Monday, March 31, 2008

American Militarism: A Critical Issue on which (surprisingly) Barack Obama and John McCain appear to be in complete agreement. . . .

Warning: a strong punch-line preceded, however, by lots of necessary (and sometimes very technical) background, which should be read in the context of already having digested the information in A few facts for those who think we can't have a limited government. . . .

I research and teach military history, which is not that often specifically germane to what I post about here.

(I'm primarily interested in armies as social organizations, if you're really concerned.)

But lately I have been remembering what I taught in the American Military History course (offered primarily for ROTC candidates) in the early to mid-1990s.

I explained that at the end of the Cold War (Reagan, Bush 41) the official Pentagon doctrine was that the US Armed Forces should be able to fight (and presumably win) two simultaneous regional conflicts, besides meeting our security commitments in Central Europe. Examples most often given included an outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, intervention in the Persian Gulf, or defending Taiwan against invasion.

Around the end of the Bush 41 administration or the beginning of the Clinton administration (I'd have to go back and look up the exact date, but frankly it's unimportant), in the aftermath of the Cold War the Pentagon changed that doctrine to the ability to fight one regional conflict while deterring another. (Deterring such a conflict obviously requires fewer forces, the argument goes, than actually fighting it.) This was viewed as an acceptable reduction in capability, given the military collapse of the former Soviet Union, although many within the Department of Defense viewed it as a virtual sell-out of America's military posture abroad.

During the Clinton years, several things happened that are germane to my narrative:

1) Military expenditures, which had reached their high point of 34.8% of the total Federal budget in 1987, decreased in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War and the end of the Cold War to roughly 20% of the total budget. This decrease was widely advertised as the "peace dividend" made possible by the dissolution of the Soviet Union; although conservatives tended to see it as the gutting of the American military.

Such a reduction in military spending after 1990 was certainly inevitable, if for no other reason than our security commitment in Central Europe had virtually disappeared, rendering most US military installations as logistical support or forward bases for new commitments in the Balkans, the Middle East, or even Africa, rather than the home installations of the large-scale US Army in Europe (USAREUR). A similar build-down would have occurred even if George H. W. Bush had won the election of 1992 (Bush had already reduced the military percentage of the total budget to the vicinity of 25-26% of the total budget, even while fighting the First Gulf War).

However, what happened during the 1990s that was almost disastrous for the US military was that this reduction in budget and force, far from being handled as a rational process, degenerated almost immediately into a free-for-all of empire-building and back-stabbing within the Pentagon that neither Clinton SecDef (Les Aspin or William Cohen) ever managed to control. The sane way to reduce the military budget would have been to take a long hard look at (a) the strategic situation in the world; (b) the kinds of interventions/wars that we might need to fight; (c) the doctrine necessary to fight and win those wars; and therefore derive (d) the best balanced force structure that could be maintained with the available budget resources.

Instead, what we got was different offices in the Pentagon (usually aligned with military contractors) fighting tooth and nail to preserve their programs, weapons, installations, or units regardless of how those elements actually fit into a rational military strategy. As a result, America's military in 2000 was a grossly imbalanced force, not as a result of funding cuts, but as the direct consequence of poor leadership at the top military and civilian levels (in both parties).

2) The Clinton administration began the dangerous large-scale employment of private military companies under contract through the State Department or our allies to outsource our smaller wars. Corporations like MPRI, Kellogg Brown & Root, Vining, Airscan, etc., soaked up former military personnel from the US, UK, South Africa, and the former Soviet Union to perform dirty jobs in places like Croatia, Indonesia, Angola (Cabinda), Colombia, and many others.

The employment of these mercenaries significantly weakened the accountability of our interventionist foreign policies to Congress or the public at large, and changed the nature of the US military posture throughout the world.

3) The so-called Revolution in Military Affairs convinced many military and geo-political thinkers that the US had acquired such a high-tech advantage over our possible opponents (this might be called Post-Persian Gulf Delusional Syndrome) that the traditional "boots on the ground" infantry and armor-heavy forces of the Cold War era could be traded in for whiz-bang weaponry supported by lots of glitzy Special Operations units. Ironically, although the RMA happened during the 1990s, it was not defense strategists during the Clinton years who adopted it as their mantra, but the then-out-of-power Republican strategists who would not regain the keys to the Pentagon until after the election of 200.

4) Also during the Clinton years, at the behest of the larger military producers of everything from small arms to fighter planes, pretty much all restrictions (and there had never been many) on unfettered international arms sales by American companies were removed. In a manner similar to the great tobacco settlements (which left Philip Morris crippled in America but free to purse lucrative overseas markets), McDonnell-Douglas, Grumman, Martin Marietta, Lockheed, and a host of other defense contractors begin to recover the revenues they had lost from sales to our military by marketing their wares more freely on the world's open market.

All of this happened well before September 11.

Since then, we have seen our military budget expand from the $294.4 Billion (under the last year of the Clinton administration) to the projected FY 2009 budget of $607.3 Billion. Only the extravagant growth of all other sectors of the Federal budget has kept the military percentage down to 24-25%, even though it more than doubled in eight years.

Here's a figure for you: one dollar out of every two dollars in individual income taxes collected by the IRS now goes to fund the US military, and that figure does not include the Department of Homeland Security.

We can neither sustain this level of spending, nor can we maintain the same level of military interventionism (both through active operations and strategic basing) that we have maintained for the past several decades.

And yet. . . .

Senator Barack Obama, the presidential candidate perceived as most likely to change or restructure America's role in international affairs has already proven that he stands for nothing more than BUSINESS AS USUAL.

Here is Senator Obama's plan, direct from his official campaign website:

Building a 21st Century Military

The Problem: The excellence of our military is unmatched. But as a result of a misguided war in Iraq, our forces are under pressure as never before. Obama will make the investments we need so that the finest military in the world is best-prepared to meet 21st-century threats.

Rebuild Trust: Obama will rebuild trust with those who serve by ensuring that soldiers and Marines have sufficient training time before they are sent into battle.

Expand the Military: We have learned from Iraq that our military needs more men and women in uniform to reduce the strain on our active force. Obama will increase the size of ground forces, adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.

New Capabilities: Obama will give our troops new equipment, armor, training, and skills like language training. He will also strengthen our civilian capacity, so that our civilian agencies have the critical skills and equipment they need to integrate their efforts with our military.

Strengthen Guard and Reserve: Obama will restore the readiness of the National Guard and Reserves. He will permit them adequate time to train and rest between deployments, and provide the National Guard with the equipment they need for foreign and domestic emergencies. He will also give the Guard a seat at the table by making the Chief of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Have you considered this carefully? What's here is (at least on paper) a massive commitment to more troops and more equipment, combined with no promise at all to reduce America's gigantic holdings in foreign military installations.

Senator Obama may not take money from oil companies, but he'll certainly be keeping the big defense contractors happy.

Curiously, Senator Hillary Clinton's website completely lacks any general statement about the future of the armed forces, but Senator John McCain is much more forthcoming--and damned if his future military policy doesn't sound almost exactly like Obama's:

Our existing force is overstretched by the combination of military operations in the broader Middle East and the need to maintain our security commitments in Europe and Asia. Recruitment and retention suffer from extended overseas deployments that keep service personnel away from their homes and families for long periods of time.

John McCain believes that the answer to these challenges is not to roll back our overseas commitments. The size and composition of our armed forces must be matched to our nation's defense requirements. As requirements expand in the global war on terrorism so must our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard be reconfigured to meet these new challenges. John McCain thinks it is especially important to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to defend against the threats we face today.

There is NO CANDIDATE running for President in either the Democratic or Republican Party who will even stop to think about--much less commit to--a meaningful change of direction in America's military policy.

That's in large measure why I'm a Libertarian.

What does Libertarian candidate George Phillies say about US military policy?

When the Cold War ended, America should have contracted its military to match its defense needs. We maintain a huge fleet in the Atlantic, an ocean that borders only on friendly countries. That fleet makes no sense. Our military spending is half the world's total, and most of the rest is spent by our allies; that spending makes no sense. There should be massive cuts in defense spending. We should take seriously FDR's laws on military reserves: As an organizational issue, States should put their main emphasis on their State Defense Force, not on their National Guard, putting the same fine people where they can best protect America. The search for Mr. Bin Laden needs groups of specialists, not shoals of tanks and clouds of aircraft that muddy the waters.

Or perhaps Christine Smith?

Stop the U.S. government empire building and all its cruel victimization of thousands worldwide. End our history of militarism by returning to a U.S. government enforced/limited under the Constitution in which only Congress can declare war (the president can only enforce/wage such war after Congress has declared it). Bring our troops home from around the world. I am for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and government personnel from Iraq. I oppose all wars of aggression. We should lead the world into greater liberty only by serving as a beacon - an example - not by aggression. Government should try to keep us out of war - not police the world - and not start wars of aggression. Defend American soil and shores. Our troops and military resources must be used only to defend America. For that, we must maintain a strong defense, and efficient effective communication between our own intelligence gathering agencies. We must stop our government from being the provocateur it has become. We must end all US government meddling in the affairs and conflicts of all other nations. Close military bases and end all military presence in parts of the world that pose no direct threat to our land and waters and which we have no business being in. Further, acts of terrorism must be tried as the criminal acts they are and not used as an excuse for the government to wage war against civilians in sovereign nations nor an excuse to rationalize the stripping of our civil liberties and fundamental rights as Americans.

Perhaps Mary Ruwart?

Commerce, not coercion, should be the touchstone of our foreign policy. The best way to prevent attack is to create as few enemies -- and as many trading partners -- as possible. The best way to repel an attack is to have our troops at home where they can readily defend our shores.

To those who believe that the US has engaged in an empire-building, interventionist foreign and military policy for years, while crippling our domestic economy with excessive defense spending, I have a simple question:

If I took the names off these position statements, who would you be voting for?


Delaware Watch said...

"no promise at all to reduce America's gigantic holdings in foreign military installations."

This is to argue from silence. You can't assume he won't reduce the number of "foreign military installations" on the basis that he hasn't said he will. Besides, if he did say he will, the GOP would eat him alive during the Gen Election.

My hunch is the opposite of yours. Anyone who says as he did in one of the debates alone w/ Clinton (the 1st time I ever heard a candidate from a major political party say it)that he would remove US troops from Iraq if the Iraqi govt asked the US to do so. In fact, he said we would have to do it because it's their country. (Taking the sovereignty of a nation's territory as controlling over US strategic interest is unheard of from a major contender for prez either of the major parties.)

Add to that his commitment to talk first and frequently and personally w/ leaders of unfriendly nations--and you don't come away w/ the impression of a Prez who'd anxious or particularly interested in keeping many forward bases around the world, especially in nations where a US presence is not wanted.

Steve Newton said...

I don't think it is a complete argument from silence when his position on the US military is to increase the size of our forces by nearly 100,000.

Yes, he wants to withdraw from Iraq, and that's good, but it is different from a commitment to withdraw from our current worldwide militarist/occupationist strategy.

Delaware Watch said...

"I don't think it is a complete argument from silence when his position on the US military is to increase the size of our forces by nearly 100,000."

Maybe they'll be used to help w/ messes like Katrina, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes. Perhaps more troops will be placed in the US w/ all the economic benefits that come to towns & states with it like Dover.

Sorry, I still think it is a leap from silence to conclude that he won't be cutting back on our forward bases worldwide.

But, undoubtedly, you could be right.i

Steve Newton said...

Unfortunately, Dana, the remarks by General McPeak, a senior Obama defense policy advisor and honorary campaign co-chair posted over at FSP

tend to support my intuition on this particular issue.

Granted, this is not the candidate himself speaking, but it is one of his senior advisors. Let's see if the Senator disavows these comments.

This obviously isn't an argument from silence, maybe an inference by echo?