Posted tagged ‘leon panetta’

The Military Cliff

November 13, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has his plate full.  He is currently leading the implementation of defense spending cuts ordered by President Obama last year, and is facing the prospects of sequestration which will bring another $50 billion in cuts.  How to do this while winding down the Afghan War and the repositioning of American power to Southeast Asia?

Oh, and lest we forget, the election is over and the Iran option is again possible.  What about Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and the eternal Israeli-Arab conflict?  How can we cut defense with all this sitting out there?

Secretary Panetta seems eminently qualified for this task.  His ego is well contained.  His personal interests appear not to include a publicist.  No autobiography are on the horizon for Leon.  My guess is that Secretary Panetta can see which steps need to take place first before he clearly see the next best direction.

Step one should be to end the military involvement in Afghanistan.  That means no further military missions to engage the enemy or for the purposes of nation building.  If the Afghan government cannot provide security, or should fall under Taliban pressure, so be it.  The US has already spent enough in lives and dollars.  It’s time to fold this hand.

Panetta’s Step One has a question of what size “residual force” should remain.  In the best of all worlds, the answer is zero.  But these are not the best of times and the world is very complicated.  So it will become very important to clearly state the mission of any residual force.

Is it for further training of the Afghan forces?  Is it for a backstop should the Afghan military stumble and need help fighting the Taliban?  Is it “just in case” there are problems in Pakistan or Iran?  Or, is it part of the overall “repositioning” of US assets into the Southeast region?

Whether there is a residual force or what its purpose should be are critical questions the Defense Department needs to be told.  The new mission is a political decision.

There are many reasons offered when war breaks out.  Buried in whatever any country claims as its reason are always economic interests.  Conflict areas usually represent potential customers, raw material suppliers (think oil, water, or precious minerals), commercial rivals, or strategic geographies such as ports, rivers, or key trade routes.  In other words, wars are usually fought for money and not some noble reason.

In the past decade we have seen the advent of “asymmetrical” warfare.  Suicide bombers, 9/11 type attacks, and non-uniformed fighters have changed the face of war.  Cyber attacks are predicted to lie ahead.  What can soldiers, tanks, fighter jets, aircraft carriers do against these new menaces?

The Obama Administration has a big job.  The world still has a lot of bad guys.  Drones, computer viruses, and financial sanctions are alternative tools which may prove effective in some cases.  Committing US ground forces (and all the support effort that goes with them) seems more and more like something we cannot afford, something that is less likely to accomplish any goals we might have, and something we should do only on rare occasions.

If Secretary Panetta allows the Generals to delay troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, the US will be heading for a “military cliff”.  Ground wars are not the path to achieving America’s national interests, and are out of step with solutions to the nation’s fiscal cliff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fall Election Issues Emerging

April 18, 2012

Two low level political skirmishes taking place now may portend an early look at Mitt Romney campaign positions.  Surprisingly they deal with the social safety net and the war in Afghanistan, not just jobs or the economy.

The House is hard at work refashioning the “Ryan Budget” into a more immediate assault on the debt ceiling compromise made just last year.  Republicans (and probably a lot of Democrats) are worried that their inability to find mutually agreeable budget cuts will lead to sequestration, that is automatic cuts to defense and other discretionary spending to the tune of about $1 trillion.  To avoid cuts to defense, Republicans are proposing cuts to food stamps and Medicaid eligibility.  Their goal is to cut enough so that defense spending can continue unchanged.

Interesting trade off, stamps for guns.

Mitt Romney is already on record for calling President Obama’s handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as misguided.  He has also called Defense Secretary Panetta’s strategies to turn military control back to the Afghan government as naive.

There is plenty of room for criticism of the Country’s social safety net policies.  These policies are, at a minimum, inadequate to reduce the future need for them.  Instead, each year the demand for social safety net help increases.  This is a pox on both houses (Democrats and Republicans) belying a lack of imagination.

But cutting the benefits without some other emergency help seems heartless.  Cutting these benefits for the purpose of keeping the corporate welfare for defense firms flowing, however, is simply greedy, shortsighted, and mean.

It would be easy to just say Romney is not the President and does not have all the relevant facts.  Romney is simply blustering.  So his statements about Afghanistan strategy should be viewed in that light.  Hmmm, maybe.

The notion of not having an exit strategy or more bluntly having a “just stay” strategy harkens back to the George W and the Chaney gang image.  There is nothing like a good war to fill the defense contractors pockets and to send other people’s children off to fight.

Poverty in America is poorly understood.  Much of it seems generational, that is the children following in the parent’s steps.  How can this cycle be broken?  For Republicans to propose an alternative approach might make sense.  Proposing cuts to simply fund defense spending, I do not think, will fly.

The Romney war rhetoric, however, is far more ridiculous but also far more dangerous.  Who and where would a Romney Administration invade next?

Getting Out In Front

January 27, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has laid out his plan for reducing the $700 billion annual defense budget by about $50 billion.  Free lunch aficionados should rave over his plan.  Panetta says fifty billion out and no change in our defense capability.  I wonder whether other Cabinet members can do the same?

The route to this reduction rests upon reducing Army headcount.  With Iraq over and Afghanistan on the downward slope, common sense could lead anyone there.  Never the less, national security is a hot political button and the last thing Democrats want is to be doing something responsible and get blamed by the GOP for weakening America’s defense.  It doesn’t matter that the GOP will be exhibiting gross hypocrisy since their charge won’t be true and reducing the deficit is a main part of their campaign platform.  But can the American public see this?

If Americans thought about defense spending, they would conclude something quite different.  First they would slash far more and second, they would demand foreign countries support financial our defense expenditures because are designed to help assure world peaceful order.  Foreign contribution have a snow balls change of taking place.

Had Secretary Panetta proposed deeper cuts, however, there would have been a huge Congressional backlash.  Forget about Newt and Mitt, just about every Congress member would have been up in arms.  And national security would not have been the reason.  Defense means money.

The annual $700 billion stimulus “defense” authorization funnels to each State and almost every district a lot of money.  This spending means jobs and profits for industry, and generous campaign donations for the Congress members.  Do you get the picture?

Secretary Panetta has made the first move.  This will allow Congress members to question (gently) the wisdom of his cuts, hmmm in such a dangerous world.  Congress can then agree that Defense has given enough (maybe too much) and move onto other spending sources.

The Washington rhetoric often is heated but when it comes to government corporate welfare, that is a line Congress members do not cross.  Money that ultimately greases their campaigns is fundamental.

With a defense budget about equal to all other countries combined, and 10 times greater than the next largest, logic does not enter this equation.

The Unspoken Apology

December 15, 2011

President Obama and Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, saluted the last American troops finally withdrawing from Iraq.  President Obama welcomed them home at Ft Bragg while Panetta said good-by in Iraq.  Both thanked these troops and the other 1 1/2 million service men and women who had served there for their sacrifices and professional execution of their jobs.  This was very appropriate and well deserved.

What was not said must be saved for another day.  It will never be easy nor politically wise to say what really needs to be admitted.  Just as there are so many pronounced differences in America today, there certainly are avid supporters of the Iraq invasion and occupation.  The average American, however, seems to be feeling less satisfied about this foreign policy decision.

Consider

  • Iraq posed no imminent threat to the US
  • Iraq possessed no deployable WMD
  • Iraq had no programs to produce chemical or nuclear weapons
  • Iraq was a natural enemy of Iran and provided a low cost counter balance in the region.
  • There was no legal basis under international law for the US to invade and occupy Iraq

Proving once more that “might makes right”, the US invaded Iraq anyways.  A trillion dollars later, over 4400 American dead, 10s of thousands seriously wounded and untold numbers of PTSD wounded veterans, this unjustified war deserves an apology.

Americans must come to terms with allowing the executive to engage in an invasion of a sovereign country under false justifications, finance this venture without asking the public to sacrifice through higher taxes, and to flaunt treaties, laws, and human decency in the name of “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein”.

Our government owes all Americans but particularly the million and a half service members who served there a sincere apology.

Words To Fret By

October 12, 2011

American has a $14+ trillion debt and a projected $1+ trillion annual deficit.  Congress has stopped functioning except in the most dire or trivial circumstances.  Rather than follow the Simpson-Bowles commission deficit reduction recommendations, Congress has instead appointed a super committee with the charge of finding at least $1.5 trillion (over 10 years) in deficit reductions .  Most observers, however, predict super committee grid lock.  As a result, the law demands automatic cuts including cuts to the whopping $650+ billion defense budget.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sadly abandoned his senses yesterday.  He pointed out to Congressional members that cuts were coming to their home districts to the tune of $450 billion (10 year figure).

Let’s think about this.  Secretary Panetta is talking about cutting the $650+ billion annual budget by about $45 billion per year!

It is true what Panetta says.  Cuts to defense spending will quickly cut into money and jobs that flowed to Congressional districts.  But what is so different from cutting defense or any other part of the overall Federal budget?

When a Country gets itself into a bind where it is borrowing 40 cents for every dollar it spends, how can you avoid bankruptcy unless you reduce some spending?

To be sure, there are other places to cut.  Entitlements are a rich target as are discretionary spending programs.  And lets not forget revenue increases as clearly outlined in Simpson-Bowles.  But revenue increases are off the table per the GOP, and entitlement changes are a no-no per the Dems.  So what is someone to do?

Why fret?

Secretary Panetta’s comments indicate two incredible things.  First, with a budget that is as large as all other countries combined, the good Secretary can not find less than 10% to cut.  Second, Panetta’s crass appeal to Congress members that defense cuts would affect each State says a great deal about how defense spending has been used as political pork.

Any question about defense spending being largely corporate welfare?

Panetta’s comments were totally predictable.  We will soon hear about risks we are taking to national security.  But with a $650+ billion annual budget, if Panetta’s words carry the day, they will truly have been words to fret by.

Panetta’s Real Mission, Or What It Should Be

September 12, 2011

The new Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is giving interviews.  What’s so unusual about that?  It is not the interview, rather it is the message he is delivering.

Panetta is a seasoned, affable personality who is a tight friend of the establishment.  He has a tough assignment running the Department of Defense without the additional complications of having to defend his department against large budget cuts.  Panetta looks fit for the job but I am wondering about his strategy or his real goal.

Panetta has said in a NPR interview that he favors cuts to Defense spending in the $400 to $450 billion level and not more.  These figures are 10 year amounts, so what is really advocating are cuts of $40 to $45 billion a year.  Panetta warns that deeper cuts will make the US less secure.

Here is the ranking of the top 20 defense spenders. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures)

RANK         COUNTRY                                  SPEND                       %GDP

1.   United States                                   $698,105,000,000                4.7%

2.   People’s Republic of China         $114,000,000,000                2.2%

3.   France                                              $  61,285,000,000                  2.5%

4.  United Kingdom                             $  57,424,000,000                  2.7%

5.   Russia                                               $  52,586,000,000                 4.3%

6.   Japan                                                $  51,420,000,000                 1.0%

7.   Germany                                           $  46,848,000,000                1.4%

8.   Saudi Arabia                                   $  39,200,000,000               11.2%

9.   Italy                                                   $  38,303,000,000                 1.8%

10.  India                                                $  36,030,000,000                 1.8%

11.  Brazil                                               $  27,120,000,000                   1.6%

12.  Australia                                        $  26,900,000,000                   1.9%

13.  South Korea                                  $  26,550,000,000                   2.9%

14.  Spain                                              $  25,507,470,000                     1.1%

15.  Turkey                                            $  25,000,000,000                   2.7%

16.  Canada                                          $  21,800,000,000                    1.5%

17.  Israel                                              $  16,000,000,000                   6.3%

18.  United Arab Emirates               $  15,749,000,000                    7.3%

19.  Republic of China (Taiwan)    $  15,000,000,000                  2.4%

20.  Netherlands                                 $  11,604,000,000                   1.5%

It should take no time to see that something is wrong.  The US actually spends each year as much as everyone else spends combined.  So clearly, the US defense spending is much more than defense.

Many critics refer to the US as the “worlds policeman” and this sort of robust defense budget is necessary.  This may be true that both the role of world policeman and the largest defense budget are necessary.  What is not clear is why should US tax payers bare the entire burden?

Why should not other countries pay some amount to the US to partially defray our costs? The answer is they should, but simply won’t.

Over and above the reasons of national pride and politics, foreign countries must also be suspicious that a considerable amount of US defense spending is being undertaken without diligent oversight.  With a Congress that can not pass a debt limit extension in an adult manner, how can we expect Congressional oversight for a budget this large?

Defense spending means campaign contributions and jobs in Congress members’ home districts.  There is too much at stake for Congress members to insist upon efficiency and worthwhile purpose.

The world has changed from the Cold War times.  Defense of the US against a single polar enemy is no longer imminent.  While there may be legitimate good reasons to show the flag in all the seas, there must be a less expensive way.

Defense Secretary Panetta needs to take on the dual mission of really cutting the budget and maintaining national security.  This may (and most probably would) require a fresh new approach.

If President Obama and his Defense Secretary take this on, they could leave a valuable and lasting improvement to US defense policy.

Setting The Stage

September 7, 2011

Two news reports this week raise troubling thoughts.  With President Obama on the ropes politicly, and former VP Dick Cheney with a mechanical heart, the prospects of a GOP Presidency couldn’t come at a worse time.

The first report said the Defense Department was seeking a Presidential “finding” that would authorize covert operations against Iran.  The genesis was the repeated meddling by Iran into Iraq affairs.  The supply of munitions to the Iraq’s Shiite majority was specifically cited.

The second report pointed to Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and his endorsement of some 3000 troops remaining in Iraq following the agreed upon year end exit date.  How do you get a camel into the tent?

The basis of both these reports could be as stated.  Iran represents a destabilizing influence in the region and a country that has ambitions well beyond its boarders.  Catch it now, they reason, while we still can.

It could also be a face saver move.  Iraq, despite all those congratulating the US’ expensive and unneeded invasion and occupation of Iraq, is still a country with no identity or purpose.  If you do not believe this, just ask the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites what they think.  Keeping American presence as a policemen would prolong the charade.

It could also represent a stealth move to bolster the need for a strong defense Defense Department and of course, its enormous budget.  How could America cut its Defense budget with two wars underway and hots spots all over the Middle East?

And there is a reasonable chance these reports could stem from all three reasons.

The US has over 9% unemployment and no stomach to deficit spend to stimulate the economy.  Why in the world would we continue to deficit spend on wars that can’t be won, in regions we do not understand, and for foreign leaders we do not believe?