Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Throwing Money at the Pentagon: A Lesson in Republican Math

William Hartung. Foreign Policy in Focus, 26 March 2012.


Romney’s proposal implies that the Pentagon is essentially an entitlement program that should receive a set share of our total economic resources regardless of what’s happening here at home or elsewhere on the planet. In Romney World, the Pentagon’s only role would be to engorge itself. If the GDP were to drop, it’s unlikely that, as president, he would reduce Pentagon spending accordingly.

A New Challenge for Our Military: Honest Introspection

David Rothkopf. Foreign Policy, 19 March 2012.


Certainly there has been national debate about whether we should have been involved in those wars, one that has belatedly delivered the message to our political leadership that it is time to bring our troops home. But about one crucial array of issues concerning our involvement we have been stunningly silent: the competence of our military leaders, the effectiveness of the strategies they have employed, and the very structure and character of our military itself.

The Military Imbalance: How The U.S. Outspends The World

Winslow Wheeler. AOL Defense, 16 March 2012.

from the International Institute of Strategic Studies


The US defense budget is not just dominant; it is operating at a level completely independent of the perceived threat…America’s defense budget strategists declare it will be “doomsday” if we size to anything less than five times China and Russia combined.

How to Pay for Wars

Benjamin H. Friedman and Charles Knight. The National Interest, 6 March 2012.


A war tax or an effective cap on war spending can serve as a disincentive to reckless war making.

No Matter Republican or Democrat in the White House, More Military Budget Cuts are Coming

Charles Knight, commentary, 24 February 2012.

The Pentagon, the Obama administration, and many members of Congress hope that cuts to the defense budget stop with those mandated in the first stage caps of the 2011 Budget Control Act and made more specific in the President’s recently announced FY13 budget plan. As Reuters has reported the Obama FY13 budget shifts away from an austerity frame, partially adopted in 2012, to instead emphasize a program of higher taxes on the rich, a continuing tax cut for wage earners, and public investments in infrastructure, education and police services.

It is safe to predict that most all Republicans and some Democrats in Congress will join to block the President’s tax/revenue enhancement programs and domestic economic investments. The political stalemate on further deficit/debt reduction that followed passage of the BCA last year will remain in place through the remainder of 2012.

Even if we assume that after this year’s election Congress will find a way to avoid the particulars in the so-called “sequester” (second-stage) provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the pressure for deeper cuts will remain.

To see why the pressure for more defense cuts will continue into next year we need look no further than a new report from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget called Primary Numbers: The GOP Candidates and the National Debt. Their analysis shows that in 2021 the fiscal plans the GOP candidates will yield the following national debt levels as percentages of GDP:

    Gingrich – 114%
    Santorum – 104%
    Romney – 86%
    Paul – 76%

By odd coincidence Ron Paul’s plan and President Obama’s plan both end up at a debt level of 76% of GDP in 2021. Of course, the two plans get there by very different mechanisms. Obama’s plan relies substantially on increased revenue (including tax increases) and Paul’s mostly on spending cuts, including deeper cuts in the defense budget.

What makes the Pentagon budget vulnerable after the election is that the centrist Democratic president and the libertarian Republican candidate have positioned themselves as the most fiscally conservative, while the leading Republican contenders are looking like spend and don’t tax radicals.

Gingrich grabs for the mantel of Reagonomic fiscal policy by favoring an increase of national debt to 114% of GDP. Santorum is a close second at 104% of GDP. By comparison, Romney appears moderate at 86% of GDP, 13% higher than Obama or Paul. Romney is in favor of increasing military spending.

The problem for the Pentagon is that both Obama’s and Romney’s plans are politically unrealistic and very unlikely to be implemented. Obama keeps the debt low largely through tax increases — which will not happen if Congress remains controlled by Republicans. A failure to raise new revenues will be critical. If the Administration were able to get higher taxes on the rich it would facilitate holding DoD cuts to the level of the FY13 plan. Failure to achieve these tax increases will mean two things: 1) it will be much harder to get a domestic investment program (even if the Democrats do better than expected in November) and 2) the attractiveness to a significant portion of liberals and conservatives of additional DoD cuts will continue.

Romney, on the other hand, plans to keep taxes low and increases defense spending — therefore his fiscal plan depends on deeper cuts in domestic spending and substantial cuts to entitlements. Given that domestic spending has been cut to the bone in most accounts and entitlement programs have survived all conservative assaults to date, Romney’s plan seems equally unlikely. For more on the limits of the Romney plan see Ezra Klein here.

So there is every reason to believe that after this year’s election powerful fiscal conservatives who can see beyond the partisan nonsense will look hard again at the Pentagon’s budget to find things to cut. This condition means that the nation will remain open to strategic adjustment for some years to come.

Debt and GOP Candidates' Fiscal Plans

Projected National Debt from GOP Candidates' Fiscal Plans

Khamenei: The Nuclear Decision-maker

Alireza Nader. RAND, 23 February 2012.


Khamenei is not an irrational actor… His possible intent in developing a nuclear weapons capability almost certainly is not to destroy Israel, but rather to guard against a foreign attack or counter an internal challenge.

Pentagon hides $3 billion in budget accounting maneuver

Josh Rogin. Foreign Policy, 15 February 2012.


The Pentagon’s new budget request moves $3 billion of military pay and benefits out of the base budget into the war budget in an accounting maneuver experts and congressional staffers say is meant to get around legally mandated budget caps…

Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis. Armed Forces Journal, February 2012.


I first encountered senior-level equivocation during a 1997 division-level “experiment” that turned out to be far more setpiece than experiment. Over dinner at Fort Hood, Texas, Training and Doctrine Command leaders told me that the Advanced Warfighter Experiment (AWE) had shown that a “digital division” with fewer troops and more gear could be far more effective than current divisions. The next day, our congressional staff delegation observed the demonstration firsthand, and it didn’t take long to realize there was little substance to the claims. Virtually no legitimate experimentation was actually conducted. All parameters were carefully scripted. All events had a preordained sequence and outcome. The AWE was simply an expensive show, couched in the language of scientific experimentation and presented in glowing press releases and public statements, intended to persuade Congress to fund the Army’s preference.

…when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.