Conflict Of Interest?
President Obama’s announced plans to combat the militant group ISIS presents a potential conflict of interest to top military leaders. The plans call for “no boots on the ground”. Should the military manage the “police action” so that ISIS advances slowly? Or, should the military try its best (and most creatively) to both stop and degrade ISIS? Hmmm.
An example worth remembering is the now famous “Iraq surge” where former President Bush opted to increase the US Iraq military presence in order to end the Iraq civil war underway. While Bush Administration officials beat their chest over the gutsy decision to scale up US forces, we subsequently learned that coincident with the troop increases was “buying off” Sunni militias and turning them against the al Qaeda insurgents. That was creative.
The current conflict of interest arises from the question of what determines the size of the Defense Budget. Most Americans are “war weary” and would prefer to see America less involved with global conflicts. And, when Federal budget discussion take place, Americans would overwhelmingly prefer to see less Defense spending than an increase in taxes.
Americans, however, are not that simple. Many fall for the free lunch (we can win this war easily and there is no need for new taxes). Others are influenced by being on the winning team (how can we let ISIS or the Taliban win?). And when these two message do not work, there is always the “ISIS is coming to America” to raise American’s blood pressure (and fears) and make their thought processes a bit cloudy.
There is clearly a disconnect between our politicians who are advocating all sorts of global goals and what they are willing to support with adequate funding. The Joint Chiefs are acutely aware of this and from time to time throw cold water on some Representative or Senator’s proposals. Disregarding human nature, this is a serious issue.
Regarding human nature, however, Defense Spending invites a conflict of interests.
Politicians want to appear relevant and most certainly want to maintain defense jobs in their districts. The military brass are also conflicted with the simple fact that “bigger is better”. The greater the Defense budget, the more resources the military will have and the more ability it will have to achieve military goals, especially when national goals are fuzzy. Oh yes, and the greater the Defense Budget, the more Generals and Admirals can be appointed. That’s just human nature. Hmmm.
President Obama is fighting a lonely battle. Keeping American presence to a minimum is just not crystal clear in the eyes of Congress’ political interest. This puts the top military leaders in a bind. They know their job is to do what the President asks but with Congressional dysfunction boiling over, it would easy for the military to over commit versus what the Congress will actually do to fund them.
Let’s hope the President can keep his powder dry and give the military enough time to use its creativity in the ISIS mess.