Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The probability of spending cuts now...

That is to say, not very likely.

With the military operation in Libya in full swing, and a clear end game not in sight, defense spending is being taken off the list of potential budget cuts. The Politico article does a good job of giving some general opinions across the spectrum, and two quotes stood out to me.

Josh Holly, communications director for the Armed Services Committee, is worried about "not being properly positioned to deal with the contingencies that might be on the horizon, whether that be a modernizing military in China or (a military action) in Libya."

The Pentagon is already spending close to $700bn a year, and even halving that figure would allow to the military to 'deal with the contingencies that might be on the horizon.' The right amount of spending depends on what you want to do. A policy of global intervention and treating the Pentagon as a giant jobs program does require a giant budget, but if people realize that fiscal apocalypse is a realistic possibility absent serious consideration being given to defense cuts, then some headway can be made in reducing spending. It's about making serious and rational choices.

We're also treated to the China bogeyman. Given the importance of naval power in the coming decades, the number of carrier strike groups is a good indicator for worldwide military might. The United States maintains 11 of these groups, China is working on its first. The possibility of a security dilemma with China is somewhat a reality, but we don't need to start planning for WWIII just yet considering the huge advantage we already possess.

The next quote is from Sen. Joe Lieberman in his typical hawkish fashion: "Congress should be very careful and cautious about any reductions in defense spending, given the many profound responsibilities shouldered by our military at this time"

The military is shouldering many profound responsibilities at this time, and it's strictly by choice, not necessity. We can't pretend that this mission in Libya is necessary for national security, just as we can't pretend that winning 'the hearts and minds' in Afghanistan is a realistic conclusion. Defense hawks like Lieberman believe in a false dichotomy. Either we garrison the world, intervening wherever we please, and have an unsustainable defense budget, or we completely disengage and become an isolationist nation. Reducing our force commitments and rethinking our global posture while still talking and trading with other nations is the sensible position, and unfortunately it's a position that seems on the fringe in the Beltway.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Costs of the Libyan Conflict

Some sobering reporting on the costs of the Libyan conflict at the National Journal.

In a time when every financial decision should be heavily scrutinized and examined, it's going to be interesting to see how long this level of spending is maintained and if Congress decides to take any action. Do we realize that these levels of military spending are unsustainable and damaging to the economy?

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Note on Libya

I haven't updated this blog in forever, but in light of recent events I felt compelled to start it back up again. I'm going to try and update it a few times a week now, or whenever something happens that's worth discussing.

I just wanted to make a brief observation on some discussions in the mainstream media about the attack on Libya and Congressional war powers in general. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution explicitly authorizes the Congress (and Congress alone) to declare war, otherwise known as the 'War Power Clause.' Since the Korean War, instead of giving a formal declaration, Congress has given various 'authorizations' to the President to do as he sees fit.

The problem here is I think this is a distraction. While no doubt the hypocrisy of Obama declaring an unconstitutional war should be pointed out, the mere discussion of whether or not the United States should get involved is disheartening. Had there been an actual Congressional vote, I have no doubts that a declaration would pass despite the fact the country is already involved in two wars and on the brink of fiscal apocalypse. The desire for intervention is completely ingrained in both major parties. A complete rethink of our foreign policy is necessary, but unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Hasn't the United States learned by now that it is incredibly difficult to remake countries and turn them into liberal democracies? Iraq and Afghanistan are the obvious disasters, but even go back to the 1990's and the interventions in places like Bosnia and Kosovo. Nowadays, one is hanging on by a thread (Bosnia), and other is essential a narco-terrorist state (Kosovo). An important study released showed that in US interventions since WWII, only 3% made a transition to a viable democracy within 10 years. And yet the US still walks into the same traps...