Tag: neocons

Sequestration Is a Small Victory for Budget Hawks

The budget battles in Washington, D.C., are far from over. President Obama’s attempt to break the stalemate by reaching across the aisle and dining with GOP members two days in a row seems more about show than substance. 

The apparent lack of urgency to undo the cuts underscores what we knew all along: the world did not end under sequestration. Most of the cuts will be phased in over the next few months. The defense cuts amount to just 6.5 percent of total spending on national security (Pentagon base budget plus war costs). This is a pittance, and spending will still dwarf what we spent before 9/11. Those who claim that the cuts will undermine American security should explain how we managed to win the Cold War while spending much less, on average. (To learn more about proposals that would maintain a highly capable, but less costly, military, attend our event on March 14th.) 

There is still the possibility that most of this year’s cuts, or the caps on planned spending over the next decade, may not materialize. Congress could reverse the cuts in the future as part of a grand bargain. Or they could simply punt without one. Meanwhile, legislation is moving along that would allow the Pentagon and other agencies to implement the cuts with greater discretion across department programs. This is a good thing, potentially. Smarter cuts are desirable, but we should be on the lookout to ensure that Congress doesn’t simply legislate away any cuts, dumb or otherwise. 

Nonetheless, the fact that military spending actually declined is a small victory. But how will future battles play out? Are the neocons and their supporters in retreat? In a piece running today at Foreign Policy, I offer a cautionary note. Just because the fiscal hawks won this time doesn’t mean that they’ll win the next one, or the one after that: 

The defense contractors and special interests still have enormous firepower in Washington, and they’ve turned their attention to the “continuing resolution” that will fund the government for the remainder of the year. Meanwhile, the neoconservatives are single-minded and relentless. Their tenacity paid off in their bid to launch a war in Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, but failed to stop Chuck Hagel’s nomination and eventual confirmation as secretary of defense.

The budget fight matters even more. A $470 billion military is more than sufficient to fight the wars the United States truly needs to fight, but not the wars that the neocons want to fight. The next phase in the fight over the Pentagon’s budget should focus less on how much the United States spends on defense, but rather why it spends so much. If we are going to give our military less than it expected to have three or four years ago, we need to think about asking it to do less.

Read the full article here.

Just a Cog in the National Project

Brad Thompson’s excellent new book, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea, adroitly dissects this pernicious political philosophy.  He has received some criticism for attempting to demonstrate that Leo Strauss, the philosophical godfather of so many neocons, had a certain sympathy with fascism.  Indeed, while stating that he is not saying neoconservatives have fascist designs, Thompson does suggest that their philosophy could pave the way to a kind of “soft fascism.”  Far be it from me to pass judgment on such academic debate, but it is interesting to consider the following from the noted neocon columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks, writing in that paper on March 10:

Citizenship, after all, is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise.  Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation.  I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert fiscal catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a national project.

More Sensible Voices on Libya

My Cato colleagues have written on the current goings on in Libya (especially here and here), and I concur with their recommendations that the U.S. government should avoid intervening militarily in the conflict. For my part, I have hesitated to weigh in, convinced that I couldn’t offer much to the discussion.

But just when I thought I had seen enough regarding what the United States should do in Libya, I stumbled upon two posts over at the National Interest blog that deserve a closer look. Paul Pillar on Friday pointed out that the same people who were such strong proponents of war with Iraq – Charles Krauthammer, in this case – are back in the game, apparently unfazed by their disastrous predictions of the past. Pillar is particularly devastating in his critique of Krauthammer’s claim that if Egypt were as politically developed a year from now as Iraq is today, “we would think it a great success.” Pillar notes, correctly, that such a claim “speaks to how drastically standards of success were lowered as the United States sank into the Iraqi quagmire.”

Jacob Heilbrunn picks up on Paul’s point today and runs with it. I dispute the title, which suggests that everyone in the GOP agrees with the neocons about war, but the bottom line is sound. Challenging the Wall Street Journal’s contention that President Obama’s supposed passivity is synonymous with George H.W. Bush’s refusal to intervene on the side of the Iraqi Shiites in 1991, Heilbrunn notes:

there is a distinction. The Obama administration did not encourage Libyans to overthrow the loathsome Gadhafi. Instead, Libyans are doing it themselves. Which is why Obama is right to be wary about inserting himself into a Libyan civil war that Gadhafi is likely to lose, whether or not American forces assists the rebel forces.

I commend both Pillar and Heilbrunn for their wisdom, and add them to the long list of sensible voices opposing U.S. intervention in Libya. The neocons can count Ahmed Chalabi in their corner.

Gates’s ‘Cuts’ and the Neocons’ Lament

As I discussed last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s latest attempt to “cut” the Pentagon’s budget are phony. The Secretary would ideally like to see the $78 billion over five years in savings filtered elsewhere into the budget; meanwhile, the 2012 budget will actually grow.

This hasn’t stopped uber-hawk Max Boot and a cadre of neocons from attempting to spin the Secretary’s announcement as the latest example of military downsizing that will make our services less prepared to deal with any conflict or international issue around the globe. I rebut Boot’s claims over at The Skeptics:

In his latest offering at The Weekly Standard, Boot wails that the personnel cuts “will bring the Army’s active duty strength down to 517,000—still larger than it was in 2001 but far smaller than it was in 1991, and not big enough to meet all of the contingencies for which it must prepare.”

Boot doesn’t define the “contingencies” that he wants the military to prepare for, but it seems pretty clear that he disagrees with Robert Gates’s assessment that “The United States is unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan or Iraq anytime soon – that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire.”

One can only imagine how hysterical [the neocons] would be if Gates had actually proposed to reduce the amount of money going to the military every year. As it is, the DoD budget is slated to grow. Gates explained at last week’s press conference that his goal was “a steady, sustainable and predictable rate of growth” without explaining why the Pentagon should simply expect to see more money every year while the rest of the country is supposed to be cutting back.

My word of advice to anyone who wants to know what Gates has actually proposed: look at the facts, not the neocons’ interpretation of them.

Conservative Rift Widening over Military Spending

More and more figures on the right – especially some darlings of the all-important tea party movement – are coming forward to utter a conservative heresy: that the Pentagon budget cow perhaps should not be so sacred after all.

Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky was the latest, declaring on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that military spending should not be exempt from the electorate’s clear
desire to reduce the massive federal deficit.

His comments follow similar musings by leading fiscal hawks Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a presumptive contender for the GOP nomination in 2012.  Others who agree that military spending shouldn’t get a free pass as we search for savings include Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey—the list goes on.

Will tea partiers extend their limited government principles to foreign policyI certainly hope so, although I caution that any move to bring down Pentagon spending must include a change in our foreign policy that currently commits our military to far too many missions abroad.  To cut spending without reducing overseas commitments merely places additional strains on the men and women serving in our military, which is no one’s desired outcome.

If tea partiers need the specifics they have been criticized for lacking in their drive for fiscal discipline, they need look no further than the Cato Institute’s DownSizingGovernment.org project.  As of today, that web site includes recommendations for over a trillion dollars in targeted cuts to the Pentagon budget over ten years.

Meanwhile, the hawkish elements of the right have been at pains to declare military spending off-limits in any moves toward fiscal austerity.  That perspective is best epitomized in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, Arthur Brooks of AEI and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard published on Oct. 4—a month before the tea party fueled a GOP landslide.  (Ed Crane and I penned a letter responding to that piece.)  Thankfully, it looks like neoconservative attempts to forestall a debate over military spending have failed. That debate is already well along.

British Military Cuts, Conservatives, and Neocons

Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Britain’s biggest defense cuts since World War II. The cuts affect the British military across the board.

The Army will shed 7,000 troops; the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will each lose 5,000 personnel; the total workforce in the Ministry of Defence, including civilians, will contract by 42,000. The Navy’s destroyer fleet will shrink from 23 to 19. Two aircraft carriers – already under construction – will be completed, but one of the two will be either mothballed or sold within a few years. Whether the one remaining flattop in the British fleet will actually deploy with an operational fixed-wing aircraft is an open question. They’ve decided to jettison their Harriers; a technological marvel when it was first introduced, it has a limited range and a poor safety record. In its place, the Brits still intend to purchase Joint Strike Fighters, but not the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version.

And right on cue, Max Boot argues in today’s Wall Street Journal, following the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano’s example, that fiscal conservatives should not use these cuts as an example of how to reign in deficits. According to Boot and Carafano, military spending is off-limits. Period.

But as I note at The Skeptics, most Americans do not buy into this argument:

In Boot’s telling, Cameron’s decision inevitably places a heavier burden on the shoulders of American taxpayers and American troops.

But why should Americans perform a function for other governments that they are obligated by tradition, law and reason to perform for themselves? Defense is, as Boot notes, “one of the core responsibilities of government.” I would go one better: defense is one of the only legitimate responsibilities for government. So why does Max Boot think that Americans should simply resign themselves to take on this burden, doing for others what they should do for themselves?

I suspect that he fears that most Americans are not comfortable with the role that he and his neoconservative allies have preached for nearly two decades, hence his preemptive shot across the bow of the incoming congressional class that will have been elected on a platform of reducing the burden of government. True, the public is easily swayed, and not inclined to vote on foreign policy matters, in general, but as I noted here on Monday, it seems unlikely that the same Tea Partiers who want the U.S. government to do less in the United States are anxious to do more everywhere else. And, indeed, such sentiments are not confined to conservatives and constitutionalists who are keenly aware of government’s inherent limitations. Recent surveys by the Chicago Council of on Global Affairs (.pdf) and the Pew Research Center (here) definitively demonstrate that the public writ large is anxious to shed the role of global policeman.

Click here to read the entire post.

Woodward’s Narrative

The New York Times reports that the book, Obama’s Wars, by longtime Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that is scheduled for publication next week, depicts an administration completely at odds over the war in Afghanistan.

According to Woodward, the president concluded from the start that “I have two years with the public on this.” He implored his advisers at one meeting, “I want an exit strategy,” and he set a withdrawal timetable because, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

It’s unfortunate that the policy debate over Afghanistan will be further spun into a left-vs.-right issue. After all, there are growing, if nascent, signs that some on the political right have reservations about our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Ill.), who earned an 80 percent favorable rating from the American Conservative Union, was a GOP co-sponsor to Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) resolution to force the removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In March, Congressman John Duncan (R-Tenn.) came to the Cato Institute and explained why “there is nothing conservative about the war in Afghanistan.”

And as Cato founder Ed Crane wrote last year in the pages of the LA Times:

Republicans should take this opportunity to return to their traditional non-interventionist roots, and throw their neoconservative wing under the bus and forcefully oppose the war in Afghanistan. The Republicans have a chance at this moment to reclaim the mantle of the party of non-intervention — in your health care, in your wallet, in your lifestyle, and in the affairs of other nations.

I am not a conservative, and neither are many of my Cato colleagues. But these comments are intended to highlight that leaving Afghanistan is far beyond Left vs. Right. In fact, many conservatives used to deride nation-building as a utopian venture that had little to do with the nation’s real interests. In the case of Afghanistan, troops are being deployed to prop up a regime Washington doesn’t trust, for goals our president can’t define. There is a principled case to be made that a prolonged nation-building occupation is weakening our country militarily and economically. It’s a question of scarce resources and limiting the power of government. The immense price tag for war in Afghanistan can no longer be swept under the carpet or dismissed as an issue owned by peaceniks and pacifists, much less “the Democratic Party.”