more troops to the fight and commit them for as long as it takes to prevent any political role for the Taliban in Afghanistan? Reporters should be badgering him for clarity on that point, especially as today is the tenth anniversary of the start of that war.

8. Order Interagency Initiative on Cybersecurity

This proposal is a promise to do what Obama has already done, and offered no changes to the policy. As former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism czar and cybersecurity guru Richard Clarke explained to DA, "We have a national cyber security strategy. He doesn't tell us what is wrong with that or what he would do, just that he would spend time devising yet another strategy." The current strategy is here.

Other Topics

Defense Budget

In order to finance these outsize ambitions, Romney has proposed pegging the defense budget to GDP at four percent (in previous speeches at least, although not in this one). Remember, this is just the base budget, which does not include additional spending on the wars (see expansion of Afghanistan above). What the four percent number would mean for the base budget, though, is roughly a 14% increase year-on-year, and then it would continue to grow from there. Here’s the math. Currently our GDP is $14.58 Trillion. Four percent of that would be something like $583 billion. The FY 2012 request is floating somewhere around $513 billion. So if Romney’s plan came was implemented, you’d see something like a 14 percent increase year-on-year in the base defense budget. To be sure, Obama’s supposed cuts aren’t really cuts. But the rate of increase is drastically slower than 14%. Also, good luck to Romney on selling that to the Tea Party caucus.

Richard Clarke also had a strong reaction on the issue of troop levels. He explained, "[Romney] also says we need to increase the size of the armed forces because of the burden of the combat rotation schedule. That was true three years ago. Since then Obama did increase the size of the armed forces and now, with far fewer US troops in combat, the military plans to reduce the size of the armed forces again as we are exiting Iraq. The only reason that the combat rotation would be a problem in the future would be if Romney is planning some new war." NSN came issued a similar conclusion in a paper earlier this week.

China

On China, Romney asked if the country will “go down a darker path, intimidating their neighbors, brushing aside an inferior American Navy in the Pacific, and building a global alliance of authoritarian states?” The Navy thing is laughable. China just finished its first aircraft carrier, and it’s “a piece of junk.” The U.S. has 11. As for the alliance of authoritarian states, Romney is surely referring to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Current members include: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It’s a fledgling regional alliance and has no hope of going global.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the context of a quote from Benjamin Netanyahu. As corrected above, the statement came in the aftermath of the rescue of Israeli embassy personnel in Cairo, not, as originally stated, in the context of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN.

Photo: Mitt Romney Flickr

October 06, 2011

Mitt Romney: Nationally Insecure?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Which Mitt Romney will show up at the Citadel to give a ‘major foreign policy address’ tomorrow? Will we see Tea Party-pleasing Mitt who’s proposed getting out of Afghanistan and staying out of the international effort on Libya? War Party Mitt who supports unending war in Afghanistan, a new war in Iran and U.S. troops to Pakistan -- and who just named the Bush old guard to his national security team? Free-trader Mitt who opposes tariffs on China or Mitt who supports sanctions for Chinese currency manipulation? Or maybe crowd-pleasing Mitt who refused ‘to scold the audience’ for booing an active-duty servicemember deployed in Iraq? Best guess is he’ll go for all of the above—no apologies!—but you never know.

President Obama:  Keeping Promises Across The Globe

It will take some doing to challenge a president who has taken Bin Laden and more than two dozen wanted terrorist leaders off the battlefield, kept a pledge to begin winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shown firmness toward China, driven Moammar Qaddafi from power and rallied our allies together around sanctions for Iran and support to prevent global economic collapse.

Mitt Romney:  All Over The Map

From hand-to-hand combat in presidential debates over Afghanistan, to intra-party Congressional food fights on defense spending, the conservative movement is torn between its War Party and Tea Party factions. Meanwhile, on a litany of foreign policy issues --Afghanistan, China, Libya, terrorism, American allies and military-- Romney’s attempts to define himself as all things to all people have placed him on the wrong side of the experts – and often, his own previous statements.

Romney was against a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan before he was for it; he said he would not send troops to Pakistan, but then said he could imagine a scenario where it would be necessary; he said the President was wrong to join a coalition intervening in Libya, but then celebrated when Qaddafi was forced out; he said we shouldn't criticize our allies, then made disparaging remarks about Mexico and France; he said Presidents Bush and Obama were too tough on China’s steel and tire exporters, but then said the President wasn’t tough enough on China trade.

Be Prepared?

Romney says he was not prepared “to scold the audience” at a recent debate for booing an active-duty servicemember deployed in Iraq.  Last year he was unprepared to support our military leaders’ call for a treaty that would reduce Russia’s nuclear weapons.  Instead, he followed Congressional Republicans and opposed it, in what an independent journalist called a “shabby, misleading and thoroughly ignorant” attack. 

Team of Rivals?

The Bush national security hands that he’s named to his national security team are the same people who brought us the bungled aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the elections that brought Hamas to power in Gaza, and the decision to pull troops away from the hunt for Bin Laden and send them to Iraq instead.

The “shadow National Security Council” rolled out by the Romney campaign today includes advisers who think the Obama Administration’s planned transition away from combat operations in Afghanistan would be “a disaster,” and others who say that skepticism about any continued mission there simply “accounts for reality.”  He has advisers who think the U.S. tried to “run away from” Libya, and others who think we did too much.  What does Romney think?  

In domestic politics, flip-flops make your donors insecure. In foreign policy, they make us all less secure.

 

Previewing Romney’s Foreign Policy Speech
Posted by Jacob Stokes

RomneyTomorrow Mitt Romney is slated to give a foreign policy speech at the Citadel. As a preview, I thought I would read through Romney’s last speech, given on August 30 to the VFW. The address is typical Romney-speak, but a few points jumped out at me as being purposely disdainful – just to put it bluntly – of facts. Here’s a sampling: 

1. “American strength turned the Cuban missiles around.”

As part of a riff on “Peace Through Strength,” one of Romney’s speechwriters dropped this bit in there. Two things, one small and one much larger. The first is a quibble, but the missiles were Russian, they were just stationed in Cuba. Secondly and more importantly, it wasn’t strength that turned those missiles around. It was Kennedy’s decision to mollify Khrushchev and the Russians by removing our missiles from Turkey—it was quiet, but we blinked. And the world is better for it. In other words, it wasn’t “American strength” that ended the Cuban missile crisis, but pragmatic leadership that stood up for American interests but not blindly. Knowing when enough “strength” is enough is the reason why the world didn’t descend into nuclear war. This is IR 101.

2. “American strength yanked Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole.” 

This one comes from the same riff and is literally true. But it of course ignores the fact that while American strength got Saddam Hussein, the ensuing chaos in Iraq was arguably the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history. Both the planning and execution were weak to non-existent, and the war has had enormous costs and consequences for our military. It’s deeply unserious to ignore the realities of the Iraq war this way. This sort of blasé thinking would be disastrous in a president.

3. “But when a president sends our men and women into harm’s way, he must first explain their mission, define its success, plan for their victorious exit, provide them with the best weapons and armor in the world, and properly care for them when they come home! Anything less is not befitting a great nation.” 

Again, very true on its face but also profoundly ignorant of the recent past. Especially given the announcement of Romney’s foreign policy advisors today—many if not most of whom served in the Bush administration executing policies that did just what Romney is denouncing—it’s disingenuous to make arguments like this in reference to Obama’s policies. To be sure, the surge in Afghanistan lacked a clear vision for success. But that war was begun and festered under Bush. One could make a case for Libya, but no American ground troops were ever in harm's way. Basically if Romney had another separate, more coherent vision, one that eschewed the policies of Bush and took on the substance of Obama's positions, fine. Then this language would be appropriate, even necessary. But here it rings hollow.

4. “And while our output has declined, the bureaucracy has increased.  There is enormous waste.  Let me give you an example: During World War Two, we built 1,000 ships per year with 1,000 people in the Bureau of Ships – the purchasing department, if you will. In the 1980’s we built 17 ships per year, with 4,000 people in purchasing. Today, for 9 ships a year, it takes 25,000 people! ... I will slice billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency and bureaucracy from the defense budget.  I will use the money we save for modern ships and planes, and for more troops.  And I’ll spend it to ensure that veterans have the care they deserve.”

This is Romney talking about defense spending. To be sure, there is waste, fraud and abuse in the system. It’s probably fair to say there’s a lot of it. But no matter how much of a “conservative businessman” you are, cleaning up the process a bit—especially if you don’t shift the strategies underpinning the procurement process in the first place--won’t allow you to go back to World War Two (as though that were desirable in the first place; ships are much more complicated now, to say the least). Moreover, there’s a lack of good reform ideas out there. How exactly does Romney propose to clean up the Pentagon, a task no one else has succeeded at? It should also be noted that if Romney insists on a tirade against the “bureaucracy” in the Pentagon, then his calls to peg defense spending to four percent of GDP run counter to his goal of reducing that bureaucracy. Feed the bureaucracy money, and it will grow.

Look, politicians say things in speeches that stretch the truth. It’s not desirable, but it’s a fact. And I’d be willing to write off a couple fibs to rhetorical excess. But when a candidate makes statements like these--statements that so blatantly turn their back on the reality and/or are just very poorly chosen anecdotes—you have to wonder whether reality is a concern at all.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow’s speech takes a more serious look the real challenges we’re facing.

Photo: Heritage

Reid on CT Legislation
Posted by James Lamond

For those who missed it this week, Senator Reid sent a great letter to Carl Levin and John McCain, regarding detainee provisions in the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill. In the letter, Reid says that he will not bring the bill to the floor while it has three controversial provisions in it. He specifically cited the provisions that authorize indefinite detention (section 1031), require military custody for terrorism suspects (1032), and transfer restrictions on current detainees (1033). 

Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First describes the effects of the bill saying:

this would be the first bill authorizing military detention of suspected insurgents since the McCarthy era, when Congress passed the Internal Security Act to allow the government to indefinitely detain suspected Communists.

If the Committee's bill became law, military detention would actually be required for all suspects who are not U.S. citizens, which could cut the FBI -- our best-trained experts on investigating international terrorism -- out of these critical cases. It would also make it far more difficult to prosecute terrorists later.

Replacing an effective system – the FBI and other law enforcement that have an expertise in counterterrorism – with required military detention makes make little sense. Beyond stretching the military into roles it was neither designed, nor wants, to handle, it is a logistical nightmare. Requiring the military to be police and jailor would mean that military officers would have to arrest and hold terrorism suspects throughout the country. Outside of a handful of cities, which have large bases that might be able to handle this, the infrastructure, facilities, capabilities and training simply do not exist. In a recent letter to Congress a  group of retired generals and admirals warned that the provisions “would transform our armed forces into judge, jury and jailor for foreign terrorism suspects,” distracting from the military’s core mission: “to prosecute wars, not terrorists.”

However, what is most ironic with all of this is the timing. The debate is going public the same week the trial of Underwear Bomber commences. Abdullmutallab was arrested and successfully interrogated by the FBI after he attempted to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas day 2009. He now faces justice in a criminal court, without any of the drama or fanfare that opponents of criminal courts fear.

At a more substantive, less news hooky, level though, the timing is even worse. The Obama administration has made clear that the use of civilian courts is a key component of the overall counterterrorism strategy. John Brennan recently outlined this component of the strategy in remarks at Harvard Law School. He explains some of the more pragmatic benefits: 

For when we uphold the rule of law, governments around the globe are more likely to provide us with intelligence we need to disrupt ongoing plots, they’re more likely to join us in taking swift and decisive action against terrorists, and they’re more likely to turn over suspected terrorists who are plotting to attack us, along with the evidence needed to prosecute them.

When we uphold the rule of law, our counterterrorism tools are more likely to withstand the scrutiny of our courts, our allies, and the American people.  And when we uphold the rule of law it provides a powerful alternative to the twisted worldview offered by al-Qa’ida.  Where terrorists offer injustice, disorder and destruction, the United States and its allies stand for freedom, fairness, equality, hope, and opportunity.

The Obama administration’s has had a pretty successful counterterrorism record - particularly in 2012 - from getting  bin Laden to breaking terrorist finances to actually leveraging a more global response. In addition, the public agrees. Even as the President’s numbers have dipped, Obama always had strong  approval on his handling of terrorism  - even before bin Laden. 

This looks to me to be both bad policy as well as bad politics. 

CNAS Report Underscores Need for a New Strategy
Posted by The Editors

Pentagon This guest post by William Hartung, who is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) summarizes its new report on defense spending as follows: “U.S. Global Engagement Strategy at Risk If Defense Cuts Exceed $550 Billion Over Ten Years.”  If the headline is meant to be taken at face value, it is our strategy that is at risk if we cut further, not our security.  And the report, Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in An Age of Austerity, acknowledges as much, noting that we can’t scale back the Pentagon’s ambitious plans beyond the magic number of $550 billion unless “policymakers re-calibrate America’s global engagement strategy and/or generate savings by reforming pay and benefits.”

Putting pay and benefits aside for the moment, strategy is at the heart of the matter.  At a time when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down and deficit reduction is the order of the day, it is precisely the right time to “re-calibrate America’s global engagement strategy.”  If we do so, it will be possible to trim planned Pentagon spending by up to $1 trillion over ten years.  This is roughly twice the level that the CNAS report deems acceptable.  Examples of how to generate this level of savings are contained in reports and articles published by the Sustainable Defense Task Force, the Cato Institute, and Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman of the Stimson Center, writing in the January/February 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs (Adams and Leatherman set out an approach for cutting $788 billion over a shorter time frame, from 2012 to 2018).

The Pentagon has accumulated a dizzying array of missions in the 2000s. It is well past time to cut back. Priority missions should include destroying and disrupting al Qaeda or other terror networks intent on attacking the United States; preventing nuclear proliferation and reducing global stockpiles of nuclear weapons; and cybersecurity.  But we  should not design U.S. forces with an eye towards fighting future wars of occupation like Iraq or large scale counterinsurgency campaigns like Afghanistan that seek to remake other societies.  The Pentagon should not be an economic development agency, and its proliferation of security assistance programs should be both cut back and made more transparent. 

The CNAS report does a service in acknowledging that economic constraints are “driving strategy, not the other way around,” and that therefore the real question is what level of risk we are willing to take as we rein in the Pentagon’s ambitious spending plans.  And it sketches out four scenarios that cover the current range of discussion for adjustments in Pentagon spending, from “Reposition and Reset,” at $350 billion to $400 billion in savings, to “Focused Economy of Force,” at $800 to $850 billion in savings, all over a ten year time span.  In each of the scenarios, ground troops are de-emphasized in favor of air and naval power, and the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean are given priority, along with the Middle East. The authors of the report seek to set out the trade-offs and security risks entailed in each scenario.  And they give specific details on how each of their scenarios would impact procurement, R&D, troop levels, intelligence spending, and more. Two missing ingredients are a discussion of the role of allies in providing for their own defense and the importance of non-military tools of security in addressing and preventing threats. 

But what is an appropriate level of risk?  Under its “deepest cuts” scenario, CNAS raises concerns about how long it would take the U.S. to mobilize for a major ground operation, or whether it could act soon enough to prevent an adversary from seizing territory. These concerns must be considered in the context of a discussion of how likely such situations are to arise, and which of them would require U.S. action, either alone or with allies.  But most importantly, in what it considers its riskiest option, CNAS emphasizes the fact that U.S. leaders would have to be “much more cautious about where and when to use force” and “would have to prioritize global missions far more clearly than in the past.”   These are good things, things which should be done regardless of what level Pentagon spending settles in at.

Photo: Flickr

October 05, 2011

No Country for Young Vets
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Af VetThis Friday, October 7, marks the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. There’s much discussion to be had about U.S. strategy a decade into these wars. But it’s also a time to take a deep look at the human costs. Two pieces out today explore the plight and attitudes of young veterans and underscore the disconnect between servicemembers and civilians that has characterized the last decade. Yellow magnetic ribbons or no, neither veterans nor the public believe those not in the military understand what military life entails.

The AP reports today, in a must-read story that’s nominally about whether vets think the wars of the last decade were worth fighting, another depressing—although if you’re paying attention, probably not shocking—finding. 

Although numerous polls have shown that Americans hold troops in high regard, the respondents in the Pew research admitted to a lack of understanding of what military life entails. Only 27% of adult civilians said the public understood the problems facing those in uniform, while the proportion of veterans who said so was even lower at 21%.

Those numbers tell a story, but on the NYT’s At War blog, Army veteran Matt Farwell tells his—about being homeless—better. Here’s a snippet:

As infantry on the ground in Afghanistan, we were introduced to the ugliness of violent, unpredictable death. Over the 16 months of our tour, we caused it and we endured it; we grew well acquainted with it. Sometimes I think that we took it back, an invisible scythe-carrying stowaway on board the airplane we took back to the States. How else to explain my friend Michael Cloutier, whose spot-on shooting probably saved my life when our observation post was attacked by Taliban who outnumbered us three to one, dying of a drug overdose a year after we came back? 

Farwell gets a bit of the wider view in, too:

Paul Reickhoff, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the founder and chairman of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America testified that over 11,000 veterans between the ages of 18 and 30 were officially listed — that is, somehow identified, confirmed and entered in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs database — as homeless. That’s more than a standard Army division. It’s also really tricky to measure exactly, since there are plenty, like me, you’d never suspect were homeless veterans if you saw them around town.

Whatever you think of the wars, after looking at these stories, there’s no disputing that somewhere along the line we lost our way.

Photo: Flickr

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