Tag: defense news

Terrorism News and the 9/11 Anniversary Effect

Terrorism, I have argued previously, has hijacked much of the American foreign policy debate. Regardless of whether we are discussing Iraq, Iran, Libya, Russia, or nuclear weapons, it seems we are really talking about terrorism. But although it feels like we talk about terrorism nonstop these days, we actually talk about it a lot less than we did right after 9/11.

As Figure One shows, the news media’s attention to terrorism declined steadily through 2012. The Syrian civil war and then the emergence of the Islamic State reversed the trend. But even so there were almost 40% fewer news stories mentioning the words “terror” or “terrorism” in 2015 compared to the peak in 2002. 

 Chart of Terrorism News Trend

Of course, the one time every year when we can guarantee seeing plenty of news about terrorism is around the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Figure Two compares the daily average coverage of terrorism each year to the number of stories published on September 11. We can think of the difference between the coverage on 9/11 and the daily average as the “anniversary attention effect.” The biggest anniversary effect came in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, when the major U.S. newspapers printed almost six times more articles mentioning terrorism than the daily average. The smallest anniversary effect came in 2015 when the effect only boosted coverage of terrorism by about a third. Though the trend is a bit noisy, over time it is clear that the anniversary effect is shrinking. From 2002 through 2006, anniversary coverage was an average of 2.37 times higher than the daily average, but over the last five years from 2012–2016 anniversary coverage has averaged just 1.88 times higher.

9/11 Anniversary Effect on Terrorism News

The shrinking anniversary attention effect suggests that the resonance of 9/11 may be waning as the attacks recede into history. Of course, we should not be too hasty to conclude that public fears of terrorism are also fading. As John Mueller has written here (and in greater detail here), Americans have harbored a healthy level of fear of future terrorist attacks ever since 9/11. But given how hyperbolic and utterly divorced from reality much of the terrorism rhetoric has been this election cycle, we can only hope that 9/11 is beginning to lose some of its symbolic power. Though it is important to honor friends and family we have lost to terrorism, we cannot let emotion dictate foreign policy. 

More Skepticism on Romney’s Military Spending Promise

On Sunday, Defense News published a good article by Kate Brannen that looks into Mitt Romney’s plans for military spending. This is not the first examination of Romney’s lofty campaign promise to spend at least four percent of GDP on the Pentagon’s base budget. Since October 2011, when I first crunched the numbers on his plan, others have followed with their own estimates.

In my first analysis, his plan totaled $2.046 trillion above projected defense budgets based on CBO totals from FY 2012 to FY 2021. That total does not include war costs, nor does it take into account the possibility of military action toward Iran, which Romney has made clear is on the table, with or without Congressional approval. My number one question at the time—beyond the fact that GDP is not the proper guide for military spending—was: Where is this money going to come from?

In April, I recalculated Romney’s gimmick, adjusting my numbers with the help of my colleague Charles Zakaib, based on the Obama administration’s latest 10-year projections. We presented the data in the graph below:

The conclusion: Romney’s four percent gimmick would now necessitate $2.58 trillion in additional military spending above the new baseline. I tried to put this in context:

Romney’s Four Percent Gimmick would result in taxpayers spending more than twice as much on the Pentagon as in 2000 (111 percent higher, to be precise), and 45 percent more than in 1985, the height of the Reagan buildup. Over the next ten years, Romney’s annual spending (in constant dollars) for the Pentagon would average 64 percent higher than annual post-Cold War budgets (1990-2012), and 42 percent more than the average during the Reagan era (1981-1989).

Does Romney genuinely believe we have enemies that approach the Soviet Union’s might, let alone ones that are 42 percent more threatening? We would be wise to question his judgment if so.

Back in the realm of the reality, further cuts to military spending are fast approaching as sequestration looms. The debate in Washington is now largely focused on how much to cut from the defense budget and in what manner. This is consistent with what the majority of Americans favor and has sidelined those arguing for ever-greater military spending. And yet Mitt Romney remains committed to his Four Percent idea. In this instance, Romney should embrace his supposed conservatism and leave the spendthrift gimmicks to the opposition.

Much more in the podcast below:

Do More, Spend More

Defense News today features a story that unintentionally provides an window into what is wrong with the Washington Foreign Policy Establishment (WFPE)— a group of supposedly smart people that has repeatedly failed to come up with a credible plan that may enable the United States to shed some of the burdens of global governance. Indeed, the key take away from a report to be released tomorrow (“The QDR in Perspective: Meeting America’s National Security Needs in the 21st Century”), is that we shouldn’t try to shed such burdens. This message is particularly curious given that even some long-time proponents of America-As-World-Government are beginning to rethink their positions.

I wasn’t expecting much, but when I perused a draft that was flying around the wires/fibers yesterday (the official release is not until tomorrow), it was even worse than I could have imagined.

“We are concerned,” the authors explain, “by what we see as a growing gap between our interests and our military capability to protect those interests.” Fair enough. But they fail to offer a reasonable alternative that would address this imbalance by boosting the military capability of other countries, and thereby relieve the burdens that have fallen disproportionately on the backs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Instead, they call for more ships, more planes, and a larger force across the board, with the costs borne exclusively by U.S. taxpayers.

When the Obama administration released its National Security Strategy, I knocked the president and his senior advisors for failing to come up with a reasonable plan for forcing other countries to take responsibility for their own defense, and redistribute the burdens of policing the global commons among the many beneficiaries of a stable and peaceful international system. I had a similar view of the QDR, which spoke vaguely of sharing burdens and building partner capacity. The Obama team at least deserved credit, however, for recognizing that the United States should not indefinitely underwrite global security; we need other countries to do more.

The alternate QDR doesn’t even get that right. It instead makes a full-throated case for the United States remaining as the world’s policeman/armed social worker, and blithely expects the American people to keep spending more and more on our military.

I could comfort myself that this report will be the last of its type. Going back to the now-infamous Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, which set the course for the post-Cold War military, there has been a general consensus in Washington that the United States is now, and forever shall be, the sole guarantor of world order, the indispensable nation. And, for the most part, the American people have gone along.

Over time, however, the costs and risks of this approach have grown, exacerbated by the weakness of our allies, and by the inability of the Pentagon to control costs. And the benefits are meager. Today, many Americans have begun to ask why, for example, we each (every man, woman and child) spend about $2,700 on our military, when people in other countries spend less than a third as much on theirs. It is not that this level of spending will bankrupt us, per se; the key constraint on U.S. strategy is the willingness of the American people to pay for the defense of others.

Such support was always tenuous. In The Case for Goliath, Michael Mandelbaum famously argued that the United States could sustain its global posture so long as the American people didn’t scrutinize the true object (to be the world’s government) too closely. The title and description of Mandelbaum’s forthcoming book suggests that even he believes that time is running out. Other one-time enthusiasts of American unipolarity are beginning to come around to this point of view. (e.g. here and here)

To stare at the obvious imbalance between our strategic ends and our fiscal means, and to conclude that the only alternative is to dramatically increase the size of the military, the costs of which have already nearly doubled in the past 15 years, belies a fundamental inability to think strategically. The evidence suggests that our hyperactive foreign policy of the post-Cold War years has undermined American security, and ultimately been a big waste of money. There are sound strategic reasons for choosing to do less. Our fiscal problem adds to the urgency of a change in course, and especially for cuts in military spending.

Beyond that, however, our strategy must align to our political culture. To ignore the growing evidence that Americans are demanding that we do less around the world, and conclude instead that Washington must do more, demonstrates a deep disdain for the public that actually pays the bills – and offers up its sons and daughters to build other people’s countries, and fight other people’s wars.

We Can’t Lose If We Don’t Leave

On last Sunday’s Defense News TV, I suggested that although we are officially supposed to have zero troops in Iraq by the end of next year, there was a real prospect that we might have a harder time getting out than most analysts are suggesting.  This suggestion was roundly pooh-poohed, and I’m aware that it’s a minority view.  An extreme minority view.

Monday, though, Gen. Odierno remarked that the withdrawal could be slowed.  Although we’re supposed to be down under 50K troops by the end of this summer,

“I have contingency plans that I’ve briefed to the chain of command this week that we could execute if we run into problems,” Gen. Odierno said. “We’re prepared to execute those.”

The commander said he would consider slowing the withdrawal “if something happens” in Iraq over the next two to three months.

This is nothing like a knockout punch for my position, but it’s interesting.  So is Tom Ricks’ column in the New York Times today, which says, as best I can tell, that we should stay in Iraq basically forever:

All the existential questions that plagued Iraq before the surge remain unanswered. How will oil revenue be shared among the country’s major groups? What is to be the fundamental relationship between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds? Will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? And what will be the role of Iran (for my money, the biggest winner in the Iraq war thus far)?


Extending the American military presence will be even more politically controversial in Iraq, and for that reason, it would be best to let Iraqi leaders make the first public move to re-open the status of forces agreement of 2008, which calls for American troops to be out of the country by the end of next year. But I think leaders in both countries may come to recognize that the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come.

This, too, is far from a knockout punch for my view that we might be in Iraq well beyond 2011.  But keep an eye out for more pieces like this from analysts like Ricks, who is well-connected to the counterinsurgency gurus here in DC and to Odierno himself.