ICYMI: Schmitt on the All-Volunteer Force

by CDS Editors

Last week at AEI’s Enterprise Blog, Gary Schmitt reviewed Defense Secretary Robert Gates’  “extraordinary speech” at Duke University on the state of the America’s all-volunteer force. “What was noteworthy,” Gary explains, “was [the secretary’s] willingness to dive into the more subtle, but no less important issue of ‘the relationship between those in uniform and the wider society they have sworn to protect’”:

To start, Gates suggests that “for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction.” The fact is, today, less than 1 percent of Americans serve either in the active duty forces or the reserves. Moreover, as he also remarks, fewer and fewer Americans have ties to those who have served in the military. “In 1988 about 40 percent of 18-year-olds had a veteran parent. By 2000 the share had dropped to 18 percent, and is projected to fall below 10 percent in the future.” The familial ties that bind the military to the country are simply growing weaker.

So too the geographical and social ties. As Gates notes, the services focus their recruiting efforts where they are most likely to have success and that, in turn, means fishing in the waters where young men and women are familiar with the military. In turn, that typically means recruiting in areas where there are existing military bases, that is, where someone is likely to have a friend, a former classmate, a father or mother, who is serving or has served in the military. But precisely because of the last two decades worth of base consolidation, this has meant a smaller and smaller footprint from which the military is drawing recruits. For the Army in particular, Gates remarks, this has resulted in its bases largely concentrated in the states of Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Washington, and North Carolina, leaving large swaths of the country “void,” in Gates words, “of relationships and understanding of the armed forces.”

These and other issues will be addressed in depth in a forthcoming report from AEI’s new Program on American Citizenship, which Gary directs, on the state of the military’s ROTC programs . Read his full post here.

(flickr/DoD photo by Cherie Cullen)

Defending Defense: Peace Doesn’t Keep Itself

by Tim Sullivan

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Arthur Brooks, Edwin Feulner, and William Kristol—the heads of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative, respectively—put forward an argument about the vital strategic importance of maintaining robust levels of U.S. defense spending, even as the country enters a period of fiscal constraint. “A weaker, cheaper military will not solve our financial woes,” they explain. “It will, however, make the world a more dangerous place, and it will impoverish our future.”

Read the full article here.

(flickr/DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John M. Hageman, U.S. Navy/Released)

A Word Back from the Flame-Carriers

by Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly

You know you’ve been in Washington too long when you start writing stuff like:  “A circular firing squad is always fun to watch.”

The line between cocktail hour quips and analysis is often gossamer thin, and blogging makes us all a little desperate for material.  Nonetheless, it’s sad when someone like Gordon Adams, once associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget, opts for name-calling rather than number-crunching as he does in a “critique” of the arguments that we, “flame carriers of the neoconservative vision”—whatever that means—advanced in last Friday’s Washington Post. Gordon got a biscuit, too, from Andrew Sullivan, who is ever vigilant at the “AEI Propaganda Watch.”

Rather than simply join the purse fight, let me try to enlighten you, Dear Readers.  Our Post piece urged conservatives to remember that the original sin of government is not to grow, but to do things it shouldn’t do—and that protecting the nation and its interest is indeed the first order of business for government and a function that only the national government can perform.

This is not an argument that the Left or Democrats want to have.  To begin with, most Americans have a high regard both for the utility of military power and, especially in a time of war where so few of us actually serve, a strong disposition to give those who defend us everything they might need.  So making a principled argument about the futility or sorrows of U.S. power doesn’t resonate much outside the faculty lounge.  Thus, the Obama Administration has reluctantly agreed that the Iraq surge, for example, was a good thing.

But never letting a good crisis go to waste, the Left saw a golden opportunity in the recession to go after military spending.  The fundamental argument has been that, while American military power is good (“No! Really! We believe it!”) we just can’t afford it.  President Obama would really like to succeed in Afghanistan—after all, it’s the “good war”—but when confronted with an OMB assessment that a strategically sound approach would cost $889 billion over 10 years, blanched at the “opportunity costs.”  That is to say, the cost of his domestic programs and priorities. “It’s not in the national interest,” the commander-in-chief told Bob Woodward.

Woodward also recounts how President Obama thinks he’s channeling an inner Eisenhower and his storied “military-industrial complex” speech, the conclusion of which was that “Each [government] proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”  Eisenhower’s concern was to constrain the seemingly open-ended military commitment in Korea—which was consuming 14 percent of U.S. economic output.  The point of the “balance” he achieved lowered the slice consumed by defense spending to 10 percent of GDP.  That math sounds pretty good to a neocon flame-carrier.

What Eisenhower did not have to contend with were federal deficits at more than 10 percent of GDP, an accumulated national debt (and associated interest payments) headed toward 90 percent of GDP, and social entitlements (before ObamaCare) nearing 15 percent of GDP.  With defense spending, including war costs, current less than 5 percent of GDP, it’s pretty obvious where any real “balancing” must come from.  Indeed, entitlement reform is critical to ensuring that the United States can preserve its strength and finance its wars.

Thus our Post piece was essentially an argument about affordability, balance and opportunity costs.  Even more, we were making an argument about value.  It’s very difficult to quantify, in economic or other terms, the value of U.S. security guarantees not only for America but for the rest of the world.  Yet it’s evident that our prosperity—and hopes for future growth—would be jeopardized without them.

Gordon Adams thinks we have twisted the facts, but we don’t dispute that the cost of national defense has risen.  So has the cost of a car.  There are lots of facts out there, but only some of them are relevant to whether the United States can preserve sufficient military strength.

(Photo: flickr/mindfrieze)

The Next Nuclear Arms Race?

by Tim Sullivan

Today in the Wall Street Journal India, Mike Mazza and I draw attention to the escalating nuclear competition between India and China:

India and Pakistan are the two countries most likely to engage in nuclear war, or so goes the common wisdom. Yet if recent events are any indication, the world’s most vigorous nuclear competition may well erupt between Asia’s two giants: India and China.

Both countries already house significant and growing arsenals. China is estimated to have approximately 450 warheads; India, roughly 100. Though intensifying as of late, Sino-Indian nuclear competition has a long history: India’s pursuit of a weapons program in the 1960s was triggered in part by China’s initial nuclear tests, and the two have eyed one another’s arsenals with mounting concern ever since. The competition intensified in 2007, when China began to upgrade missile facilities near Tibet, placing targets in northern India within range of its forces.

The stakes have been raised yet again in recent months. Indian defense minister A.K. Antony announced in August that the military will soon incorporate into its arsenal a new intermediate-range missile, the Agni-III, which is capable of reaching all of China’s major cities. Delhi is also reportedly considering redeploying survivable, medium-range Agni-IIs to its northeastern border. And just last month, India shifted a squadron of Su-30MKI fighters to a base just 150 kilometers from the disputed Sino-Indian border. An Indian Air Force official told Defense News these nuclear-armed planes could operate deep within China with midflight refueling.

As we note in the piece, none of this bodes well for peace and stability in Asia. Read the full article here.

(flickr/Premshree Pillai)

British NSC Meeting on Defense Cuts Today

by Philipp Tomio

In what will be an exercise in unprecedented fiscal brutality (and strategic shortsightedness), Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron, is meeting today to decide which defense capabilities and programs to cut, as Her Majesty’s government prepares to implement a national austerity package that could trim up to 20 percent from Britain’s $60 billion defense budget. While the regular British Army is expected to escape relatively unscathed in the short term—thanks to its ongoing commitment in Afghanistan—the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, and the Territorial Army are expected to suffer gravely. Under one option, the Territorial Army, Britain’s volunteer reserve force, could be reduced from its current size of 35,000 to no more than 9,000 troops.

As the prime minister prepares to meet with his principals, two things are practically certain: the overall size of Britain’s military will shrink considerably and the number of high-end, heavy weapons platforms will diminish sharply as an immediate result of the cuts being considered. If earlier proposals come to bear, the Royal Air Force could see its numbers contract to its smallest size since World War I. Moreover, as many as 16,000 personnel across all services, hundreds of heavy tanks in the Army’s inventory, dozens of RAF fighter aircraft, and as many as six major Royal Navy vessels could be eliminated, as well. Of particular interest is the fate of the Royal Navy’s two flagship programs: the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers and the Trident nuclear submarine replacement program.

After a great deal of speculation this year over the scope of the coming defense cuts, the future of British defense will come into sharper focus later today. Washington should follow these deliberations closely and assess carefully the outcome of today’s meeting as it pertains to the future of the U.S.-U.K. alliance. There can be no doubt that unilateral British disarmament would endanger the alliance, weaken NATO, and undermine British security at home. One can only hope that prudence will prevail when all is said and done. We will know more after today’s meeting.


Curioser and curioser.  The process of military strategy-making in the Obama Administration has been public and painful, but Bob Woodward’s narrative, as told in last week’s preview and today’s first-of-three excerpts of Obama’s War in the Washington Post, takes us through an increasingly opaque looking glass.

Woodward’s take is that the president’s military advisers “thwarted” his desire for “a range of options for the war in Afghanistan.”  The White House take is that the president was master of the situation, and indeed by Woodward’s account, it’s clear that the final decisions were Obama’s.  Both cannot be simultaneously true.

To be sure, the agonizing, almost-six-month process of the 2009 Afghanistan strategy review—meaning the one that began with the selection of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to run the war, not the earlier, spring strategy review—lurched from one extreme to another.  But for those who followed the tick-tock two facts seem indisputable.  One, the process generated lots of options, ranging from the minimalist “counterterrorism” approach favored by Vice President Joseph Biden to various versions of the counterinsurgency campaign devised by McChrystal.  With high-ranking officers and civilians on both sides of the divide (Woodward makes plain how Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright worked with Biden and members of the National Security Council staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates was the real ringleader of the COINdinistas), there was an immense amount of bureaucratic knife-fighting, but, if anything, it was a process marred by too many rather than not enough “options.”

And Woodward is undisputably right: the final decision was the president’s, with a six-page, contract-like “terms sheet.”  Woodward quotes the president as saying “I want everybody to sign on to this – McChrystal, Petraeus, Gates, Mullen, [U.S. Ambassador Karl W.] Eikenberry and [Secretary of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton. We should get this on paper and on the record….We’re not going to do this unless everybody literally signs on to this and looks me in the eye and tells me that they’re for it.  I don’t want to have anybody going out the day after [the speech announcing the decision] and saying that they don’t agree with this.”

But if this is mastery, it’s of the if-you-don’t-behave-I’m-going-to-shoot-myself variety.  In Woodward’s account of a final discussion between Obama and Gates, the president threatens that if the Pentagon’s deployments aren’t firmly held at 30,000—with no funny math for “enablers”—the president will hold the total down to 10,000 “and we can continue to go as we are”—that is, on a path toward defeat—“and just hope for the best.”

The president’s other big threat when it comes to family feuding is to unchain Rahm Emanuel.  One of the most poignant passages in today’s installment, JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen steps out of a White House Situation Room meeting in order to protect Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who is enduring a “rant filled with expletives” from Emanuel, about Mullen’s testimony—previously approved by the White House and in fulfillment of Mullen’s Constitutional duties to render best military advice to the Congress—on Afghanistan troop needs.  Mullen “let them seethe. ‘I just took it.’”

Although Woodward forever strives to retain his stance as a just-the-facts reporter, his books on Washington at war have been a chronicle of decaying American civil-military relations.  I would argue that this epic also includes The Commanders, the story of the Bush I team in Panama and Desert Storm.  The particulars have been unique in each case, from the gays-in-the-military or Black-Hawk-Down fumbles of the Clinton years, or the Rumsfeld “Revolt of the Generals” and the many disconnects of the Bush era, to the “Team of Rivals” troubles of the Obama White House.  But taken as a whole, the consistent factor is the inability of these commanders-in-chief to communicate clearly and openly.  To be sure, it has been a time of wild swings in U.S. policy—to use force as a tool of statecraft or as a last resort, to nation-build or not to nation-build, to win the wars we’re in or prepare for a longer-term future—but it has also been a time when soldiers and statesmen have drifted farther and farther apart, until, in this latest Woodward snapshot, they seem almost from different planets.

This cannot be good.

(Flickr/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

If India and the United States are to achieve the level of partnership that defense officials in both countries have pledged to pursue, there may be no better means of doing so than for the Indian Air Force to add 126 U.S. fighters to its arsenal.

So write Tim Sullivan and Michael Mazza in the Center for Defense Studies’ inaugural CDS Strategic Briefing, the first in a new series of products designed to provide timely, in-depth analysis on important defense-related news items. Writing on the occasion of Indian Defense Minister AK Antony’s visit this week to Washington, Sullivan and Mazza argue that the United States can and should use defense trade to enhance its strategic partnership with India and, more broadly, to further its strategic objectives in the Asia-Pacific region.

The potential for a further expansion of foreign military and direct commercial sales to India—especially as embodied in the Indian Air Force’s medium multi-role combat aircraft competition—is an opportunity not to be wasted:

It will be imperative for the Defense Secretary to articulate to his counterpart this week the strategic dividends that stand to accrue from an expanded Indian defense partnership with the United States—and specifically from the selection of an American fighter in the Indian Air Force’s current bidding competition.

For more on why it is in the best interests of both countries for India to buy American, read the rest here.


Is Freedom’s Price Too High for the Right?

by Tim Sullivan

That’s the question my AEI colleagues Tom Donnelly and Danielle Pletka are asking today in the Washington Post. Beyond the defense spending debates emerging among Republicans, they explain, “nothing less than a fight for the soul of conservatism is underway”:

Since World War II, a touchstone of American conservatism has been the defense of freedom. The freedoms of others were regarded as essential to secure and enjoy our own. In 2010, however, the conservative movement — and the party that seeks to represent it — is at a crossroads. One path continues in this direction; the other leads backward, seeking to defend freedom only at home. The choice conservatives make will go a long way toward defining America and the world, still more toward defining the future of the right.

The road backward beckons in an almost Calvinistic call to fiscal discipline; austerity is its virtue even before national security in a time of war. Libertarians and Tea Party darlings such as Ron and Rand Paul and conservative stalwarts such as Tom Coburn have long inhabited this political territory. Members of the GOP vanguard such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and, possibly, insurgent Tea Party candidates are joining them.

Thin threads bind these cloth-coat Republicans. Some simply wish to spend less; if that means under-resourcing the war in Afghanistan, so be it. To them, the Defense Department is another case of wasteful government and bureaucratic collusion that has, in Coburn’s words, “allowed the military-industrial complex to make things unaffordable.” For others, doctrinaire fiscal conservatism blends easily with a renewed isolationism. As one GOP up-and-comer told us recently, “America has borne the burden of making the world secure for 60 years; it’s someone else’s turn.”

The road forward embraces small government and a renewal of private enterprise but sees an equally exceptional American enterprise abroad. This has been the mainstream position of conservatives and Republicans since 1945, expressed in Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s rejection of “isolationism” and embrace of “internationalism.”

Read the full article HERE.

(flickr/DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kilho Park, U.S. Navy/Released)

Obama’s Wars

by Tom Donnelly

Among the tidbits and outrages revealed in the trailer for Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, two patterns stood out.  First, the president really hates being commander-in-chief in a time of war.  Second, and perhaps related, the fight the White House most wants to win is the battle over who gets blamed for a defeat in Afghanistan.

Obama’s annoyance, amounting to anger, at the demands of wartime leadership are everywhere palpable in the piece.  The strategy in Afghanistan is to get out: “There cannot be any wiggle room,” says the president. “I am not doing long-term nation-building.  I am not spending a trillion dollars….In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more.”  He does not think in terms of winning or losing: “I think about it more in terms of: ‘Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker in the end?’”

This is not just an attenuated, limited-war strategy; it is a reflection of the character of Barack Obama’s leadership.  The Woodward book is advertised as reprinting in full a six-page “terms sheet” written by the president, an effort to precisely define what U.S. forces could and—perhaps more revealingly; we shall see—could not do in Afghanistan.  When he cannot so closely control the horizontal and vertical, when people and events push back, Obama wonders “Why do we keep having these meetings?”  I have made my decision—why isn’t reality following the plan?

The result is a strategy-making process that has ground down even Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, two of the most publicly imperturbable and iron-disciplined figures imaginable.   Anyone who has observed Gates in recent years or throughout his career will find it stunning to think, as Woodward apparently relates, that he would be “tempted to walk out of an Oval Office meeting.”  Likewise that Petraeus, who did not flinch through the darkest “General-Betray-Us” months of the Iraq surge, might mutter to his staff that “the administration was ‘[expletive] with the wrong guy,’” is equally remarkable.

That civil-military relations are headed toward a crisis is all but ensured by the second striking point in the Woodward revelations.  In distributing the “terms sheet,” Obama summoned all his principal advisers and “went around the room, one by one, asking each participant whether he or she had any objections” and to “say so now.”  The context is not consensus-building but threat.

One of the consistent themes of White House rhetoric has been that the generals have agreed in every particular with the president’s decision—and it’s not the president’s fault if things go badly.  The most prominent proponent of this line has been Jonathan Alter, who elaborates on it at length in his book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, but it has been a constant refrain. The New York Timesversion of the Woodward preview includes yet another anecdote that makes this blame-battle clear:

[T]he book recounts incidents in which Adm. Dennis C. Blair, then the national intelligence director, fought with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and John O. Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser.

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, Mr. Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

At best, administration policy is a coerced consensus.  But beyond providing a weak foundation for strategy, the process seems almost inexorably headed toward destroying the trust upon which healthy civil-military relations depend.  Obama and his advisers have a chip on their shoulder, and appear to have been spoiling for a fight, paranoid about being “boxed into a corner” from the start of the Afghanistan strategy review.  So far from avoiding a replay of Vietnam, the president and his political team are living out a more exaggerated version of their own nightmare.

(flickr/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)