Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

“Stoopid” Talk About Cutting Defense Spending

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 7 months ago

In Herschel Smith’s recent post, “What Defense Cuts Can and Can’t Accomplish,” he noted in response to President Obama’s announced cuts to Defense that such cuts were cover to make room for ruinous entitlements spending and ensured a future military that will not be prepared to meet America’s defense needs.

To tag team on that post somewhat, I would like to address two, typical fallacies indulged in by those calling for cuts to Defense spending.   The first is the idea that the Pentagon budget is so massive and so stuffed with waste and fraud that any budget increase would almost be immoral.   The second notion is that Defense spending is indistinguishable from any, other Federal spending and, so, sacrifices must be made.   I offer this in the context of the ongoing Republican nomination season where an amazing number of candidates are espousing the same kind of cuts.   Furthermore, I am amazed as I travel the internet and read comments by alleged conservatives that call for deep-sixing much of the Pentagon budget.  So, to all those would-be candidates and fellow conservatives who are tempted by the low-hanging Pentagon budget, I say, “No good can come of it.”

And here’s why:

No Federal function will ever be free of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.   Live with it.

Conservatives must take it as almost axiomatic that the military, being part of the federal government, is inherently inefficient, wasteful, bass-ackwards, and prone to all the wrong priorities.   Herschel’s post detailing the problems with various weapon systems is on point.

That said, the U.S. military is, nonetheless, widely recognized the world over as the best-functioning part of the national government we have.  It is, in many cases, the only thing that does, actually work even half the time.  When any, significant natural disaster occurs anywhere on the planet and rapid response is required to prevent massive loss of life, who is the one doing the heavy lifting in terms of humanitarian relief?  The U.S. military which has the advantage of being everywhere on the planet (or at least within carrier distance) and organized to deliver critical logistics in short order.  For all its many, many faults, the U.S. military still gets the job done in far less time and in far better fashion than any, other alternative known to mankind at this point.

Money will be wasted by the federal government just as a teenager will blow at least some part of that $20 bill you give them on a Big Mac and fries.  There is simply no way around it.  Yes, fraud/waste/abuse must be rooted out as far as possible and contracting must be improved blah blah blah, but there is no way this side of Paradise to put as many people in the field, all around the globe with as many types of weapons/units/vehicles et al without substantial waste.  I am sick of Obama or any GOP candidate who puffs and preens about reducing waste at the Pentagon as if that is going to solve our national spending addiction.  All of the waste and fraud at the Pentagon in a year is still a pittance compared to the entire, federal budget.   The problem is in the very budgeting and spending process.   Raging about government waste is performance art.   Worse, when it comes to government and waste, the two are too often synonymous.

Perhaps a better way of viewing Defense spending is to liken it to a huge pipeline.   The U.S. government is like a huge pipe with lots of spigots and also a bunch of holes, leaks and cracks: water is going to leak out all over the place.   Amazingly enough, however, due to the sheer volume and force, enough water will still manages to get through.   Tightening down the spigot called the U.S. military does not save any, actual water.   That water will just flow to other spigots like welfare, “green energy,” public employee unions, TSA harpies, bridges to nowhere and genius programs like “Fast and Furious.”   To actually save water in this illustration, the entire plumbing system has to be re-engineered.

Some Federal functions are more legitimate than others.  Prioritizing is key.

President Obama and the other Defense cutters act as if every federal undertaking is on an equal footing much as a family may decide to spend less on expensive orange juice and shift those dollars to cereal instead.   For those of us who continue to believe that we live in a constitutional republic, however, the U.S. military in one of the very few legitimate functions that the federal government performs under the U.S. Constitution.  Rather than starting the discussion about budget cuts with the one department that is actually in the U.S. Constitution, how about talking first about real, immediate cuts to the plethora of departments, agencies, programs and funding that are completely outside of any Constitutional mandate.  Entitlements are the place to start, not the military.

Like Obama, John Huntsman is particularly annoying in this regard.   Worse yet, to hear Huntsman talk about Defense spending, the U.S. can treat it like putting off a leaky roof:  we can put off needed spending for some period of time, hoping that the roof will not collapse, and someday get the repairs done.   As Herschel’s post pointed out, this has been done with shocking frequency since the 1930′s and has always ended in disaster and tragic losses of life.  As night follows day you can rest assured that a major violent international event will follow our budget cuts to defense.  That’s not scaremongering, it is just history.  Sure, we can try ramping up like we did all those other times, but history may be less forgiving this time around.

As this Heritage Foundation paper aptly states, quoting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:

After each war-driven boom, the defense budget has experienced an extended period of decline. In May 2007, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained:

Five s to times over the past 90 years—after the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and most recently after the Cold War— the United States has slashed defense spending or disarmed outright in the mistaken belief that the nature of man or the behavior of nations had changed with the end of each of the wars, or that somehow we would not face threatour homeland or would not need to take a leadership role abroad.[6]

Time and again, policymakers have tended to neglect defense absent immediate, manifest threats to U.S. interests, and Americans and their military personnel have repeatedly paid the price of being less prepared.

Common sense dictates that the Pentagon should take advantage of peacetime lulls to replace damaged or destroyed equipment, to modernize legacy systems, and to purchase next-generation replacements to avoid predictable shortfalls in future force structure. Yet most Administrations have failed to do so.

The Heritage Foundation paper is well worth reading in its entirety and provides valuable citations and data that emphasize the follies of U.S. Defense spending practices for the past 90 years.   The papers leads to the conclusion that the combat forces of the U.S. military are increasingly being hollowed out by decades of short-sighted cuts, binge spending and misallocations, with increasing shares of the budget going toward entitlement-like benefits and mushrooming bureaucracies.

Conclusion

The United States is playing not only with fire but a can of gasoline nearby.  Any one of a dozen international hot spots could ignite in the next years and the combat arms of the military are increasingly made to get by with aging equipment and insufficient numbers of soldiers and marines.   In a bitterly comic twist, Democrats like Obama, who only 3 short years ago were complaining that President Bush was wearing out the U.S. military, are now cutting funds needed to re-build it.   More shocking is that this defense-cutting contagion seems to have spread to conservatives.  We seem to be watching our leaders flinging lighted matches at the gas can with little, apparent alarm.

Gates Indicts NATO While U.S. Stands in the Dock

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

A fascinating speech by outgoing Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on June 10 in Berlin at the Security and Defense Agenda think tank.

From this AP article:

BRUSSELS (AP) – America’s military alliance with Europe – the cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades – faces a “dim, if not dismal” future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in a blunt valedictory address.

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members’ penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

“Future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

The Washington Post summarized it this way:

BERLIN — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates rebuked some of America’s staunchest allies Friday, saying the United States has a “dwindling appetite” to serve as the heavyweight partner in the military order that has underpinned the U.S. relationship with Europe since the end of World War II.

In an unusually stinging speech, made on his valedictory visit to Europe before he retires at the end of the month, Gates condemned European defense cuts and said the United States is tired of engaging in combat missions for those who “don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources … to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” he said in an address to a think tank in Brussels.

There are several points worth noting in Gates’ speech. The most obvious one is aptly noted in both articles: European members of NATO have been starving their defense budgets for years and it is finally becoming painfully, no, embarrassingly clear to everyone by the Afghanistan and Libya campaigns. The AP story notes the contrast between the “mightiest military alliance in history” and the patent failure of this alliance to bring about any kind of victory against a third-rate, tin-pot dictator in Libya:

To illustrate his concerns about Europe’s lack of appetite for defense, Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air campaign in Libya.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” he said.

Is it any wonder that the Taliban have adopted a strategy of attrition? The only, credible military force in the field seems to be the U.S., the Canadians and the British and the latter, two have already indicated that they will be pulling out of Afghanistan entirely in the near future.

Add to this the assessment by Gates that, while all NATO member countries voted in favor of intervention in Libya, fewer than half those members have made any contribution toward the effort.

On a political level, the problem of alliance purpose in Libya is even more troubling, he said.

“While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission,” he said. “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”

Afghanistan is another example of NATO falling short despite a determined effort, Gates said.

He recalled the history of NATO’s involvement in the Afghan war – and the mistaken impression some allied governments held of what it would require of them.

“I suspect many allies assumed that the mission would be primarily peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance – more akin to the Balkans,” he said, referring to NATO peacekeeping efforts there since the late 1990s. “Instead, NATO found itself in a tough fight against a determined and resurgent Taliban returning in force from its sanctuaries in Pakistan.”

So, to sum up what we have learned from Secretary Gates, the chasm between the military and political capabilities of the U.S. and its NATO allies has become so large that, for all practical purposes, NATO has become a toothless organization that cannot even fight a meager enemy like Qaddafi for any length of time without substantial help from the U.S. and cannot be counted on to supply meaningful levels of troops in hot zones like Afghanistan. And despite the strong punch delivered by Gates, at least some in Europe, according to The Washington Post are glad that it is being delivered:

[Jonathan]Eyal, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, said the speech would be “very welcome” in Britain and France, however, because “privately this is what officials have articulated for years.” Gates “identified the key problem, which remains Germany,” he said. “You can argue that there are many countries that do not contribute their fair share, but most of the others don’t matter, and smaller ones would likely fall into line if Germany did.”

Eyal said: “It’s a shame politicians say what they think only when they are about to depart, but the Europeans needed this cold shower, and if it’s up to Gates to administer it, so be it.”

The speech amounted to “an outburst of frustration that is bigger than bottom line of defense cuts,” he said. “It’s about the lethargic way the Europeans walk on the world stage,” lacking a sense of urgency and thinking that “at the end of the day the Americans will always be there and do Europe’s bidding.”

But the speech “hasn’t caused a great rift,” Eyal said. “Deep down, there is no one in Europe that doesn’t think that what Gates said is absolutely the truth. No one argues he’s exaggerating problem. It’s not a rift. It’s worse. It’s an act of indifference.” The missing reaction in Europe, he said, is to reconsider burden-sharing and “how the Europeans can contribute more to the common pot.”

All this is very well and needed to be said. But I cannot help but speculate that perhaps Gates had more than just the Europeans in mind when he made these statements.

Could it be that Gates was placing a shot across the bow of those in the U.S. (both in and outside of the Obama Administration) calling for reductions in U.S. military spending? Looking at Gates’ remarks as a rebuke to U.S. policymakers makes equal sense.

How did Europe become so militarily defenseless? It happened as an irresistible, default choice when European capitals opted for heavy social spending at a time of declining birthrates and economic productivity.

This is the very same choice that is facing the U.S. today. The U.S. Congress is at this very moment locked in a bitter struggle against an inescapable reality: there is simply not enough money coming into the U.S. Treasury to fund the present, enormous welfare entitlements and a robust military. The decision must be made and it must be made now to either gut our military or seriously reform the welfare state as we know it. In all likelihood, given the rate at which the budget deficit is growing (due in large part to a terrible compromise on the 2011 Budget and less-than-expected revenues from a stalling economy), the markets and foreign lenders will not be content to wait until the 2012 elections for a responsible plan to control the deficit.

So, whatever satisfaction we get, whatever approval we may have for Secretary Gates’ jabs at NATO members for their pathetic military budgets, the U.S. seems to be taking the very same road as Europe. There are already too many in Congress and in the political class class who gladly concede that the Defense budget should be subjected to deep cuts in order to preserve our welfare state. Here is a typical example from Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Ron Paul. While this is expected from Democrats, even “conservatives” have been making similar noises. See this piece on Haley Barbour for example.

This is not to say that any cuts to the Defense budget are out of the question. The Captain’s Journal has long advocated smarter spending, as with the proposed, new landing craft for the Marines. Savings can certainly be found in better management and prioritizing. In light of Gates’ speech, it is worth re-examining the costs of keeping troops stationed in Europe versus the benefits of having troops pre-deployed close to the Middle East and to Russia. But, in the end, these savings will never amount to enough to reduce the Federal deficit in any meaningful way or balance the Federal budget.

The only way to do that is to either gut Defense or gut Entitlements.

I do not believe that the U.S. can make moderate cuts to both for the simple reason that the trajectory of Entitlement spending is such that it will eat up the entire Federal tax revenues by 2049. As shown in this chart from The Heritage Foundation (click to enlarge):

The U.S. faces now the very same choices that the Europeans faced some 50 years ago: guns or butter; continue funding social spending or provide for a credible military. We simply cannot do both and, as noted above, it is no longer possible to delay the decision. If we elect to cut Defense spending (and it will mean significant cuts) there should be no illusion about the results. We will soon be in the same position as Britain and France, sharing aircraft carriers; we will be unable to protect any national interest beyond our borders for any real length of time; we will be consigned to watching as thugs and fanatics remake the world into one of their liking. And you can be sure that such a world will not be to our liking. Unlike the Europeans, however, there will be no United States to come to the rescue.

The only answer, in the end, is to radically alter the welfare society that we have become.   Even if we were to gut Defense spending, that would be merely a sacrificial lamb to the ever-growing appetite of entitlements.  For proof we need only look to Europe to see that their decades of sacrificing Defense for social benefits has left them now facing the stark reality that there is nothing left to cut except the social spending.  But any attempt to do so results in riots and anarchy by a people too long accustomed to pampering and privilege.    God forbid that the U.S. reaches that stage of decay.
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Entitlement Spending: Time For Feds to Punt to the States

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

According to this article in The Washington Examiner, the prospects for the 2012 Federal Budget are bleak.

There are just 10 weeks remaining until an Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline set by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. It’s a seemingly generous amount of time but too short in the eyes of some lawmakers, who are wrestling with how deeply to cut the budget and whether to increase the debt ceiling, the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow.

Scores of Republicans have pledged to vote against raising the nation’s debt ceiling if spending is not cut drastically, imperiling the measure in Congress and possibly forcing the government to default on its loans for the first time.

Despite months of debate, only one proposal has been advanced to address spending cuts, and that plan — written by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — may come to the Senate floor for a vote this week.

Ryan’s proposal would reduce spending by $6 trillion over 10 years and reform Medicare and Medicaid. But it isn’t expected to muster the 60 votes needed to pass, mostly because senators, including Republicans, are fearful of tackling popular entitlement programs with the 2012 elections looming.

The Federal Government is deadlocked, plain and simple.

According to every conventional way of approaching entitlement spending, it is an impossible conundrum.  Conservatives have many ideas about reforming or replacing such programs, but Republicans refuse to embrace them for fear of being tarred as heartless killers of old ladies and the poor.   Liberals know in their hearts that these programs cannot, under any realistic scenario, continue as they are, but no Democrat is willing to even consider mild reforms such as the one posed by Rep. Paul Ryan for fear of being hacked to death by the Left as a sell-out or traitor to the People.   So Republicans dither and delay while Democrats (and their media allies) demagogue the issue and distort the facts.

In fact, entitlement spending demonstrates, perhaps better than any other issue, the inherent weakness and fatal attraction in a central government that has badly strayed from its original, limited role.   There is simply no way for the Federal government to make the required changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that will keep the Federal Government from falling off the financial cliff with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House and Republicans in control of the House.   And it is not an option to wait until the 2012 elections possibly give control of all three branches to the Republicans.    America’s fiscal problems will not stay put until then (and Republicans may not be trustworthy on spending reforms considering the last time they held all three branches).

With this impasse in view and the very real prospect that the Democrat-controlled Senate will go yet another year without passing a fiscal budget, I offer this suggestion as a way for Democrats and Republicans alike to escape their chains:  turn entitlement spending over the States.

This is the perfect situation for punting the football and it makes absolute and total sense.   It is the right thing to do.   The ball is deep in our own territory, it is fourth and 50 yards to go and the coaches cannot make up their minds on any suitable play to call.   “Punting” to the States is the only answer.

“Punting” in this context means that the Federal government recognizes it is simply not in a good position to administer programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and, worse, is completely incapable of controlling them.    The Federal government is far too big, too prone to waste and inefficiency and, most importantly, was never intended by the Founders to occupy the role of National Philanthropist.    “Punting” means, too, that the States are far better equipped in many ways to decide what level of care and support to accord to their citizens and implement the corresponding programs.

So, for example, if California wants to endow all of its seniors with generous retirement and health benefits, let them do so as long as the burden for funding those lavish benefits falls squarely on the shoulders of Californians alone.

Consider entitlement spending in terms of a business:  each State has to decide what benefits it can and cannot afford to dole out.  If the State is too generous, it will eventually go “out of business” as millions move in to enjoy the generosity while millions more move out as their taxes inevitably skyrocket.   If a State is too stingy, it will cease being an attractive place to work and live.  Between the extremes is an enormous range of policy options and solutions that can be crafted to fit the unique circumstances inherent in every State.  And, since most States are forced to balance their budgets each year by law, the State government will undertake entitlement spending with sobriety.

How could it work?

Such a change could not be done overnight, but it need not be terribly complex either. The first step would be along the lines of what Rep. Paul Ryan suggests in his proposal for Medicaid reform:  block grants to the States.   Florida, for example, might get a much larger grant based on 2010 Census numbers of its elderly population (and specifically its indigent population) than a demographically younger state.  According to the 2000 Census, Utah is the “youngest” state, i.e., the one with the smallest percentage of elderly persons, while Florida is the oldest.

The block grants should also factor in existing poverty levels and not just the percentage of elderly in a given State.  West Virginia has one of the higher percentages of elderly people but it also has one of the poorest populations.  Other factors could be considered as well, such as populations of disabled or other, at-risk populations.

With this grant money, each state can use it as they see fit to provide for their at-risk populations.

This kind of block granting has the unique advantage of incentivizing better care for these at-risk populations.  Say, for example, that Maryland develops a better, more efficient way of educating handicapped children.  (This happens to be true).  As this fact is known, more parents with handicapped children will move to Maryland which, in turn, will warrant more grant aid to Maryland to coincide with the higher, handicapped population.  Resources get allocated to those locations that do the best job of serving their populations at the local level.   Conversely, if another State does a terrible job with its care for handicapped children, then those parents will have every incentive to move to Maryland rather than remain in sub-optimal care elsewhere.   A key feature would have to be some method for tracking the subject populations in each State to determine the block grant levels.

But can States be trusted with a large, no-strings-attached, grant of money?  To continue the example, what if Maryland chooses to use the billions in Federal aid to plug the notorious gap in its annual budget?  I submit that even a liberal, tax and spend haven like Maryland would never do this precisely because the Governor and state legislature are far more sensitive and accountable to Maryland voters than the U.S. Congressional delegation will ever be.   Consider that, under the 2000 Census, the average Congressional district was comprised of 646,952 persons– far too many persons for individual citizens to hold the politicians accountable.  Politicians are much more easily held accountable to their local constituency simply by virtue of the smaller numbers contained in each, State legislative district.  It will, of course, be up to each State to decide how to best use the grant money and tough decisions will need to be made, but those decisions will be made far better at the state level where it is far more difficult for AARP to mobilize its members and bully politicians.

Giving entitlement spending to the States also makes sense in terms of perspective.    When we look at Social Security spending, for example, at a national level, the sheer size and scope of the spending is completely disorienting.   When speaking of hundreds of billions of dollars, it is nearly impossible to put the choices into concrete terms: who are these “millions of elderly” who will starve or go without medications?  Why can’t we afford another $200 million for this program when we are already spending $800 billion?   But when the debate is put at the state level, and more importantly, MY state level, things become much more focused.   Supposing that Maryland receives $6 billion in grant money to cover social security, medicare and medicaid for Maryland citizens for the next year, how should that money be used?  Am I willing to pay more in state taxes in order to ensure, for example, that 65 year-old Aunt Mary gets a social security check every month even though I know that she has an adequate retirement income from the Maryland Teachers Pension?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  And will Aunt Mary join in marching on the state capitol to get that extra money even if it means higher taxes for me and her neighbors, friends, colleagues?

Some States will give that money to Aunt Mary and raise taxes to do so.  Others may not.  In the end, however, it will be far easier to come to grips with the many issues involved when we are dealing with specific populations in our own state and with the direct ramifications of those decisions in our own state.

Consider, too, the enormous savings to the Federal budget when the huge bureaucracies associated with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are allowed to shrivel up and die.  The people employed at these federal agencies are not, necessarily, joining a bread line, however.   With the block granting of funds to each State it is likely that persons with pension and healthcare experience will be in demand (hopefully by private firms that provide services rather than bloated State bureaucracies, but that is another topic).  In any event, a reduction in federal personnel should be welcome relief to taxpayers everywhere.

Finally, the greatest benefit of transferring entitlements to the States is the effect upon Federal power and interference in the lives of ordinary citizens.   When the Federal government holds the power of health care in its hands, it induces an unhealthy obeisance to the central power.   This power needs to be split up among the 50 states so that ordinary citizens are empowered to hold their State officials accountable and rein in abuses.    This principle can, of course, be applied across a wide spectrum of federal activities.

Hopefully the politicians in Washington, D.C. will pass the buck in this instance which would, ironically, be the right thing for once.


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