What Defense Cuts Can and Can’t Accomplish

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 10 months ago

Obama has rolled out his plan for defense cuts.  He appeared at the Pentagon with such notables as Generals Odierno and Amos.  This is extremely bad form, and this tactic was used to make it appear that the military agrees with or is setting national defense policy, specifically, the Obama administration policy.  It isn’t the business of the military to agree or disagree with its civilian leadership on national defense policy.

To the point, the revised policy includes things such as a so-called rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific region.  It also will place higher emphasis on drones and cyberwarfare, and will markedly decrease the size of the Army and Marine Corps.  This shift in policy is supposed to align with an increased concern over saber-rattling by China and increased growth of its military.

There has also been a large amount of posturing over the wasteful spending at the Pentagon.  At Foreign Affairs Lawrence Korb has penned an article entitled Why Panetta’s Pentagon Cuts Are Easier Than You Think.  Any review of my advocacy will show that I have opposed ridiculous programs as well.  I’ve called for the end of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and counseled the Marine Corps to focus its energies on forcible entry based on more rapid and aggressive airborne assault (such as with helicopters and V-22 Ospreys).  I have advocated the end of the highly wasteful F-35 program, as well as more F-16s and F-22s (both of which outperform the F-35).  I have advocated against the Army Future Combat Systems, and other wasteful programs.

Furthermore, my own advocacy for the far east has been to cut Japan loose from our umbrella of nuclear protection, as well as for South Korea.  Nothing would slow China’s military advances more than having to worry over a nuclear Japan.  But my advocacy has also been for staying the course in both Iraq and Afghanistan, for strengthening our infantry, both Army and Marines, and for replacing and upgrading infantry equipment.  An entirely new armory of rifles and automatic arms will be needed to replace the aging actions of older firearms in order to keep our infantry well-supplied.  Future policy has also pointed towards a reduction in the number of aircraft carrier groups, while I have argued for steady or increasing carrier availability as one of the most effective elements of force projection.

But this – the current Obama administration actions – is more than re-apportionment and redistribution of resources to ensure wiser spending.  Make no mistake about it.  Approximately one and a half years ago, the CATO institute produced a study entitled Sustainable Defense Task Force, and it wasn’t the only such study.  The unspoken presupposition of these efforts was the need to find money for entitlement spending.  They saw it coming, and they prepared the think tank papers and studies to show that it was necessary.

But Glen Tschirgi has pointed out that entitlements will consume all tax revenues by the year 2049.  Defense cuts won’t do the job.  Mark Steyn has argued that Ron Paul suffers from the same illusion that grips the left.

Like many chaps round these parts, my general line on Ron Paul was that, as much as I think he’s out of his gourd on Iran et al, he performs a useful role in the GOP line-up talking up the virtues of constitutional conservatism. But this Weekly Standard piece by John McCormack suggests Paul is a humbug even on his core domestic turf: The entitlement state is the single biggest deformation to the Founders’ republic, and it downgrades not only America’s finances but its citizenry. Yet Paul has no serious proposal for dealing with it, and indeed promises voters that we won’t have to as long as we cut “overseas spending”.

This is hooey. As I point out in my book, well before the end of this decade interest payments on the debt will consume more of the federal budget than military spending. So you could abolish the Pentagon, sell off the fleet to Beijing and the nukes to Tehran and Khartoum and anybody else who wants ‘em, and we’d still be heading off the cliff. If a candidate isn’t talking about entitlement transformation, he’s unserious.

And, before the Ronulans start jeering “Neocon!”, I part company with many friends on the right who argue that defense spending can’t be cut. I wrote a cover story for NR a couple of months back arguing that the military’s bloated size (and budget) is increasingly an impediment to its effectiveness: When you’re responsible for 43 per cent of global military expenditure, it’s hardly surprising that you start acting like the world’s most lavishly funded transnational-outreach non-profit rather than the sharp end of America’s national interest. In Afghanistan, the problem is not that we haven’t spent enough money but that so much of it has been utterly wasted – and mostly in predictable ways. I am in favor of a leaner, meaner military, with the emphasis on both adjectives.

But Ron Paul, with his breezy indifference to the entitlement question, is peddling the same illusion Obama sold a gullible electorate in 2008 – that, if only America retreats from “Bush’s wars”, life can go on, and we’ll be fat and happy with literally not a care in the world. Big Government parochialism is an appealing fantasy because it suggests America’s fortunes can be restored without pain. But they can’t – and when Ron Paul tells you otherwise he’s talking hogwash.

The illusion is that cuts to defense spending can save our economic system from collapse.  The administration talks of two wars ending, and the wars of the last decades “coming to an end.”  Coming to an end indeed.  While I have argued endlessly for better and smarter logistics, the difficulty facing the logisticians now is getting troops and materiel out of Afghanistan rather than into it.  And with waning political support for the campaign, it would be easy to argue for complete withdrawal, even immediately.  If the campaign won’t be taken seriously and run to its completion with an outcome that we can live with, I argue (herein) for such withdrawal.  America apparently isn’t prepared to encounter militant Islam on our own terms.  Very well.  Then we’ll do it on their terms, and it will be more painful.

The wars of the “last decade” won’t go away.  The enemy gets a vote on our fate fate as well.  And Robert Scales outlines the downside of defense cuts.

Harry Truman seeking to never repeat the costs of World War II reduced the Army from 8 million soldiers to fewer than half a million. Without the intervention of Congress, he would have eliminated the Marine Corps entirely. The result was the evisceration of both land services in Korea, a war Truman never intended to fight.

With Dwight Eisenhower came the “New Look” strategy that sought to reduce the Army and Marine Corps again to allow the creation of a nuclear delivery force built around the Strategic Air Command. Along came Vietnam, a war that Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson never wanted to fight. But by 1970 our professional Army broke apart and was replaced by a body of amateurs. The result was defeat and 58,000 dead.

After Vietnam, the Nixon administration broke the Army again. I know. I was there to see the drug addiction, murders in the barracks and chronic indiscipline, caused mainly by a dispirited noncommissioned corps that voted with its feet and left. Then came Jimmy Carter’s unique form of neglect that led to the “hollow Army” of the late ’70s, an Army that failed so miserably in its attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran.

The only exception to this very sad story was the Reagan years, when the land services received enough funding to equip and train themselves to fight so well in Operation Desert Storm. Then tragedy again as the Clinton administration reduced the ground services, intending to rely on “transformation,” a program that paid for more ships and planes by reducing the Army from 16 divisions to 10. In the George W. Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld continued a policy that sought to exploit information technology to replace the human component in war. Had it not been for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Army would have gone down to fewer than eight divisions.

So, here we go again. The Obama administration will reduce its long-service, professional land force to pay for something called “Air Sea Battle,” a strategy that seeks to buy more ships and planes in order to confront China with technology rather than people. This strategy shows a degree of a-historicism that exceeds that of any post-World War II administration. So much for remembering “the lessons of the past.”

I’m in good company in my advocacy for good men and materiel.  Drones are slow and lumbering, and our national fascination with them will come to a timely end when they see service against states that can easily shoot them out of the air (such as recently with Iran).  They are no replacement for the Air Force flying manned fighters, GPS is no real replacement for the ability to read maps and use a compass, red dot optics is no replacement for knowing how to use iron sights, and heavy reliance on logistics is no replacement for training in the ability to use the land for survival.  The human element in warfare cannot be replaced by technology.

From Cato Institute

We will suffer some future hardships from lack of intelligent and wise funding of our military.  Defense cuts can exacerbate those hardships.  But what defense cuts cannot possibly do is be anything other than a very short-lived and dangerous bank account for survival until we deal with what will be the true root cause of our economic demise: the entitlement state.



  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Warbucks

    “But what defense cuts cannot possibly do is be anything other than a very short-lived and dangerous bank account for survival until we deal with what will be the true root cause of our economic demise: the entitlement state.”

    I’m way out of my depth to even dare to offer comment affirming there is a great truth in your coclusion.  The greater problem this time is the mystique of 2012 paradigm shift in human consciousness. Will it be or not be? All the cards on the table. Time to call the bet.
      
    Have you watched “I Am” by Tom Shadyac? That seems to sum it up. 

  • TS Alfabet

    Terrific post, Herschel. Chock full of information with all the links. First rate.

    And so, friggin’ depressing. Because that is the sad reality that Americans just cannot seem to learn from our past mistakes. As you lay out so well, the U.S. has repeatedly scrapped its military in a fit of naivete or just plain stupidity and then proceeded to pay a horrific price in blood and treasure to pull itself back from the brink.

    After a massive build-up in 1916-17 and coming to the rescue of Britain and France in WWI, the U.S. promptly mothballed and demobilized its military in the inter-war years. Unlike Germany and even France and Britain, the U.S. did little or no research into aircraft or tanks during the 20′s and 30′s. When Pearl Harbor hit, the U.S. was woefully unprepared. There was barely time for the U.S. to gear up for war in time to invade Normandy in 1944, and that was at the height of U.S. industrial power with a president who had fiat power over private industry. It is arguable that Germany could have won WWII the Normandy landings had been delayed another year or more.

    We made the same mistake after WWII as Herschel notes, losing thousands of soldiers in Korea who were thrown into a meat grinder without training or equipment, little more than a speed bump in the path of NoKo units. Again after Vietnam and again in the 1990′s. And here we go again in 2012.

    If we insist on this insane disarmament, it is only a matter of time before the U.S. (or a vital U.S. interest) is attacked and we will be fortunate indeed if we are allowed the time and resources to re-arm. This is not 1941 when war moved a comparatively glacial pace. We will not have the luxury of years or even months to reconstitute a sufficient military force. As always, we will pay dearly in blood and treasure, in volumes that make Iraq and Afghanistan look insignificant.

  • Sando

    Cutting defense is all part of the Alinskyite-in-Chief’s plan. Rubbing some generals noses in it is just added fun. Entitlements, entitlements, entitlements…our future lies in cutting entitlements.

  • Pingback: Inflation, Here We Come! | Daily Pundit

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This article is filed under the category(s) Department of Defense,Obama Administration and was published January 8th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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