Tag: defense

DoD Now Responsible for Guns and Butter

Of the many enduring tenets shaping America’s state-building project in Afghanistan, the belief that expanded economic opportunities can promote long-term stability has long been received as gospel. Past 2014, that principle will continue to animate U.S.strategy in Afghanistan.

Jim Bullion, the director of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), said in a recent interview with Foreign Policy’s Situation Report that America’s long-term presence could be robust. TFBSO itself hopes to strengthen existing industries in Afghanistan by luring private sector investment. Its broader mission is to promote “economic stabilization in order to reduce violence, enhance stability, and restore economic normalcy in areas where unrest and insurgency have created a synchronous downward spiral of economic hardship and violence.”

That thinking is consistent with the U.S. Army’s Stability Operations Field Manual [3-07], which states that the “long term and costly” effort to reintegrate former combatants includes vocational training, relocation and resettlement support, and assistance in finding employment. Indeed, a couple years back, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated a similar vision when she made clear that for those militants who turned away from the Taliban, “we need incentives in order to both protect them and provide alternatives to them to replace the payment they received as Taliban fighters.”

So much is wrong with this way of thinking it’s difficult to know where to start. First, part of the coalition’s problem has been attempting to secure and stabilize an active war zone while simultaneously spending staggering sums of money to develop it. As a result, numerous audits, reports, and investigations have found that a number of projects and programs funded by DOD, State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been ineffective, unsustainable, produced unnecessary redundancy, wasted resources, and fraud.

In addition, as Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) asked last year in a statement on the TFBSO and a defense bill appropriating $150 million to operate it:

When in the course of this long war did it become the Department of Defense’s role to facilitate business opportunities for Afghan and foreign companies?

Is it really within the Pentagon’s expertise or mission to excel at business development, farming, or mineral exploration?

[…]

Every House member needs to ask why the Pentagon is supporting the development of the Afghan carpet industry while U.S.soldiers are under attack.

McCollum makes some astute points. That said, she also argues that the role of promoting economic development belongs to civilian agencies like USAID, State, and Commerce. On that point, we diverge.

The underlying assumption of economic development programs in Afghanistan is that locals will gravitate toward the Taliban if they lack an alternative livelihood. Certainly, the promise of money and jobs has lured some militant foot soldiers off the battlefield, but to adopt this position as the crux of an overarching strategy does more to trivialize the complex blend of intangible motives that spur many locals to fight.

Some Afghans (and Pakistanis) take up arms for reasons other than economic impoverishment. They do so for reasons such as factional infighting, traditional/local/tribal vendettas, the promotion of jihad, or group exclusion from power. In this respect, the causal link between economic development and conflict alleviation is not so robust, especially if other more pervasive forces are underlying the conflict.

Moreover, a few of Afghanistan’s most insecure provinces have received the most development aid. Matt Waldman, Oxfam International’s former head of policy in Afghanistan, wrote years ago, “if it were a state,Helmand [province] alone would be the world’s fifth largest recipient of funds from USAID, the US Agency for International Development.”

Part of the problem is that money that’s pumped into unstable environments becomes unaccountable. That often creates a feedback loop in which foreign aid breeds corruption and generates more instability. In fact, that was the finding of a June 2011 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report:

Foreign aid, when misspent, can fuel corruption, distort labor and goods markets, undermine the host government’s ability to exert control over resources, and contribute to insecurity.

Ironically, the “economic opportunity = long-term stability” strategy achieves neither. In certain areas, continuing such policies beyond 2014 may not only do more harm than good, but also perpetuate the dysfunction and underdevelopment that has plagued Afghanistan for centuries.

Leave Iraq to the Iraqis

Many advocates of promiscuous military intervention angrily reject the claim that America is an “empire.” Granted, the U.S. doesn’t directly rule its imperial dependents. But Washington policymakers do insist on maintaining a military presence wherever and whenever possible, irrespective of America’s defense needs.

The Obama administration’s attempt to pressure the Iraqi government into “inviting” the U.S. to remain is almost comical. Rather than requiring Baghdad to demonstrate why a continuing American presence is necessary, U.S. officials have been begging to stay. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “I hope they figure out a way to ask.” His successor, Leon Panetta, recently blurted out: “dammit, make a decision.”

However, it is Washington that should make a decision and bring home America’s troops.

The U.S. continues to garrison Europe, Japan, and South Korea, decades after American forces first arrived. All of these international welfare queens could defend themselves. Despite President Bill Clinton’s promise that American troops would spend just a year occupying the Balkans, an area of minimal security interest to the United States, some troops remain to this day. And uber-hawks talk about maintaining a permanent presence in Afghanistan, as distant from conventional U.S. defense interests as any nation on the planet.

But right now Iraq is exciting the most concern, since the United States is supposed to withdraw its combat forces by year-end. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top military spokesman in Iraq, said Washington “has committed to an enduring partnership with Iraq,” but it would be easier if the Iraqis spoke up “while we have troops here and infrastructure here.”

From start to (almost) finish, the Iraqi operation has been a tragic fiasco. The United States invaded to seize non-existent WMDs. American forces destroyed the country’s system of ordered tyranny, turning the country into a bloody charnel house, killing hundreds of thousands and forcing millions to flee. Washington’s occupation transferred democracy to Iraq without the larger liberal culture necessary for democracy to thrive. U.S. intervention empowered Iran while destroying Baghdad’s ability to control its own borders.

Yet President Obama wants to stick around, meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs and defending it in foreign matters.

The United States should not have invaded Iraq. Washington can’t undo the ill effects of the war, but it can avoid the costs of a permanent occupation.

America’s job in Iraq is done. The Iraqis should be left in charge of their national destiny. All U.S. troops should be withdrawn. Washington should stop collecting increasingly dangerous dependencies for its empire.

Cross-posted from The National Interest

A ‘Special’ Relationship?

When President Obama meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, they should focus on the two wars that involve both the U.S. and British militaries (Afghanistan and Libya). But these discussions will take place in the context of diminishing British military capability.

At a time when the United States should be shedding some of the burdens of policing the globe, and encouraging other countries to step forward to defend themselves, the British are moving in the opposite direction. They are cutting their military, and tacitly becoming more dependent upon U.S. power. The end result will be a United Kingdom that is less able to assist us in the future.

The United States today spends far more on its military than does the United Kingdom, and the gap is likely to grow. This is sure to have an impact on the U.S.-UK relationship.

The number of British troops, ships and planes that are available for missions has dropped and will continue to if Cameron pushes through significant cuts in British military spending. He has proposed actual cuts, not the slowing in the rate of growth that Obama and Defense Secretary Gates have presided over so far.

The special relationship has been cemented by the numerous occasions in which British and American leaders have cooperated to address common security challenges. The most important of these involve U.S. and British troops fighting side by side.

But shrinking British defense spending could strain the relationship.  The goodwill that has prevailed between the two countries could be in jeopardy, and Americans may find it harder to look upon the Brits as the “good” ally, the one that sticks by us through thick and thin. And if the American public grows disenchanted with British contributions to U.S.-led military missions, the British public may then hold less generally positive opinions of the United States.

A version of this post originally appeared in The National Interest Online.

Let Europe Be—and Defend—Europe

In the midst of difficult domestic political battles, Barack Obama begins a lengthy European trip today.  He should encourage the continent to increase its defense capabilities and take on greater regional security responsibilities.

Presidential visits typically result in little of substance.  President Obama’s latest trip will be no different if he reinforces the status quo.  His policy mantra once was “change.”  No where is “change” more necessary than in America’s foreign policy, especially towards Europe.

Despite obvious differences spanning the Atlantic, the U.S. and European relationship remains extraordinarily important.  The administration should press for increased economic integration, with lower trade barriers and streamlined regulations to encourage growth.

At the same time, however, Washington should encourage development of a European-run NATO with which the U.S. can cooperate to promote shared interests to replace today’s America-dominated NATO which sacrifices American interests to defend Europe.  Americans no longer can afford to defend the rest of the world.  The Europeans no longer need to be defended.

Although World War II ended 66 years ago, the Europeans remain strangely dependent on America.  Political integration through the European Union has halted; economic integration through the Euro is under sharp challenge; and military integration through any means is reversing.

Indeed, the purposeless war in Libya, instigated by Great Britain and France, has dramatically demonstrated Europe’s military weakness.  Despite possessing a collective GDP and population greater than that of America, the continent’s largest powers are unable to dispatch a failed North African dictator.

President Barack Obama starts with visits to Ireland,  the UK, and France.  In the latter he will consult with the heads of the G8 nations, which include Germany and Italy.

His message should be clear:  while America will remain politically and economically engaged in Europe, it will no longer take on responsibility for setting boundaries in the Balkans, policing North Africa, and otherwise defending prosperous industrial states from diminishing threats.  Washington should expect the continent to become a full partner, which means promoting the security of its members and stability of its region.

The president should deliver a similar message when he continues on to Poland.  Part of “New Europe,” which worries more about the possibility of revived Russian aggression, Warsaw has cause to spend more on its own defense and cooperate more closely with its similarly-minded neighbors on security issues.

In fact, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, members of the “Visegrad Group,” recently announced creation of a “battle group” separate from NATO command to emphasize regional defense.  The president should welcome this willingness to take on added defense responsibilities.

The Defense Authorization Bill Is Awful

If you like bloated nuclear arsenals, executive discretion to wage endless war, large checks to countries that aid our enemies, and institutionalizing hostility toward gays in the military, you will love the defense authorization bill passed yesterday by the House Armed Services Committee. Below are the lowlights. For slightly better news from the Appropriations Committee on homeland security spending, skip to the end.

  • The bill contains a provision replacing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and their hosts. The Committee evidently found that legislation, which the last two administrations have used to justify all manner of power grabs, insufficiently open-ended. They add groups “affiliated” with al Qaeda and the Taliban to the list of certified enemies. Though disinterested in authorizing the war in Libya, the Congress may now give the President new authority to start new ones. Somewhere John Yoo is ruefully imagining all the creative ways he could have affiliated bombing targets with al Qaeda and Taliban. Certainly Pakistan would qualify, given its barely hidden support for elements of the Taliban and the suspicion that some of its intelligence agents have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the whereabouts of al Qaeda leaders.
  • Nonetheless, the bill authorizes all $1.1 billion in military aid requested for Pakistan. An amendment intended to trim it failed.
  • Speaking of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Committee’s Republicans are determined to prevent its repeal from letting homosexuals feel comfortable in uniform. The bill outlaws gay marriage on military facilities. It also defines “marriage” in military regulations as the union of a man and a woman. The aim is to deny marriage benefits to gay couples. The bill also includes a provision sponsored by San Diego Republican Duncan Hunter that would keep Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in place until all four service chiefs agree that it will not impair combat effectiveness. That last provision will not become law, but it sends unfortunate messages. Beyond its implication that gays undermine military effectiveness, it reflects a tendency to defer to the wishes of the force on issues of its composition and use, at least rhetorically. That tendency erodes the traditional U.S. view of civil-military relations, driving a wedge between the military and the society it serves.
  • The bill contains several measures that will prevent future cost savings. It would block the executive branch from reducing nuclear weapons force levels in various ways unless the secretaries of defense and energy certify that the White House makes good on its offer of increased nuclear weapons modernization funding. Incidentally, the administration promised those funds in exchange for New START treaty votes that Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) did not deliver, including his own. The bill would buy the Army more Abrams tanks than it wants, to keep the production line open. It requires the government to remain prepared to build the Joint Strike Fighter’s second engine and would reopen competition between the two engines should the administration request more funds for the first (Pratt & Whitney) engine, which seems likely.
  • The Committee made a modest effort to control government health care costs by mildly increasing annual premiums for retired military of working age. That’s progress. Premiums have not increased in 15 years. They are low enough that many retirees keep Tricare, the Military Health System coverage, rather than getting private health care via their new employer, thus shifting costs onto the taxpayer. But the Committee rejected the administration’s effort to peg future premium increases to medical costs rather than general inflation.

The full House or Senate will likely eliminate most of the damage. The taxpayer will get no relief from the House Appropriations Committee, however, which just released its planned spending levels for FY2012.  Defense will grow by about $17 billion from FY 2011, not including the wars, Department of Energy nuclear weapons spending, and military construction. No surprise there.

House appropriators deserve credit, however, for keeping the bloated Department of Homeland Security budget on the cutting board. The National Journal reports that appropriators would give the department $40.6 billion—$1.1 billion less than last year and $2.7 less than it requested. The bulk of the cuts come by providing less than half ($1.7 billion) of the requested spending for local security grants. The grants would now be distributed at the department’s discretion rather than requiring them to go to certain subcategories (e.g., ports) and using a formula to insure that every state get a taste.

Hopefully this is a step toward eliminating federal homeland security grants, which have grown into a seemingly permanent subsidy even for regions where the terrorism threat is wildly remote. If states think it worth sacrificing something to buy local counterterrorism capabilities, they ought to pay for it with their own budgets. Federalization of the spending takes those decisions from those in the best position to weigh local priorities and encourages states and cities to chase federal dollars by exaggerating their peril.

The Pentagon Propaganda Machine Rears Its Head

Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings—yes, that Michael Hastings—has written another investigative article on U.S. operations in Afghanistan, centered again on a general in the theatre.  The revelations are perhaps more shocking than those that resulted in General Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal last summer.

His newest bombshell alleges that the U.S Army illegally engaged in “psychological operations” with the aim of manipulating various high-level U.S. government officials into believing that the war was progressing in order to gain their continued support.  The list of targets includes members of Congress, diplomats, think tank analysts, and even Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff.  Over at The Skeptics, I attempt to put this in context:

While American soldiers and Afghan civilians continue to kill and be killed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seeks to provide the illusion of progress, systematically misrepresenting realities on the ground to bide more time, gain more troops, and acquire more funding. It’s bad enough that the American media uncritically relays statements from U.S. officials portraying “success” on the ground. Now the Pentagon is using its massive propaganda budget to blur the line between informing the public and spinning it to death. In fact, several years ago the Associated Press found that the Pentagon had spent $4.7 billion on public relations in 2009 alone, and employs 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising and public relations, nearly as many as the 30,000-person State Department. Essentially the Pentagon is trying to influence public policy and lobby civilian officials to shift policies toward their own ends while dispersing the costs onto the American taxpayer.

Luckily, it appears that Americans have come to learn that despite the media’s frequent adulation of their uniformed military, the Pentagon operates just like every other bureaucracy in the federal government. According to a poll released earlier this month by Gallup, 72 percent of Americans want Congress to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. Much like the McChrystal flap from last summer, there is a very fine line between military officials offering their honest opinion and threatening civilian control of the war.

Click here for the full post.

The Pentagon’s Faux Cuts

President Obama might want it to appear as though he is reining in defense spending with his budget submission for FY 2012, but his approach to the Pentagon’s budget reveals the opposite.

Perhaps the president hopes that his adoption of the faux cuts that Secretary Gates put on the table last month will be seen as responsible. Perhaps he is taking a prudent first step and signaling to the military, and its suppliers and contractors, that the days of double-digit increases are over. That may be; but far deeper cuts are warranted. . If the president had truly wanted to send a signal, he would have followed the advice of his own deficit reduction commission and endorsed far deeper cuts in military spending.

The Department of Defense will spend $78 billion less over the next five years than previous projections. This amounts to a drop in the bucket – technically just over 2% – of total Pentagon spending over that period. Nonetheless, in Washington-ese, this constitutes a cut. But the base budget (excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) will increase – from $549 billion to $553 billion, the largest budget in the department’s history. In the past 12 years, the budget that has doubled in real, inflation-adjusted terms.

Deeper cuts should be made along with an effort to lessen worldwide defense commitments, reducing the strain on the force. It will be up to outside pressure – either from Congress or from interested groups outside of government – to force Washington to cease acting as the world’s policeman, and forcing other countries to take responsibility for their own defense.

Pages