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January 17, 2012

Will Romney Defend Our Turkish Allies?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I don't really care that Rick Perry has doubled down on his attacks on Turkey's government as "Islamic terrorists," that his top foreign policy advisor* said that Ankara's democratically-elected government "has some explaining to do," and is "extremely supportive of Hamas."  (Note: if we could only get Iran's support of Hamas to look like Turkey's, what a great place the Middle East would be. But I digress.) I sympathize with our friends the fact-checkers, who think they have better things to do than respond to this kind of, well, falsehood isn't even the word for it.

No, I care -- and the Perry campaign seems to agree -- what frontrunner Mitt Romney thinks about our Turkish allies.  Like Perry advisor Victoria Coates, I too find it surprising that Romney hasn't weighed in on the controversy.  Herewith, a guide to enterprising journalists:

What is the US Relationship with Turkey? Turkey has been a member of NATO for 60 years; Turkish troops fought alongside Americans in Afghanistan.

Does Partnership With Turkey's Avowedly Muslim Government Serve American Interests? Turkey is the leading provider of shelter and humanitarian assistance to Syrian citizens fleeing Bashar al-Assad’s murderous rule. Turkey's transition away from authoritarianism over recent decades has inspired the secular and moderate leaders of transitions in our NATO ally Albania; in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country and Muslim democracy; in the former Soviet countries of Central Asia; and now in the Middle East and North Africa.

Do Human Rights Advocates View The Turkish Regime in Apocalyptic Terms? Turkey's democracy is far from perfect, and we don't agree with all of its foreign policy choices. Review Freedom House's most recent report on Turkey, which refers to it as a "country at the crossroads" with no reference to the rule of Islamic terrorists.

January 16, 2012

Things Getting Pretty Dicey With Iran
Posted by David Shorr

0978032101349_500X500Depending on how you look at it, tensions with Iran are mounting to: an accidental war, an intentional war, a recession-causing oil price spike, a dizzying sequence of moves / countermoves / signals, an escalating cycle of assassinations, renewed negotiations, or a combination thereof. At any rate, they're mounting. 

Even before all the drama of last week, looming sanctions against the Iranian central bank sparked a debate on whether such harsh economic measures are the functional equivalent of seeking regime change. I argue that the international pressure forged by the Obama administration has been consistent in its aim: opening Iran's nuclear program to the kind of scrutiny that will prove its civilian character. The administration has had to ratchet up the pressure because of Iranian leaders' intransigence. As I said in my post last Monday, it's vital to distinguish this policy-change goal from regime-change because "the only way Iranian leaders would cooperate in proving Iran's non-weapon status is if that would make them less, rather than more, vulnerable."

Which is why the stakes were so high when the initial version of a Washington Post story last Tuesday reported that the new sanctions weren't merely equivalent to regime-change, but that the administration's official policy is to seek the ouster of Iran's leaders. The tension between the two objectives and trade-off with the nuclear issue also made the Post's article a target of immediate criticism and fairly prompt revisions, actually two sets. (For details, see Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy's Passport blog and Jasmin Ramsey at So that was Tuesday.

Then on Wednesday Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated by a car bomb during his morning commute in Tehran, the sixth target (at least) of such an attack in the last several years. Unlike the Stuxnet computer virus used in 2010 against equipment in Iran's nuclear complex -- a covert project for which the US and Israeli governments seem quietly content to be perceived as joint authors -- the two allies gave starkly different reactions to the assassination (see the NYTimes report). The Israeli military spokesman indicated his satisfaction over the killing, yet also disavowing any knowledge, while the Obama Administration went to great lengths to distance itself from the attack. Dan Drezner outlines all the possible interpretations and explanations, but the short version is that Washington is extremely worried by apparent Israeli moves to escalate the crisis at a delicate moment. Not that Iranians themselves should be ruled out as potential suspects; Trita Parsi posted on Fareed Zakaria's GPS blog to note a longtime pattern of incidents just prior to planned international negotiation sessions.

Hang on, there's more on US-Israeli relations. Publicly President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are speaking from the same page about the potential for sanctions to bring the Iranians back to the table (though Netanyahu's deputy Moshe Ya'alon seems not to have gotten the memo). Yet at the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports that behind the scenes, the US military is developing contingency plans in case Israel takes things up several notches from covert action to a military strike against Iran. This all makes for a pretty full agenda when the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey makes his first trip to Israel in his new role later this week. It's also unclear whether the postponment of a long-planned joint military exercise was due to the diplomatic friction or practical difficulties.

Seems like a moment for cool heads and deep breaths, huh. Let me offer the following points about both the diplomacy and domestic politics of this morass:

  1. The idea that President Obama hasn't done enough about Iran's nuclear program is ludicrous. It's been a top priority since the day he took office, and the degree of international support for sanctions is testament to the administration's steady diplomatic full-court press. (Oh, forgot to mention that Treasury Secretary Geithner travelled to Japan and China last week to court their support for sanctions.)
  2. International support is the name of the game. As the administration often reminds us, the world community is now more unified and the Iranian regime more divided -- a reverse of the situation under President Bush. The Republican presidential candidates love to talk about how they'd ignore or defy other international players, but they don't explain how that could lead to a peaceful solution. 
  3. I'd rather decry Iran's assassination attempts than kill their scientists. The last time we were talking about assassination, it was an Iranian plot against Saudi diplomats in the United States. Such demonstration of Iran playing international renegade helpfully reinforced our diplomatic message; conversely, key countries hesitate when they see our ally as responding in kind. I've written before about what I call "the moral authority of the other guy looking like a jerk," a strategy I think the Obama administration has played quite well. Also, Avner Cohen asks in Haaretz where the targetting of scientists ultimately will lead.
  4. We are not at -- or even near -- the point of needing to use force as a last resort. And I've written before about how the Far-Right, with their itchy trigger fingers, seem to blot out any negative repercussions.
  5. It's time to take the exit ramp to negotiations. Gary Sick and Trita Parsi explain why and how.
  6. Bring back the Turks and Brazilians as mediators. What Anne-Marie Slaughter said.
  7. Are we sure how the domestic politics of an Iran War play? An awful lot of conventional wisdom lately about Republican tough talk being a political winner. Maybe with primary voters, I suppose. Looking toward November, I'm not so sure.
  8. Do we know how a war would affect US-Israeli relations? Ditto all the predictions about an attack on Iran as a booster shot for solidarity between our two nations.

UPDATED: The book cover image in an earlier version of this post has been replaced with a more appropriate text.

January 09, 2012

Today in Retro Far-Right Alarmism: "Unilateral Disarmament!"
Posted by David Shorr

382px-Castle_RomeoIf FP wonks of a certain age ever worried about losing their bearings here in a 21st Century election year, today brings the comfort of an all-too-familiar right wing shriek. Over on the Weekly Standard blog, Mark Davis today dusted off the old "unilateral disarmament" chestnut, in response to the Obama Administration's new defense strategy.

I should immediately acknowledge that the strategy indeed includes cuts in the nuclear arsenal that will be undertaken on the US' own initiative. So the reductions that have been indicated are, strictly speaking, unilateral. What's most notable about Davis' post, however, is the way he extrapolates far beyond what DoD is planning. Perhaps Davis knows that the scale of the envisioned cuts are not, in themselves, all that shocking -- given that they'll leave us with lots of nuclear weapons. 

But even as closely as I follow the rants of our ultra-conservative colleagues, the following passage struck me as a new low in willful mischaracterization:

A larger issue: President Obama, in articulating a cherished goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, seems to conceive this goal of a nuclear free world, which many experts believed was at best the work of decades, as something that could be close to finalized in his second term. How is that going to work when most nuclear powers explicitly reject our zero vision?

I almost feel a perverse awe for the audacity here. (Takes deep breath.) The president thinks he can reach zero nuclear weapons within five years?!? (Oh, hell with it.) I cannot imagine where Davis got this idea except by pulling it out of his -- well, you know. Indeed, when the president talks about this very issue of a timeframe, he says it may well take longer than his own lifetime. Or, to coin a phrase, "the work of decades." Why will it take so long? Probably because of the complex challenges of drawing down all of the world's nuclear powers. 

So with apologies to Pete Nicely (aka @LOLGOP), let me conclude by saying that if you have to invent an imaginary President Obama to run against, your ideas suck. 

The GOP's Iran Obsession
Posted by Michael Cohen

ObsessedOver at Foreign Policy I have a new piece up looking at why the Republican candidates for President can't stop talking about Iran's nuclear program . . . and why it might actually be dangerous for them to keep doing it:

Why are Republican candidates treating Iran like it's the modern embodiment of Nazi Germany, al Qaeda, and the Soviet Union, all wrapped up in a mischievous and explosive ball?

The long answer is Americans don't like Iran, they are afraid of nuclear weapons and images of mushroom clouds, and Muslims with weapons of mass destruction are scary. Frankly, GOP primary voters care about threats to Israel -- and sanctions and diplomacy are less impressive than the promise that American airplanes will soon be dropping bombs on reinforced bunkers.

But the short answer is this is pretty much all the GOP has. Want to claim that Obama has been soft on terror? That whole killing Osama bin Laden thing makes that a bit tough. Same goes for all the al Qaeda lieutenants who have been killed in drone strikes. What about pulling out of Iraq? Good luck finding many Americans who disagree with that decision. How about Afghanistan and Obama's call to begin pulling out troops in 2014? First, it's hard to argue that Obama didn't give war a chance in the Hindu Kush; second, Afghanistan is a less and less popular war every day. How about the claim that Obama has thrown Israel under the bus vis-à-vis the Palestinians? That's not going to make all that much of a difference. It turns out the two groups of voters most concerned about Israel (American Jews and evangelical Christians) likely already have a pretty clear sense whom they'll be voting for in November.

You can read the whole thing here

January 08, 2012

Will Pressuring Iran Backfire?
Posted by David Shorr

Natanz-googThese days we're hearing two sets of concerns about the US and international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. From one direction, GOP presidential candidates and other ultra-hawks argue for an escalated conflict with Iran. According to them, President Obama isn't doing enough or is actually coddling Tehran. Not that the candidates really know much about the Administration's Iran policy, but that's par for the course and part and parcel of an increasingly bizarro Republican foreign policy aproach.

For some of Obama's critics, their faith in military action gives them utter confidence that attacking Iran would squelch its nuclear ambitions without the kind of backlash we might regret. (Hmm, where have we heard that before?)

Yet another set of commentators, who are less sanguine about a war with Iran, warn that tightening the screws of economic sanctions -- currently being prepared -- already puts things on a dangerous course. Prominent voices in this camp are Trita Parsi and Suzanne Maloney, two of the foreign policy community's top experts on the region and certainly warranting close attention. Indeed, the questions they raise are central: has the Obama administration put higher priority on the sanctions than on the nuclear program itself, and in the process complicated (if not doomed) the effort to reach a peaceful solution? Here's now Trita captures the core policy dilemma:

The challenge with multilateral sanctions, however, is that the diplomatic resources required to create concensus around sanctions are so great that once the sanctions threat gains momentum, the commitment of the sanctioning countries to this path tends to become irreversible.

He's also correct that the moment just prior to sanctions is a time of heightened leverage -- also a moment of opportunity, when the target of this international pressure might offer key concessions. And yes, when you hear people downplay eleventh-hour concessions as merely ploys to alleviate pressure, this misses the entire point that the aim of pressure is ... to extract concessions. 

Here's where I have to offer a counterpoint, though. In short, not all concessions are created equal. When you're doing this statecraft right, the leverage of impending sanctions produces measures that really move the parties toward a solution. But just because it's foolish to choose sanctions over meaningful concessions, doesn't mean it's wise to suspend sanctions in exchange for whatever the targeted government offers. With all the effort that goes into building support for sanctions, they should only be traded in a fair bargain.

That goes doubly when you're bargaining over a deal that had been agreed earlier on. In Trita's piece, he recounts the story of October 2009 - June 2010, the months after Iran agreed and then reneged on a plan to transfer most of their enriched uranium out of the country. As UN Security Council countries were preparing for a new sanctions vote, the leaders of Turkey and Brazil undertook a dramatic initiative to mediate and obtained a last-minute agreement that resurrected the uranium transfer. The Obama administration was not impressed, and immediately called the vote in the Council, which passed.

As Trita sees it, the administration refused to take 'yes' for an answer. But I can argue that the Iranians were trying to sell us the same horse twice. For one thing, the agreement with Brazil and Turkey didn't sufficiently account for the uranium that had been enriched in the intervening months. Contrary to Parsi's analysis, I believe the administration would have welcomed a reasonable compromise. (I look forward to reading Trita's more detailed account in his new book, A Single Roll of the Dice, which focuses on President Obama's Iran diplomacy and will be out this month.)

Suzanne Maloney similarly argues that Obama's sanctions diplomacy is undercutting its intended aim:

[T]he United States cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy. As severe sanctions devastate Iran's economy, Tehran will surely be encouraged to double down on its quest for the ultimate deterrent. So, the White House's embrace of open-ended pressure means that it has backed itself into a policy of regime change, something Washington has little ability to influence.

Not only is it far beyond America's control to relpace Iran's government, it is also at odds with the objective of preventing it from developing a nuclear weapon. The only way Iranian leaders would cooperate in proving Iran's non-weapon status is if that would make them less, rather than more, vulnerable. After the overblown "axis of evil" rhetoric of President Bush, it's actually been crucial for President Obama to highlight that nuclear weapons are the real issue, and not the Iranian leadership themselves.

Still, is severe international economic pressure tantamount to a regime-change policy? I don't see the two as equivalent. For me, the main point is that by resisting nuclear transparency, Iran is losing sympathy and becoming isolated. Suzanne emphasizes Iran's long record of enduring hardship and pressure, but standing completely alone in the world community is easier said than done.

A policy of "open-ended pressure" would indeed be counterproductive. It is just as important for the Obama Administration to highlight that Tehran can get out of the penalty box, as it is to build a strong international coalition to keep up the pressure. Unlike Maloney, I still think the policy can keep these two in proper balance. 

January 06, 2012

This Wacky Iraq Withdrawal Debate
Posted by David Shorr

Someone please explain to me like I'm a four-year-old this idea that President Obama "owns" the situtation in Iraq. As I work on catching up with some of the Iraq pull-out commentary from over the holidays, I won't try to match the depth of Steve Clemons' counterpoint to Fred and Kimberly Kagan's recent Weekly Standard piece. Instead, I'll direct some of the views I share with Steve toward engaging Peter Feaver over at Shadow Government and ploughing the ground Feaver stakes out: setting fair terms to judge the president's Iraq policy. His questoin is "Can Obama take credit for ending the Iraq War without taking blame for what happens next?" To which my answer is: "why the hell not?" 

Feaver cries foul on the attempt he sees by Obama supporters to give him full credit for anything positive in Iraq and saddle President Bush with everything negative. Well, what is the Obama Administration claiming to have done? President Obama claims credit for extricating American forces from nearly nine years of military involvement there.  By the way, can I pause for a moment to say how absurd it is to talk about a hasty exit after nine years?!?

But returning to Feaver's argument, he'd have a stronger point about taking responsibility for the bad along with the good if Obama was claiming credit having locked in a stable future for Iraq. Except that's not the claim. Like President Bush before him, the president has tried to use the US military presence to the best stabilizing effect for Iraqis and express gratitude and pride in the efforts of the those who served that mission. But how did all of this come about, and by what notion of fairness and responsibility do we treat the original act of invasion as water under the bridge?

As Feaver points out, there is also the issue of the administration's negotiations to keep a residual force in Iraq past 2011:

Besides, it is Bush's fault, the bitter-ender Obamaphiles say, because he saddled Obama with the 2008 framework agreement that  set the 2012 troop exit deadline.  Of course, to cling to this view requires ignoring that both sides, U.S. and Iraqi, viewed the 2008 agreement as an interim step, one that would be renegotiated after the Iraqi elections to allow for a longer-term U.S. presence.  More problematically, it requires ignoring the lengthy but ultimately failed negotiations by Obama-appointed representatives to accomplish just such an extension.

But surely he can see the problems this poses for the conservative side of the argument--even the glaring contradiction right within that passage. I can count three ways in which this debate-within-a-debate only reinforces Obama's rightful credit for the Iraq withdrawal. First, if the 2008 SOFA agreement was merely a temporary placeholder that masked an actual plan to remain, then that only heightens the contrast with the administration's pull-out. Second, the loud cries from critics reinforce the idea that conservatives favor preserving more of a presence. (And oh by the way, the sabre-rattling over Iran perpetuates the image Republican appetite for military conflict and overextension.) More problematically, Feaver's argument requires ignoring the issue over which the SOFA re-negotiations faltered: immunity form prosecution for US personnel. After all the debate over the ICC, I can't imagine this would've been something conservatives could abide.

The divide in this debate is not over who's concerned about the situation in Iraq, or who feels an American sense of responsibility. Most of us do. This is a debate about the need to set limits and make choices about the right investments and engagements of American power -- and not imagine that those choices make themselves. 

Pruning the Pentagon
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Military strategyI have a new piece in The American Prospect on Obama's military strategy. Here's an illustrative sample:

The document flows from this question, posed by President Obama in his speech: “What kind of military will we need after the long wars of the last decade are over?” The answer, according to Panetta, is a force that’s “smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced.” That means reductions in the size of the Army and Marines, reportedly almost back down to pre-9/11 levels.

It also signals that the U.S. is in no hurry to engage in another extended occupation like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, this marks a move away from the counterinsurgency operations of the last decade. Instead, America will build a military poised to respond quickly to events around the world. The operation in Libya and even the raid that killed Osama bin Laden serve as models for this strategy. To be sure, we will retain the capability to project force for long-term operations if our vital interest are at stake, but such operations will be the exception, not the rule.

Read the whole thing here.

Also, read Heather on the BBC. Here's the portion on what the strategy says about nuclear weapons:

Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists describes the future of the nuclear weapons complex as "cautious but suggestive". The strategy review document maintains a nuclear arsenal but hints at reductions, saying "it is possible our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force".

What might this mean in practice? In the near-term, disappointment for those on the US right who have advocated aggressive investment in new nuclear bombs and even a return to testing. In the longer-term, many Pentagon generals, especially those not in submarine, missile or nuclear bomber commands, are willing to consider shrinking the nuclear "triad". There is also a raft of influential players in the nuclear sphere who have been eager to retire the weapons.

Full piece here.

Photo: Flickr

January 05, 2012

When are Two Wars Not Two Wars?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

As we wait for the Pentagon strategy review announcement this morning, the first attempt to use it for political advantage has broken out over efforts to move officially away from the "two-war strategy" -- the idea that the US military must be prepared to fight and win two regional conflicts -- ie Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea -- at the same time.

It turns out that this is one of those bedrock doctrines that is much more bedrock for politicians than for military planners.  Flag officers will quietly tell you that it hasn't been true, or truly doctrine, for a long time -- and they're out saying publicly that it clearly failed in Iraq/Afghanistan in the last decade.

What do experts say?

Winslow Wheeler, who worked 31 years on defense in the Senate, including as the first and last staffer to work simultaneously for a GOP and Democrat:

If it were a strategy, it doesn't describe any strategy or capability
we've had for decades. The construct was for two "Major Regional Conflicts"
in the 1990s. These meant conflicts like Korea and Desert Storm, which in
turn meant force deployments of half a million or so. Neither Iraq
(2003-2011) nor Afghanistan quality as "major" in that regard; both were
much smaller AND they totally crapped out our forces as regards both
manpower and equipment. In other words, we were not able to even support
two minor conflicts, let alone major ones.

We had an inadequate force for two opponents that lacked an air force, an
air defense, a navy, or any coherent ground forces. People who declare
coming off the two MRC "strategy" as unraveling our defenses (eg. Dov Zakheim) are dilettantes.

Time's Mark Thompson calls the strategy "Mythical Routine Canards" and notes:

The only problem is that the two-war construct has been shot through with enough caveats and loopholes to render it worthless. Formally doing away with it, consequently, is just as vaporous.

Going back to World War II, when the nation had 12 million in uniform, the U.S. and its allies couldn’t beat the Japanese in the Pacific until they had defeated the Germans in Europe. Flash forward 60 years: the U.S. and its allies couldn’t prevail in Afghanistan – assuming they ever will – once President George W. Bush had decided to invade Iraq. “It is simply a matter of resources, of capacity,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in late 2007. “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.” That, in a nutshell, is a definition of a nation lacking the ability to wage and win two wars at once. It not only lacked it during World War II, but it also was MIA less than five years ago.

Charles Knight of the Project on Defense Alternatives:

It is misleading to discuss the two war construct as if it were
strategic doctrine. The U.S. did not simultaneously undertake the
intense fighting phases of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Its
military problems in those conflicts are associated with subsequent
commitments to counterinsurgency and nation building. As with World
War II, the long-standing American practice is for sequential focused
action in different theaters. What has been called a strategy of
“win, hold, win” is simply being sensible and not being carried away
with a false sense of power that the U.S. can do everything,
everywhere at once.

Pentagon Strategy Review – Why It Matters
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

A week ago, no visions of Pentagon strategy reviews were dancing in the heads of journalists, pundits or budget wonks.  One well-placed New York Times article and one little announcement of a Presidential stop-by later, and all eyes that can tear themselves away from the froth of New Hampshire will be watching the President and Secretary Panetta roll out a “strategic review “, intended to guide the 2013-2018 budgets, at the Pentagon today.

Why should you care, what should you be watching for, and how will the announcement affect politics, the budget process and the security of actual Americans?  Your questions answered below.

What is this?  It’s a rare out-of-cycle re-consideration of fundamental US military strategy, aiming to realign the behemoth of our national defense (more costly than just about every other global military entity combined) with three new realities:

  • Post-post-9/11: The post-9/11 decade, with its focus on extremist terrorism above all other threats, and its primary counter-strategy of Asian land wars and extended military occupations, is receding in the rear-view mirror. This means we don’t need the ground forces (Army and Marines) at the size to which they were built up to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously.
  • Asia pivot:  Obama and Panetta have both said the military will beef up its Asia-Pacific presence as part of a larger rebalance of focus away from Europe and the Middle East.  In addition to ending the wars, this implies reducing the number of troops stationed in Europe; and it implies a greater focus on sea lanes, airpower and offshore presence, as distinct from ground-based counterinsurgency warfare.
  • End of the gravy train:  More than a year of quiet conversation at the Pentagon and defense-industry consolidation have made clear that insiders knew, as then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen said last year: having this ready spigot of money "hasn't forced us to make the hard choices. It hasn't forced us to prioritize. It hasn't forced us to do the analysis. And it hasn't forced us to limit ourselves and get to a point or deciding, in a very turbulent world, what we're going to do and what we're not going to do."[2]    

No, Really, What Is This?  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced it last April in the context of the White House’s initial announcement that it would hold growth in Pentagon spending below inflation.  It’s an admission that the February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, designed to set military strategy, was insufficiently transformational for the strategic and budgetary environment.  And it’s a structure that gave the Pentagon’s vast bureaucracy, not to mention the outside complex of contractors and advisers, time to absorb new financial realities.

How Dramatic Are These Changes? Not very.  2012 and 2013 Pentagon spending will represent the first real declines in military spending in more than a decade; but the total 8% cut envisaged is less than the Reagan defense builddown of the 1980s (yes, you read that right).  As Colin Powell said: “When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, when I was chairman and Mr. Cheney was secretary of Defense, we cut the defense budget by 25 percent. And we reduced the force by 500,000 active duty soldiers, so it can be done. Now, how fast you can do it and what you have to cut out remains to be seen, but I don't think the defense budget can be made, you know, sacrosanct and it can't be touched."

 Moreover, even if the more dramatic cuts in the Budget Control Act sequester were enacted, they would only return the Pentagon to 2007 levels.  (Dear Congress, please return the value of my house to its 2007 level.  ASAP)  On the strategic level, the much-ballyhooed move away from maintaining the ability to fight and win two regional wars simultaneously is less than meets the eye:  the change has been discussed since the Cold War ended, and even as we fought two wars to something less than “wins” in Iraq and Afghanistan, military strategists have quietly moved toward a “win-hold-win” model where we have enough forces to, for example, respond to a North Korean attack while keeping the Taliban out of Kabul until Pyongyang was vanquished, and we could resume the mission in Afghanistan.

Is this a rare sighting of bipartisan security strategy? Yup. The Obama crowd is midwifing a set of moderate changes that military strategists of many stripes have been discussing for decades. Eliminate an aircraft carrier because missile technology has made them expensive sitting ducks?  Naval analysts wrote about it in the 1980s.  Slow or reduce the deployment of new nuclear submarines? Navy brass and arms control experts agree on that one.  Cut back the entire 20th-century nuclear complex? A deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs and four ex-Cabinet Secretaries agree. Less spending on ground troops, more on technology? That crazy liberal Donald Rumsfeld was all over it. Reform, consolidate the ridiculous excesses of the F-35 and its multi-service variants?  Get in line. No more land wars in the Middle East:  we refer you to former Secretary Gates – anyone who contemplates that “should have his head examined.” The third rail of military health care and retirement benefits?  Bush Administration Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim and the Defense Business Board are the ones leading the cheering section.

How Will the Politics Play? Some of these reforms will gore particular regional oxen – Connecticut on submarines, for example.  Gates and then Panetta have moved carefully and worked hard to bring the Pentagon with them, limiting the flow of outraged leaks. The overall strategic frame is not easy to argue with.  But given that the President’s leading rival has argued for increasing US defense spending to a permanent 4% of GDP, adding 100,000 US ground troops and increasing annual shipbuilding from nine to fifteen – and that Rick Santorum, this week’s anti-Romney, has called for land invasions of Iran and Syria – it’s a safe bet that the 1970s-vintage “Democrats-Gut-the-Military” press releases are already loaded.


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