2012 January

CDS Director Tom Donnelly appeared on this morning’s Diane Rehm Show to discuss last week’s FY2013 defense budget preview and its implications for U.S. national security. Other participants included deputy assistant secretary of Defense and and Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, Thom Shanker from the New York Times, and Larry Korb from the Center for American Progress. You can listen to the show in full here.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joseph Harwood)

The President’s budget request will slash $487 billion from the military over the next ten years, delaying vital next-generation systems and giving the pink slip to 100,000 active duty men and women in uniform.  Unfortunately, this is a budget-driven strategy that kills jobs and puts our military at risk while it is still in harm’s way. Despite increasingly tough talk about the importance of Asia, the Obama administration’s preview of its fiscal year 2013 defense budget proves that it is a “pivot” in name only.

This budget is a prayer that the United States will not have to fight more than one major war at a time. The two-war standard has long been a way to measure America’s global reach and deter potential adversaries.  The world is no less dangerous today than it was twenty years ago—so why is the Obama administration planning for an era of decreased conflict?  Our world was changed on September 11th   because of an act of war for which America was not prepared.  With diffuse and growing threats, the world can ill-afford American complacency.   For example:

  • Great power competition is back.  China and Russia are building next-generation military arsenals at the same time that America is gutting its defense industrial base.  China especially is investing in high-technology programs that threaten America’s power projection capabilities. So far, the administration’s response has been to cut or delay the programs that could fight back, such as the F-22, F-35, and the next-generation ballistic missile submarine.
  • Iran continues its march towards nuclear weapons in blatant violation of its international obligations.  At the same time, it is fostering terrorism throughout the Middle East and menacing America’s allies and partners.
  • Pakistan is on the brink.  Between violent terrorism, government instability, and elements inside the military that support extremist groups, the fragile nation faces real questions about its ability to secure its nuclear arsenal.
  • Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has repeatedly attempted attacks against the United States.  If al Qaeda or a related group successfully attacks the American homeland, the United States may be drawn into a war of necessity.
  • North Korea remains a danger to our allies in Asia and continues to work with countries, like Iran, to challenge American and allied interests.

In addition, unanticipated threats may await America in the years ahead. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed out last year, the American record in predicting where our next war will be has been perfect. “We have never once gotten it right.”

Secondly, Obama’s proposed defense budget hides the true extent of defense cuts. The budget reflects $487 billion in cuts, but another $500 billion looms unless Congress reverses sequestration. The President should either be upfront about the true impact of sequestration or else work with Congress to reverse these cuts.

A host of civilian and military leaders have repeatedly warned that sequestration cuts will be “devastating” to the Pentagon and “very high risk” for America’s national security.  Even Secretary Panetta himself wrote in November that, under sequestration, the United States would have the “smallest ground forces since 1940,” a “fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915,” and the “smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.”

The Executive Branch, however, is passing the buck to Congress.  “My hope,” said Secretary Panetta yesterday, “is that when members understand the sacrifice involved in reducing the defense budget by half a trillion dollars, it will convince Congress to avoid sequestration, a further round of cuts that would inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations.”  Yet the President has threatened to veto any effort to avoid sequestration that does not raise taxes, while remaining silent on the need to rein in the spiraling growth of entitlements, which consume nearly two-thirds of the federal budget.  The Obama administration must assume its share of the responsibility—and obligation—to fully reverse the catastrophic cuts to defense.

Lastly, the proposed budget leaves devastating gaps in manpower and next-generation programs.

  • Ground forces are facing a massive cut, with the Army losing 80,000 active duty soldiers and the Marine Corps losing some 20,000 active-duty personnel.  A larger force has already faced severe strain due to numerous deployments.  A smaller force means that when duty calls, troops will face increased stress, increased danger, and more time away from their families.
  • The Air Force is in the middle of a modernization crisis.  The administration has announced yet another delay in F-35 production at the same time as cuts to six fighter squadrons.  A 2009 RAND study has the United States losing an air war with China because the U.S. simply does not have enough fighters to compete with overwhelming Chinese numbers.  These cuts do not help the situation.
  • The U.S. Navy, which also faces a modernization crisis, will maintain 11 aircraft carrier groups, but the total number of surface ships and submarines will decrease dramatically.  For an administration supposedly focused on the Pacific, a defense budget that decreases shipbuilding and fleet size simply does not make sense.

America’s military and the citizens it serves deserve better.

The Defending Defense Project is a joint effort of the Foreign Policy Initiative, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation to promote a sound understanding of the U.S. defense budget and the resource requirements to sustain America’s preeminent military position.

1/22/12
7:06pm

The Obama Way of War

by Tom Donnelly

You can criticize Barack Obama—and fear not, I’m about to—but he has been a consequential president. Obamacare, his signature domestic accomplishment, is a substantial step toward the government-run health care program that Democrats have long desired. It may be hard to get rid of, even with a Republican president and congressional majorities. Undoing the effects of Obama foreign and defense policy won’t be any easier. Beginning with the Libya intervention, the president has been charting a new direction for American strategy and acting with great energy to create a fait accompli that will make it difficult for a successor to reverse course. The leading-from-behind Obama Doctrine consists of three main tenets: a smaller, secret, and “silent” approach to the Long War in the greater Middle East; a “Pacific pivot” that would deter China from the temptations of aggression but ask allies to carry much of the burden; and a restructuring of the U.S. military to forestall any future return to a more ambitious—and more traditional—form of American leadership.

The silent war

Embarking on the campaign that would make him president, Barack Obama began with a stinging criticism of George W. Bush’s Iraq war, which he charged was a “dangerous distraction” from the war on al Qaeda and in Afghanistan. It “should have been apparent to President Bush and Sen. [John] McCain, the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was.” Thus, Obama wrote in a July 2008 New York Times op-ed, “Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and al Qaeda has a safe haven.”

Obama has been resolute in viewing the post-9/11 wars narrowly as antiterror campaigns rather than in the larger context of traditional U.S. strategy across the greater Middle East. A more comprehensive view would consider the 2003 Iraq war as an extension of a trend that can be traced to 1979—the year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, of the Iranian hostage crisis, of the seizure of the Grand Mosque by a band of Sunni extremists, and of Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in Baghdad. From that time on, the downward spiral of events across the region has made it increasingly difficult for the United States to preserve its previous posture as an “offshore balancer,” working through local regimes and using military force only to tip the scales to preserve “stability” and the flow of oil. After the Cold War, when the prime directive was no longer to limit Soviet influence, the local regimes themselves were the biggest threat to stability; our “partners” became the problem.

With Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the U.S.-led response in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the offshore balancer came ashore. We had “no opinion” on Arab-on-Arab disputes, “such as your dispute with Kuwait,” as Ambassador April Glaspie unfortunately told Saddam Hussein before he sent his army across the border. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney promised the Saudi king that once Saddam’s army was expelled from Iraq’s “19th province,” U.S. troops would return home. But having leapt over the fence, the United States could not go back, even as it was reluctant to go forward. The contradictions of this half-in, half-out posture played out for a dozen years. Even before 9/11, the Clinton-era effort to “keep Saddam in his box” appeared to be in tatters. After 9/11, George W. Bush decided that “pursuing stability at the expense of liberty does not lead to peace,” and that the United States had no better choice than to try to provoke a deeper transformation of the political order in the Middle East.

If Bush saw the global war on terror as a way to expand American involvement in the Middle East, Barack Obama’s focus on terror is an attempt to limit it. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen sees this “radical shift from President Bush’s war on terror” and dubs Obama’s way of war the “doctrine of silence.” Cohen rightly argues that “there has seldom been so big a change in approach to U.S. strategic policy with so little explanation.”

The signature instruments of the silent war are remotely piloted aircraft—“drones,” as the headline writers love to call them—covert action and special operations forces, and computer or “cyber” attacks. With the withdrawal from Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan, U.S. conventional forces will no longer be in the “regime change” or counterinsurgency business but will man an increasingly “offshore” framework with limited strike capability and, if needed, the ability to patrol contested waterways like the Strait of Hormuz.

The administration’s love affair with drones has gotten the lion’s share of attention. In late December, the Washington Post’s Greg Miller sketched Obama’s “emerging global apparatus for drone killing”:

In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.

The setup artfully combines military and CIA assets to maximize operational effectiveness and mask the size and scope of the effort. Strikes are “increasingly assembled à la carte,” reports Miller, “piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.”

The article’s account of the September 30 killing of Anwar al-Awlaki reveals the intricacy of this “toggling” campaign. As the CIA went hunting the American-born cleric whose Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula organization in Yemen had sponsored a number of attempted terrorist attacks, including that by “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day 2009, it assembled a fleet of its own Predator and Reaper drones reinforced by those of the Joint Special Operations Command. So seamless was the Awlaki strike that it remains unclear whether a CIA or JSOC aircraft actually delivered the lethal missile, though the administration justified the killing under CIA legal authority. When Awlaki’s son was similarly killed two weeks later, however, it was done under authority granted to the Defense Department by post-9/11 legislation.

While the administration’s toggling legal posture has provoked criticism from both the liberal left and the libertarian right, Obama’s use of drones is generally praised. “What this does is it takes a lot of Americans out of harm’s way .  .  . without having to send in a special ops team or drop a 500-pound bomb,” says Sen. Dianne Feinstein, head of the Select Committee on Intelligence. The Bush administration had increasingly employed drones, conducting about 44 strikes in Pakistan and killing as many as 300 Taliban and al Qaeda operatives, according to the New America Foundation. But the Obama administration has become positively addicted to the drone war, having conducted nearly 250 strikes and widening operations to Yemen, Somalia, and surveillance of Iran, as the recent crash there of the larger and more sophisticated RQ-170 Sentinel indicates.

Obama’s successes—most spectacularly, the killing of Osama bin Laden—have given him great leeway to continue and expand the silent war, even among liberals looking for an alternative to out-and-out weakness. “Why do I approve of all this?” Roger Cohen asked himself.

Because the alternative—the immense cost in blood and treasure and reputation of the Bush administration’s war on terror—was so appalling. In just the same way, the results of a conventional bombing war against Iran would be appalling whether undertaken by Israel, the United States or a combination of the two.

Andrew Cummings of the Guardian seconds Cohen’s loud cheers for silent war when it comes to Iran. While allowing that a “covert campaign” would be “rife with physical, diplomatic and legal risks, [it] is the lesser of many evils.” Because he acknowledges that sanctions are unlikely to prevent Iran from deploying nuclear weapons, but finds a real war equally unappetizing, Cummings hopes that silent war will encourage Iran to reopen the “dialogue” on its nuke program. “Covert action creates the time and space for pressure to build, while”—presto!—“reducing the need for military action.”

Even the occasionally sensible David Ignatius of the Washington Post can go ga-ga for drones. After the Awlaki killing, he saw a “hint of deterrence” in the Obama way of war. Especially praiseworthy is that the drone war “recognizes the need for limits”:

We don’t have enough drones to kill all the enemies we will make if we turn the world into a free-fire zone. And there’s something important in the hint of a deterrence strategy: This is how wars end in the part of the world where al Qaeda arose—through a balance of mutual restraint that makes a de facto truce possible, even between the most bitter enemies.

The Asia pivot

The corollary to walking softly and carrying a silent stick in the greater Middle East is the equally bally-hooed strategic “pivot” to Asia—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s term—that’s been a centerpiece of Obama administration rhetoric for the past six months. Prefacing his new “defense guidance,” the “first Pacific president” declared that “as we end today’s wars, we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific.”

The Obama administration came to office convinced that a failure to pay sufficient attention to the Asia-Pacific region was the other giant strategic blunder of its Bush predecessors. Harvard’s Joseph Nye recently captured the fundamentals of administration thinking: “Asia’s return to the center of world affairs is the great power shift of the twenty-first century,” he wrote. “But, rather than keeping an eye on that ball, the United States wasted the first decade of this century mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Nye also agreed with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon’s fawning praise of the president: “[B]y elevating this dynamic region to one of our top strategic priorities, Obama is showing his determination not to let our ship of state be pushed off course by prevailing crises.”

Never mind that the Democratic critique of the Bush administration after 9/11 was that it had been too concerned about great-power balances and had not paid enough attention to warnings about al Qaeda. Never mind, either, that until this year the White House had placed its hopes on a renewed effort to “engage” China, emphasizing issues such as trade and climate change that were supposed to be sources of cooperation rather than conflict. Never mind that it is in the nature of “prevailing crises” to, well, prevail—particularly those that involve a horrendous attack on American soil like 9/11. And, most of all, never mind that the Asia-Pacific region didn’t have to be “elevated” to “one of our top strategic priorities” for any previous president, at least from William McKinley onward; America’s actions through the 20th century transformed Asia as surely and as profoundly as Europe.

To the degree that the Obama pivot represents a new seriousness in responding to the security challenges of China’s rise as a global great power and its provocative military modernization, it’s a long overdue development. From the Clinton years onward, the United States has been hamstrung between the Scylla of “engagement” and the Charybdis of “containment,” at one point leading Zalmay Khalilzad, whose long career as a diplomat and strategist was capped by a tour as ambassador to Afghanistan, to coin the term “congagement.” In its defense guidance pledge to “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region,” the Obama administration deserves credit for taking a more muscular rhetorical line than either Clinton or Bush. But its promise to “continue to make the necessary investments to ensure that we maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely” in places like the South China Sea where Beijing has become more bossy and intimidating is not borne out in the resources it would provide.

The peak of the pivot campaign came with Obama’s trip to Australia, where he announced that about 2,500 Marines would be based at Darwin, in northern Australia. “The United States is a Pacific power,” he told the Australian parliament, “and we are here to stay.” Indeed, for the 21st century, “the United States of America is ‘all in.’ ”

But Peter Beinart, contributor to the Daily Beast and often a channel for administration thinking, sees the Obama Asia pivot as more in line with the offshore balancing approach to the Middle East. “A token deployment of Marines in northern Australia notwithstanding,” he wrote, “the Obama administration’s strategy will be to buttress America’s naval presence in the Pacific and aid those nations on China’s periphery that fear its hegemonic ambitions.” Likewise, Kenneth Lieberthal, a former National Security Council official and longstanding China adviser to Democratic politicians, warns that an all-in approach runs “the longer-term risk that Asia will increasingly become a cost center for the United States (providing security is expensive), while the region will continue to serve as a growing profit center for China (due to its vast economic engagement).”

Cheap-suit superpower

The belief in American decline has become so deeply entrenched among the strategic smart set—which would probably construe the history of the 20th century as one giant “cost center”—that it has become a driving force. It represents much more than an analysis of events: It’s an opportunity to force the United States to shake off the sorrows of empire and snap back from imperial overstretch. The Obama administration doesn’t just seek a “rebalancing” of U.S. strategy, it intends to make a permanent retreat, by removing the military means of mischief. With a smaller force, we’ll resist the temptation to fight wars just because we can.

Tellingly, the commander in chief frames his new guidance to his troops as the strategy we can afford rather than as a strategy for peace (or, God forbid, victory). “We must put our fiscal house in order here at home,” says the third sentence of the president’s cover letter introducing his “Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” and “renew our long-term economic strength.” The touchstone is “the Budget Control Act of 2011, [which] mandates reductions in federal spending, including defense spending.” It is hardly surprising that Obama has promised to veto any legislation that would exempt the military from the draconian further cuts that sequestration would bring to future Pentagon budgets. Not going to let this crisis go to waste.

The administration certainly has profited from the Groundhog Day qualities of the debate about getting the government’s fiscal house in order: Washington wakes up to the horrors of the deficit and the debt and decides it’s time to make sure that “defense is on the table” along with domestic discretionary programs and that taxes shall not be raised nor entitlements restrained. If sequestration occurs this year, something like $1.3 trillion will have been chopped out of planned military spending during the Obama years—about $330 billion through 2010, $489 billion under the 2011 Budget Control Act, and at least another $500 billion under full sequestration. The landscape is littered with the corpses of procurement programs terminated early, like the F-22 Raptor, or killed in the womb, like the Army’s Future Combat Systems family of vehicles. The Obama administration has fulfilled Donald Rumsfeld’s dream of “skipping a generation” of modernization, but this is a second generation almost skipped.

While these are big numbers in the context of defense spending, they’re chicken feed when measured against the debt, the deficit, and the costs of baby boomer entitlements, which are only going to mount from here. The 2011 annual federal deficit was about $1.3 trillion, with total federal spending about $3.5 trillion. The 2011 defense budget, including the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a little over $700 billion. The total federal debt has risen to $15 trillion, roughly the same as U.S. gross domestic product. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s June 2011 long-range budget forecast, a failure to tame -entitlement spending could double the debt again as the boomers retire en masse. Even eliminating the U.S. military entirely would have no serious effect on the government’s balance sheets.

To fully limn the extent of America’s defense decline would be a long and lugubrious task, so consider the strategic bottom line: The Obama administration has admitted that the U.S. military will no longer be large enough to fight two wars at once. This has been the standard of American global power since Franklin Roosevelt’s time, one observed and saluted by every president since. As Colin Powell put it in 1989, we had put a “shingle outside our door saying ‘Superpower Lives Here.’ ” And while it’s true that the active duty forces of the United States have often fallen short of this standard, “two” was the eternal answer to the classic question of defense planning: “How much is enough?”

In leaking this change to the press, an anonymous administration official described Obama’s strategy as “spoiling” any second-war act of aggression while fighting the first. And the defense guidance goes on at length about “reversibility” as a “key part of our decision calculus” when defense cuts have to be made. In other words, the Obama Pentagon knows this is a very bad idea to begin with.

Irreversible?

Unfortunately, reversing the effects of the Obama way of war will be extremely difficult. Suppose a new Republican commander in chief were determined to lead a resurgence of American power. Could he easily renegotiate a status-of-forces agreement in Iraq that would allow for the redeployment of U.S. troops to a level that would jump-start domestic reconciliation and diminish Iranian influence? Could he convince Hamid Karzai or his successor that this time we mean business? What would it take to genuinely change the calculus of the Pakistani army? Would the president have the military means to do more than delay or disrupt Iran’s drive to become a nuclear power? To really establish a military posture in the Asia-Pacific that would reassure the Japanese, South Koreans, Taiwanese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Australians, and Indians while deterring China? What defense investments could he make while expecting to see a tangible return in the course of a four-year term?

The Obama administration has been at pains to practice what it calls “smart power,” and there is undeniably a consistent and logically coherent narrative to the Obama way of war. On the other hand, history favors the constant more often than the clever. This is particularly the case for Americans; our most successful commanders have not been the most brilliant ones.

Obama’s way of war, his “rebalancing” of U.S. strategic priorities, and the damage done to American military power are already being felt in the world. The greater Middle East, never “stable” to begin with, is undergoing an epoch-defining political change—who knows where the Arab revolts will end, or what a nuclear Iran would mean?—while having its American security blanket ripped away. Our Asian allies, who have been begging for attention as China increasingly muscles its way around the region, may be cheered when the 2,500 Marines arrive in Australia, and be even happier if they pop up around the South China Sea on a regular basis, but they won’t see it as an “all in” commitment. And when the up-to-now sole superpower confesses it lacks the means to deter or fight simultaneous crises or conflicts, its assertions of leadership will ring hollow. The president vowed in his defense guidance that the American military will be the “best in the world.” That much is true. But the problem, since 9/11, has not been the quality of the force but its quantity.

Nations, like markets, look at both fundamentals and trends. The world’s developed and developing democracies, (also known as America’s allies) have been and remain eager to invest in the security that the United States provides. It’s not a cost center but a profit center for them. It’s a profit center for us, too—part of the reason the world invests in America, even with our Greek-like debt-to-GDP ratios and unfunded government liabilities. Barack Obama is seeking to reverse a century-long trend in international affairs—the energetic exercise of American power. And he’s well on his way to solidifying this dubious achievement.

Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.

(flickr/White House/Pete Souza)

One of the key, underpinning elements of President Barack Obama’s new defense strategy is, ostensibly, its “reversibility”: the idea that changes to the size and shape of the U.S. military can be undone in a time of crisis. This applies most of all to the Army and Marine Corps, the branches set to suffer force cuts under the new “strategic guidance.” Administration officials insist that, should events so require, the U.S. military will have retained the core expertise to restore itself in a timely fashion. The American experience in war — particularly in the past 10 years — tells another story: that the concept of “reversibility” is specious and threatens to leave our armed forces dangerously unprepared for future conflicts.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have subjected a shrunken, post-Cold War U.S. military to severe strains. The Pentagon entered the “Long War” hampered not only by successive force cuts and deferred and cancelled modernization programs, but also by the pervasive belief that U.S. high-end technology would permit us to wage conflicts on our terms, with limited “boots-on-the-ground.” As violence in Iraq increased, however, the full consequences of the post-Cold War changes to force structure came into clear view: the military that had been billed as “leaner and meaner” lacked the numbers to carry out crucial missions. In order to properly resource a counterinsurgency effort in Iraq, even before the 2007 “surge,” the Marine Corps had been converted to a mission-set far from its amphibious bread and butter, and reservists of all branches had been called up in increasingly larger numbers. And it was only after the success of the surge in Iraq, and the tamping down of the violence there, that the Pentagon could even begin to think about shifting ground to Afghanistan, where the last “surge” troops did not arrive until September 2010 — roughly nine years after U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives first arrived in theater. The role of reservists in these wars, while a testament to the character and dedication of our citizen-soldiers, has also illustrated that they are not interchangeable with active-duty, combat troops. Meanwhile, soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors have found themselves deployed at increased rates, with an accompanying toll on them and their families.

These strains have not gone unnoticed. Decisions were made during the Bush years to augment the “end-strength” of both the Army and Marine Corps, although even these upward adjustments did not bring with them the capacity to conduct, as strategy dictated at the time, two major regional contingency operations simultaneously, and were slow to come in any case. The full psychological effects of high-pace deployments are also not yet understood, although, already, higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder have appeared among veterans, and military brass suggest that retention, insulated so far by a poor economy, will worsen.

In short, restoring the strength of the U.S. military after pre-9/11 force cuts has taken time, and has come at a high cost. A smaller and less capable force ceded the initiative to our enemies, placed an enormous burden on the backs of the less than 1% of Americans who serve in uniform and meant that an immense sacrifice in blood and treasure had to be made to regain the upper hand in Iraq and, later, Afghanistan. And, even after 10 years, we have yet to overcome the legacy of the 1990s “peace dividend.” By many standards of readiness, the Army and Marine Corps — and the Air Force and Navy as well — are worse for the wear after two overlapping conflicts.

The Obama administration knows full well what the state of the military is. However, because it would rather shift the country’s spending priorities to domestic programs long favored by Democrats, it has willingly accepted, indeed gone beyond, what the 2011 Budget Control Act required in cuts to national security programs. To give this shift the patina of legitimacy, the administration has prepared a new “strategic guidance” that largely compounds the mistakes of the past. In the fiscal year 2013 budget, where the specific details of the president’s new strategy will be spelled out, we are likely to see deep end-strength cuts, a greater reliance on reserves and postponed modernization programs — all bolstered by the idea that, if anything goes wrong, we can quickly “regenerate” our military strength.

The new strategy comes both in the midst of a continuing war and with additional Pentagon budget cuts likely pending — the product of congressional “sequester” with the failed super committee. It is certain that President Obama’s decisions will leave his successor with constrained choices and greater risks in carrying out the country’s security commitments. Hoping that these constraints and risks can be mitigated by “reversibility” plans is a bet that history suggests is a long shot. Far better for Congress, and perhaps a new president, to challenge the administration’s assumptions and reverse course — a much sounder version of reversibility.

Cross-posted from the Daily Caller.

(flickr/U.S. Army/Spc. Kristina Truluck)
1/09/12
9:24am

No Superpower Here

by Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly

With the end of the Cold War in sight, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell in the George H. W. Bush administration was asked how big the U.S. military should be. He replied, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower Lives Here.’ ”

Barack Obama has taken the shingle down.

The “strategic guidance” announced this week from the commander in chief to the Department of Defense is, make no mistake about it, an order to retreat. The retreat is particularly evident in the greater Middle East, but it will also be visible in Europe. And the administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot” to East Asia is largely rhetorical, meant to distract from the broader global retreat and the fact that planned American defense budgets will lack the resources to make that pivot militarily possible.

The clearest measure of diminished American ambition is the overthrow of the traditional “two-war standard.” What has made the United States a global superpower is the ability to conduct two large campaigns at once. This has been the agreed benchmark not just since the -Clinton administration’s 1993 “Bottom-Up Review,” but since 1940, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the “Two-Ocean Navy Act.” The Obama strategy is instead, as one senior administration official put it, to be able to “spoil” aggression in the event of a second simultaneous conflict.

This is a bright green light to our enemies and a flashing red one to our friends and allies. If the United States were to find itself engaged elsewhere, the risk-reward calculus for Iran or North Korea or China—anyone who dreams of chipping away at the international system that Americans have made and kept safe—will look very tempting. What would it mean to “spoil” a Chinese grab for Taiwan? An Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz? The next time North Korea sinks a South Korean vessel? To proclaim that we can only really deal with one threat at a time is an open invitation to the rogue states of the world to make mischief, a recipe for disorder, aggression, and danger.

The Obama retreat from the Middle East in particular is a reversal of decades of American policy and strategy. The withdrawal from Iraq, the likely abandonment of Afghanistan, and the reduction of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to pre-9/11 levels of strength—all of this rolls back the U.S. military posture in the region to a pre-Desert Storm stance. The ebbing of American power in the region is already creating a dangerous vacuum that others will scramble to fill. Does the president really believe the wars of the past are simply that—past? And that we will no longer need robust American ground forces to deter and respond to enemies, and to ensure American and allied interests in the region?

The president’s argument for this retreat is the need to “renew our economic strength at home,” which includes putting “our fiscal house in order.” But our economic problems have nothing to do with a defense budget that, as a percentage of the country’s wealth, remains well below post-World War II norms. Nor will the savings from defense cuts amount to more than peanuts in comparison with the trillion-dollar annual deficits the administration seems only too happy to run. No, the real game afoot here is making as much room as possible for the administration’s domestic spending agenda—at the cost of putting the country’s security, as even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admits, more at risk.

Not that the administration will acknowledge this. Instead, this agenda has been papered over with a veneer of strategic sophistication admiringly summed up by the New York Times: “The country must be smarter and more restrained in its use of force,” it editorialized. “[M]any of the challenges out there can be dealt with by air power, intelligence, special operations or innovative technologies like drones.” No doubt this will become the mantra of the smart set. But this sounds like nothing so much as the pre-9/11 “transformational” Don Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld could fairly say he didn’t see what was coming, that he was blindsided by history and then adjusted. Obama is making a conscious choice. It’s a choice for weakness, a choice that will invite war, a choice for American decline. It’s a choice the next president must reverse.

Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.

(DOD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

President Barack Obama yesterday unveiled a new national defense strategy creating a “leaner” force that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta allows will create “some level of additional but acceptable risk.” Moving away from the traditional two war strategy, and hinting at substantial reductions in Europe, the president presented a dramatic shift in global posture for the United States. We asked House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon for his thoughts on the president’s announcement:

This morning, the president and his military leaders announced they would jettison the United States’ long-held two war strategy. What do you see as the implications of this decision?

This is an unrealistic posture. It presumes that in the face of two existential challenges to American interests, the military would abrogate their responsibilities. In reality, our Armed Forces will fight to win on two fronts with insufficient manpower and resources. The president is clearly repeating the mistakes of the past – by providing a force far smaller than is sufficient to meet the threats we face. The possibility of two simultaneous contingency operations is real. One need only look at the current instability in North Korea and the threats coming from Iran, for an example.

The president also announced that tens of thousands of ground troops will be cut from the Force. What will that mean in reality for the United States in the world?

Quite simply, it puts us back on a pre-9/11 footing. It means that the next time we have to engage in a major ground operation, we won’t have the forces we need, just as we didn’t in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will go to war with the Army and Marine Corps we have, and that our forces will assume greater risks and suffer greater casualties to get the job done. Moreover, the president has announced these cuts before we have successfully concluded our mission in Afghanistan. It is not clear how these cuts will impact current operations or our contingency plans.

The Obama administration recently announced a “pivot” to Asia. When you look at the budget numbers, do you believe that such a “pivot” can realistically be supported?

I agree that the Asia Pacific is an under-resourced theater. But, it’s baffling that, in this fiscal environment, the president would be talking about a pivot to Asia before our work is done in the Middle East. The pivot East is realistic assuming we abandon our commitments and our allies elsewhere – it does not mean we will maintain our capabilities elsewhere and build up our presence in Asia. That’s the reality of these defense cuts. The president’s strategy, where he officially abandons America’s ability to fight two wars simultaneously, says this better than I could. We will be able to fight one war and “spoil” another. That’s political-speak for a one-dimensional force. The 21st century has grown into one of the most dynamic and challenging security landscapes in history, a time when our economy has never been more dependent on our military and our security. It’s astounding that the president still pays lip service to shrinking our “Cold War” military, as if the Soviet Union was the only justification for having a strong, capable defense that could react to the unforeseen, and protect our prosperity in globalized world.

What’s the take-away message for America’s adversaries in the world? What about our allies?

Simple. America will do less with less – until the next contingency. At that point, our military will be forced to go to war without the forces or capabilities it needs, costing us in both blood and treasure. It means our ability to lead will be called into question. It disrupts a globalized world, already deeply sensitive to and intolerant of instability. Our allies could seek alliances elsewhere. Our enemies could be emboldened. And if we do abdicate our role as global leader, which is largely driven by our military and economic strength, the vacuum will either be filled by another power that doesn’t share our values or the global order will slip into the same dangerous multipolarity that landed us in World I and World II. Make no mistake, shrinking your force does nothing to enhance flexibility or agility, as the president has claimed. Having fewer ships, for example, does not increase your flexibility to respond to various crises, like the Libya operation and relief in Japan.

How is Congress going to react to this new “strategy” and to sequestration?

Congress is going to press forward with its highest constitutional responsibility in mind – to provide for the common defense. I have introduced legislation that will work to mitigate the effects of sequestration. The House Armed Services Committee conducted months of rigorous oversight in which Congress was repeatedly warned by Secretary Panetta and top military officials that the size and scope of the cuts entailed in President Obama’s new strategy would entail more risk. In my view, they are untenable and dangerous. However, the reality is the commander-in-chief chooses strategy, not the Congress. We will advocate for modifications to the strategy, insist that any new strategy should contain a substantive, not merely rhetorical response to the growing array of threats to the United States around the world – but ultimately the president owns it. What we can do is advance legislation to stop the “doomsday” effects of sequestration, so that defense is not forced to shoulder the load of our domestic fiscal profligacy.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog, where the interview was conducted by Enterprise Blog Editors.

President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a new defense strategy yesterday. It’s a strategy designed to take into account both the hundreds of billions already slashed from the Pentagon’s budget since the Obama administration came into office and the hundreds of billions more to be cut in the years ahead. It is a “declinist” strategy for an administration all too willing to accept the waning of American hard power and influence in the world.

The headline news coming from the new strategy is that the administration is tacitly abandoning the two-war capability. But one need only look at how we have handled Afghanistan and then Iraq to see that the U.S. never had the forces to deal with both wars simultaneously. Indeed, one reason the conflict in Afghanistan has taken as long as it has is because it was not until just a little more than a year ago that we had sufficient troops to begin a full-fledged, fully-resourced counterinsurgency campaign.

Rather than fixing this problem, Obama’s new strategy would cut tens of thousands more from America’s active duty forces.

The question is, should we care? And, even if we do care, can we afford to do anything else in light of current budget deficits?

The ability to handle two major military campaigns at the same time used to be the sine qua non of American global leadership. However, its critics often say it is an out-of-date, Cold War-era planning paradigm that no longer fits today’s realities. Yet, in fact, it has been a force-sizing metric that ensured we had sufficient forces not only to fight wars but, more broadly, allowed us simultaneously to carry out a number of other, crucial national security missions: protecting the homeland, maintaining a favorable balance of power across the Eurasian land mass, deterring rogue regimes, protecting the great commons (sea, space and now cyberspace) and, at times, acting as a global good neighbor when catastrophes strike such as the ones that hit Japan last year.

Not having such forces in place is a gamble that we have a good idea of what military contingencies will arise next. However, if the post-Cold War era has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot know what exact problems will arise next.

Every president since George H. W. Bush has found himself using the military in wars he never expected. And given the general uncertainty in the international arena today, it’s a good bet that while we might not know what will come next, we can be pretty certain that something will. And when it does, the nation should not be put in a position where our adversaries think they can, through timing and clever planning, take advantage of our being militarily preoccupied elsewhere. Having sufficient military force to handle more than one war effectively at a time has been the nation’s strategic insurance policy.

Moreover, the announcement of a new strategy shouldn’t distract us from the fact that there are more cuts to come as a result of the failure of the super committee to reach an agreement on deficit reduction—cuts on the order of $500-$600 billion over the next decade that will force more force cuts and devastate plans to modernize each of the services. The administration claims it now wants to “pivot” security efforts to the Asia-Pacific region. However, there is a real question of whether projected defense spending levels will be enough to resource the increase in air, sea and space capabilities that the pivot requires, while simultaneously maintaining air and naval dominance in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

Undoubtedly, keeping a large and capable military force modernized, paid and trained takes a large amount of money. But there are also costs for having a strategy that openly admits it’s taking a gamble on what the future will demand. Ask any sound investor and he or she will tell you that an uncertain world is a much tougher world to do business in.

Those potential costs in peace and prosperity have to be paired against the savings gained by paring back the defense budget. And here the cost-benefit analysis is clear. Defense cuts, even of the scale now being talked about, will do little to fix our current fiscal problems.

In 2011, the deficit was $1.3 trillion, while the whole department of defense budget, wars included, was half that amount.

The real driver behind our long-term debt is the growth in entitlements. These have grown exponentially as part of the federal budget, amounting now to some 60% of the total federal budget. while defense spending, with wars included, remains basically at the same level as it did during the mid-1990s.

There is a déjà vu quality to this most recent exercise in scaling back America’s defenses. During the Clinton years, defense cuts became the bill-payer in an effort to balance the budget, while Congress and the administration allowed domestic spending to continue to grow. It left us with a military that, come 9/11, had to scramble to meet the new threats and tasks it faced.

As then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld remarked, “You go to war with the army you have.” The question is, do we want the next serious conflict we face to be one in which America’s military is sized and equipped based on what we can afford as a result of ObamaCare or, more prudently, based on what the nation’s security requires?

Cross-posted from Fox News?

(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Reece Lodder)

This morning, President Obama, Secretary Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey unveiled a new defense strategy, based on the $450 billion cuts from this summer’s Budget Control Act, the product of the debt-ceiling deal.

Yahoo! News’ Laura Rozen covers the strategy and quotes CDS’ Tom Donnelly in a piece describing the strategy. Here’s an excerpt:

“You can pretend that the world will behave the way you want it to, or you can look at reality square in the face,” Donnelly said. “Or you can run from it, which is what this administration is doing–in Iraq, soon enough in Afghanistan, and, with these cuts, running from the future.”

To read the article in full, click here.

(DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
AEI