As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cold War Ended 20 Years Ago

Overshadowed by the continuing (and perfectly appropriate) furor over AIG bonuses, the Obama Administration appears to be readying the first assault on the military-industrial complex since Dwight Eisenhower coined the phrase.

Now, as the only Bush Cabinet member to remain under President Obama, Gates is preparing the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon's weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War, according to aides.

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the offi cials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.

As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.

The article claims that other Defense Secretaries have tried and failed to end the defense industry welfare schemes. I think this Defense Secretary is better positioned. First of all, his service for both George Bush and Barack Obama gives this a bipartisan sheen. And Obama has folded the issue of procurement into his overall budget strategy. Finally, this is likely to happen because Gates doesn't come at it with the attitude of a budget-cutter. Steve Hynd is right to note that this will not signal the drawing down of the military budget, at least not in the short term.

This isn't about reducing the overall military budget - it's about repurposing it. While shiny toys are to get the axe (presuming Gates and the Obama administration can overcome recalcitrance from lawmakers and officers as well as intense industry-funded lobbying) there's still going to be a lot of stuff to spend lots of money on.

The U.S. Army and Marines are to collectively add about 92,000 personnel, an increase of about 12% in manpower but since most will be slated for active duty combat brigades it is likely to mean more like a 20% ($30 billion) increase in annual running costs and an initial stand-up bill of about $80 billion. Standing up these new troops will be far better stimulus spending than any other kind of defense spending but don't expect to get clear answers about costs from the Pentagon or White House. Those figures are back-of-the-envelope estimates based on what is known of current costs but no military department has ever done a full assessment of the cost of sustaining its operations so they have to be estimates.

Then there's all the other military spending Obama and Gates intend - the transformation of the military into a COIN force as promised on WhiteHouse.Gov: "civil affairs, information operations, and other units and capabilities that remain in chronic short supply; invest in foreign language training, cultural awareness, and human intelligence and other needed counterinsurgency and stabilization skill sets; and create a more robust capacity to train, equip, and advise foreign security forces." None of that is cheap, especially when you're talking about tens of thousands of people to be trained. Add in "greater investment in advanced technology ranging from the revolutionary, like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and electronic warfare capabilities", increasing the number of Maritime Pre-Positioning Force Squadrons and investing in more small ships to see even more savings being swallowed up by the military machine instead of going to solve other problems. Add in the expenses for Iraq until withdrawal and the expected one to two decades in Afghanistan that no COINdinista really wants to talk about, neither of which will be funded by supplementals anymore, and the bill could easily swallow any savings from cutting F-22 and other big-ticket programs.

For Gates, this is not about reducing the military budget, but about transforming it. I agree that the military should be constructed to meet modern challenges, and costly weapons systems do little in that respect. However, he will not be leading the Pentagon forever. And the labor-intensive weapons systems will be much harder to phase out than a reduction in force capacity or winding down wars. At the end of the day, the United States will still spend more on its military than any other nation combined, including too much on functions that could be performed by the State Department. The table would be set, then, for medium- and long-term reductions in military budgets. I'm happy to have Gates doing the heaviest lifting in the near term. Ultimately, defense cuts are intimately tied to ending the culture of interventionism in this country, and stopping the constant production of annihilation systems is a necessary precursor.

Andrew Exum has more.

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