Dan Goure, VP of the Lexington Institute think tank, advises the Pentagon to draw a hard line against further budget cuts.
Defense has already been tagged with over $800 billion in spending cuts since the Obama Administration took office. These include almost $400 billion in savings from program terminations and restructuring that were announced in 2009, another $78 billion in efficiency savings that the department was not allowed to retain and around $350 billion in cuts announced this past April (and confirmed in last week’s debt pact). It is unclear how much more the Pentagon will be asked to absorb in budget cuts in the second round of deficit reductions due out from a special Congressional Committee in the Fall . . .
There needs to be a defense-led argument for how to do deficit reduction without harming national security. How much can we afford to reduce defense without placing security fundamentally at risk? . . . The Pentagon needs to draw a line in the sand. If Congress or the American people wish to cross that line, so be it. But DoD needs to make the consequences of such a decision for national security very clear (emphasis added).
Utterly wrong. The national command level question must be to re-consider (a) what is an appropriate American geo-strategic footprint that (b) we can we afford and then (c) how to allocate budgets among State, DoD and others. What are core American interests? Secondary interests? Tertiary. And why are these interests militarized? Do we even remember anymore?
Goure argues that DoD is really an entitlement – something we should pay regardless of seeming need. An interesting reveal of internal psychology. Goure is a nice guy, a creative fixture of the national security scene. Several ‘D.C. friends’ and their spouses have worked with him or for him over the years. He’s a creative mind whose loyalties are to the defense establishment as opposed to any external ideology like Neocons.
He’s right that blind cuts in a trigger mechanism would be harmful. It’s not a rational resource allocation. Worse, blind cuts still leave U.S. over-extended commitments and guarantees across the globe. Without the means to honor them. Worse than paper tiger. Uncertainty among friends and foes as to U.S. intentions is a recipe for international systemic upheaval.
He’s also right that key capabilities might be lost. Some might be critical. Others only seemingly so because the hold they exert on memory and the past. We heard many of the same arguments when Bill Perry ‘consolidated’ the defense industry in the 1990s. Aligning a defense budget and capabilities to a realistic American geostrategic footprint will help identify which design teams, capabilities and infrastructure merit a roll of the dice.
Status Quo’s End
What Goure and others can’t conceive of is status quo’s end. Defense as entitlement? It’s *been* socialized entitlement since Reagan I. This ends/means gap has been Topic A within the national security community since 1984. What’s disconcerting about Goure’s piece? When the moment finally came, he blinked. One expects more. Although he like most are understandably caught off guard by Movement radicalism. Perhaps this is a visceral fire-fighter’s response to the immediate blaze. Still, if someone like Goure is staking out this turf, it’s a not a good sign about the overall conversation. Nothing to date indicates the feeble NSC/WH team has any strategic depth. State? Without a WH on its side, lucky to be in the conversation.
The Hill? Reid counting on ‘war savings’ from drawdowns from Afghanistan and Iraq? Mechanistic. The wars failed. Some kind of drawdown (no matter how slow rolled) pre-baked.
Larger strategic opportunities are before us. What of the international system? If the U.S. military is no longer a subsidized, underlying public good what is the alternative system architecture? What are the upsides and downsides? Regional blocs? Trans-geographic economic zones? Who are the players? Why would they want to join rather than hug the U.S. free ride to its last gasp? If ever there was a time for creative deep think, it is now.
Some Cold War relics are no brainers. NATO? Why? Russia’s GDP is $16,800 per capita. Italy’s alone – credit crisis included – is $28,000. Even Lithuania’s is higher. If NATO sans U.S. (Chinese funded) kinetic power can’t resolve Libya across the Med, it shows how much they’ve been a free ride, not a rationale for for further U.S. subsidy. If Poland has realized its future is with the German economic sphere rather U.S. military, why can’t Washington? U.S. can return to a ‘balancer’ role, offshore. These grand strategic questions are far larger and more important than industrial welfare issues like the F-35, etc.
And so on. And then take a hard look at the services, their priorities and then the reduced budget is aligned.
Finally, what about Leon Panetta? Leon proved at the Agency that he’s good at playing the game. At DoD he’s got 5 real constituencies. First is the president (although with Obama that’s not a hard rule). Second is ‘the building’ (Pentagon). Third are the services. Fourth is the Hill. And 5th is industry. He’s got to prove to ‘the building’ and services he’s got their back. Otherwise he and the political system overall could face overtly covert insurrection. We weren’t surprised by Panetta’s hard line stance.
His opening gambit has to be hardline. Unlike Obama, Panetta knows one doesn’t fold at the beginning. What footprint, number and what budget components he has in mind as ‘wins’, ‘compromise’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘lose’ none of us know.
There’s little reason so far to believe the U.S. has the will and perspective to undertake any of the above sequential aligning of commitments with means/ends. History shows blunt force trauma always works in the end (‘mushroom clouds’, ‘niger’, etc.). If so, it must be one of the faintest of silver linings.