U.S. military, meet spending limits


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
So the realization is slowly sinking into usa admin's mind.

U.S. military, meet spending limits

Posted By Thomas E. Ricks Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - 10:59 AM Share

The majority of people in the U.S. armed forces joined since 9/11, and so only have known a military operating with nearly unconstrained resources. But the decade-long tidal wave of defense spending is ending, as General Barno discusses below. That's not all bad -- in hard choices lie the beginnings of strategy.

By Lt. Gen. David Barno, U.S. Army (ret.)
Best Defense chief Army correspondent

The Nixon Center sponsored its annual National Policy Conference recently at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington. The agenda featured a star-studded cast of former senior government officials and current practitioners, and was opened by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger with a sobering message, that our purpose must be to rediscover "realism in foreign policy. ... Any nation must accept its own limitations -- the whole world is not waiting for American leadership. ... We must understand what we can do and what we cannot -- and should not -- do."

The opening panel was chaired by retired USAF General Chuck Boyd, the panel included Joe Klein of Time magazine, Paul Pillar of Georgetown University, Ken Pollack of Brookings and John Nagl of CNAS. Each of these luminaries brought a very different perspective to our two ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as well as the war "formerly known as GWOT." Nagl and Pollack amply described the current challenges and prospects of U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, while Joe Klein outlined the massive transformation of the U.S. military into a well-oiled counter-insurgency machine -- and noted where the machine may not be working today in parts of Afghanistan. We'll get to Pillar later.

Only in the Q and A did the 800 lb elephant lope into the room: With the U.S. facing a staggering national debt, record-setting deficits, a slow economic recovery and a future with ever-larger entitlement program costs, what can the U.S. afford to be doing in overseas military efforts? Is that picture today now different than in the past? And where does Afghanistan in particular fit into that calculus today?

While much of the discussion predictably got wrapped around the "new American way of War -- COIN," far less commentary was devoted to the strategic picture. Only Paul Pillar truly got at the larger issue of how our growing commitment in Afghanistan fits inside of a changed global strategic context for the United States.

Some of his tough questions:

Why are we actually in Afghanistan?
Is the availability of "sanctuary" (in a world of myriad sanctuaries) really important?
Do the benefits of denying sanctuary in Afghanistan fit into any cost-benefit logic for the U.S.? (vs. benefits of Afghan sanctuary to the terrorists)
Are we confusing sunk costs with future investment decisions?
Do we truly understand that successful COIN is a means toward an end -- rather than an end in and of itself?
And most importantly: Are our actions in Afghanistan and the region reducing the terrorist threat to the U.S.?
Pillar's views stood in stark contrast with the usual suspects of debate: civilian surge adequacy, Karzai's governing capacity, the prevalence of corruption, or the speed of Afghan security force growth. They were a timely reminder that in the all-consuming nature of war, the trees quickly grow to obscure the forest, and that it is important to remind ourselves of first principles. Pillar pulled our lens back from the riveting small picture of the day-to-day fight in Afghanistan to the fuzzier big picture - regional, global, economic as well as military. It was both discomfiting and necessary.

CNAS' Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) has just authored a hard-hitting report spotlighting the lack of political strategy in our Afghan COIN efforts -- and it's worth a close read. But beyond the political strategy of the Afghan counter-insurgency, the regional and global strategies of the U.S. as we face down what some have called a "global insurgency" deserve some close scrutiny as well.

On the 800-lb gorilla in the room: We're moving into a different world than the one of even five years ago. As one very senior former military commander noted recently: "We are no longer going to be operating from a position of strategic superiority." And as the U.S. military shifts into an era that will surely be marked by downward pressure on defense budgets, civilian and military leaders will have to make choices and set priorities. Buying everything is no longer gonna be an option.

Competing visions of future war are going to be fought out, with both winners and losers in the fight for fewer dollars. One fundamental competition that could emerge may pit people -- especially ground forces -- against technology. Costs of both are skyrocketing. This may be a false debate, but its outlines are already beginning to appear.

What kind of wars are we going to prepare to fight -- when we can't peanut better spread dollars and attention on everything? Where do we strike the balance so we simply don't get it too far wrong to adapt when the next big fight comes? These will be truly tough calls and are the essence of looking beyond the current fights to get our next global defense strategy right. And resources start shrinking, we may be in for a rough ride.


Senior Member
Apr 11, 2010
Country flag
Moderate Dems Want Defense Spending Scrutiny

Jun 29, 2010
By Michael Bruno

Moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly eyeing the Pentagon's budget for spending reductions or savings starting next year, in a move that further splinters support for such major weapons acquisitions as airlifters.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), in a widely promoted speech June 28 to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said defense spending can no longer be exempt from hard choices being pressed on the rest of the federal budget.

"It's time to stop talking about fiscal discipline and national security threats as if they're separate topics: debt is a national security threat," Hoyer told the think tank audience.

The majority leader laid out a national security vision based on five pillars: military strength, international development, promoting democracy, energy independence and fiscal discipline—and suggesting a rebalancing away from the record defense spending of last decade, and targeting programs like the Boeing C-17 and F-35's alternate engine.

Earlier that day, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told defense reporters that while the country has managed to save combat personnel from being shortchanged during ongoing disagreements about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, programs like the C-17 probably will end while other money-saving moves made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates enjoy broad support.

"I hope to be supportive of Secretary Gates in his efforts," Levin said of the secretary's recently announced cost-cutting plans. "If anyone can do it, Gates can."

Levin said budget changes announced by Gates starting last year, as well as reforms instituted by the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act that Levin helped co-author, appear to be working well so far. Levin said he had no qualms with future force structure due to the changes.

Still, as much support as he offered, Levin certainly did not get ahead of the Pentagon or even his House counterparts. While House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) is considering how to organize his committee's efforts in parallel with the Pentagon's moves, Levin said he was not considering the same thing yet.

He also did not elaborate, when asked, on a House bill that aims to rein in non-weapons spending at the Defense Department. That bill is expected to be brought up in congressional conference with the SASC when the Senate passes its bill.

Moreover, Levin took issue with Gates and the Obama administration over the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. The senior senator asserted that—in his opinion, of course—there had never been a competition for the JSF's powerplant, and that defense officials merely considered who would build a variant of the F-22's engine.

Levin remained confident despite the potential of a White House veto on the F136 or even Republican filibusters tied to other provisions of the SASC bill. He doubted a veto in the end and said he did not think electoral politics would matter as much as the Senate's compressed schedule in passing the bill. "I'm not concerned about a political calculus," he said.

Photo credit: Guy Norris


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