Hagel’s Disastrous Budget

 

The proposed 2015 Defense Department budget unveiled on Monday has set off a firestorm of outrage, almost all of it deserved. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s long checklist of cuts may not spell the end of U.S. military dominance, as some critics have suggested — but it will ensure that dominance isn’t worth very much.

It shrinks the Army from the current 520,000 active-duty personnel to 440,000-450,000, the lowest number since before World War II. That puts us in the same class as Vietnam and Turkey.   The Navy will continue to get weaker, with 11 cruisers – half the current force — slated for reduced operational service. New shipbuilding programs will continue to slow and shrink in numbers, as will the size of the Marines.  

Of all the services, the Air Force comes out best, at least on paper. It gets to keep the F-35 and Long Range Strike Bomber programs, and the KC-46A air tanker. It’s still, however, an Air Force smaller than at any time since World War II — and one acquiring fewer new aircraft than when it was buying from the Wright brothers back in 1915.

Hagel’s defenders argue we are just returning the Army to the force level we had before 9/11.   That actually should be a source of alarm, not reassurance — especially when Secretary Hagel himself admits we are “diminishing our global readiness” in a “world this is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and…more threatening to the United States.” 

Yet Hagel still insists his budget leaves us the world’s leading military power, able to “defeat any aggressor.” That is patent nonsense. Having the biggest defense budget in the world means nothing if our forces won’t be ready to face, or deal with, the most likely contingencies lying ahead. That’s precisely where this budget points us.

For example, an Army that’s gone to 440-450,000 troops is a force demonstrably too small to handle any wars larger than Iraq and Afghanistan. If those fairly small-scale, guerrilla-type conflicts — despite the years of headlines and heartbreak they brought — almost stretched a force of 570,000 (at its wartime peak) to the breaking point, how will an Army smaller by 120,000 handle a head-on collision with China in the Pacific or Iran in the Persian Gulf? How will it deal with a North Korean invasion of South Korea or perhaps a ramp up of Cold War tensions over Ukraine that demands putting American boots back on the ground in Western Europe?   

It’s no good saying we’ll just have to learn to avoid conflicts that require those boots on the ground  and stick to ones we can resolve with a Navy SEAL team or two (the budget, it should be noted, boosts spending for Special Ops) and a couple of Hellfire missile-wielding drones. 

The fact is, we don’t choose our wars–the myth of Iraq as a “war of choice” notwithstanding. They choose us. Moreover, armed conflicts for the United States have historically come in twos, not one at a time: think Europe and the Pacific in World War Two, Vietnam and the Cold War in the Sixties, and Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. It isn’t simply the era of American military dominance that this Obama budget puts at risk. It’s America’s ability to defend its interests around the globe — a challenge that becomes harder when future opponents know we won’t be able to deal with two major crises at the same time.

Of course, there is another, equally ugly possibility: that this 2015 budget is a complete sham, a political ploy to scare Republicans into lifting automatic sequestration and going along with more tax increases to prevent these cuts from going through – and to affix the blame on Congress if the cuts occur. Certainly nothing surprises me from this White House. But if that’s what indeed is happening, then the willingness of the Joint Chiefs to endorse these cuts, as Chairman Martin Dempsey has, as representing “sound national security and fiscal responsibility” looks shameful instead of simply dumb.  

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Tuck

    Why I don’t understand is why did Putin start shopping for off-shore military installations right now?

    He could have waited a couple of years and we’d probably sell him some. Hilary: “Vlad, we have some land in Germany we don’t need… It’d be kind of a reset.” ;)

    But right now he’s made himself the best argument against Obama’s plan to gut the military.

    • #1
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    @FredCole
    Arthur Herman

    It shrinks the Army from the current 520,000 active-duty personnel to 440,000-450,000, the lowest number since before World War II. That puts us in the same class as Vietnam and Turkey.   

    Shouldn’t the number of military personnel be based on our military threats instead of historical numbers which are useless as a metric?

    Vietnam is a communist country that fought a war against a neighboring country as recently as 1978.  Turkey borders Syria, Iraq and Iran, its number of troops reflects that.  

    Additionally, while the numbers may put us in the class of Vietnam and Turkey, the capacity of the individual American soldier (reflecting the enormous expense of training and equipping him), far exceeded that of their Turkish or Vietnamese equivalent.  

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    @FredCole
    It’s still, however, an Air Force smaller than at any time since World War II — and one acquiring fewer new aircraft than when it was buying from the Wright brothers back in 1915.

    This is an equally alarmist and yet useless metric.  The raw number of aircraft, similar to the raw number of ships, doesn’t reflect the capacity of each of those individual ships or aircraft.

    The number of troops may be shrinking some, but the army reserve has another 200,000 men and the National Guard close over 400,000 more.  They’re a reserve for a reason, we hold them in case of need.

    And how will this reduced Army deal with a North Korean invasion of South Korea?  It won’t.  The South Koreans will.  That’s why they have a half a million man army of their own.

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    @FredCole

    Here’s a useful metric, for comparative purposes:

    def.gif

    And here’s another one:

    carriers.gif

    • #4
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    @ArthurHerman

    And yes, the Black Sea Fleet would make a nice home for a good used carrier like the George Washington!   Putin just has to wait until 2016 when Hagel says he’ll decide whether it warrants a major rehaul or retirement.  

    Believe it or not, I feel for Putin on this Ukraine situation.  He’s in a tough spot. As self-proclaimed ruthless strong man, he can’t let Ukraine slip away without  Belarus, Khyrgyzstan, et al.  starting to wonder why the hell they have to toe the Moscow line, not to mention Georgia, Armenia..it’s 1968 Czechoslovakia all over again.   The tanks will roll, the West will watch….and do nothing.  

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    @PettyBoozswha

    In my opinion the most underrated statesman of the 20th century was Senator Robert Taft – Mr. Republican before Goldwater, then Reagan. Taft wanted to keep us out of NATO, his speech on the Senate floor against involvement in Viet Nam is one of the most heartbreaking in the Congressional Record.   I am glad that we as Republicans are returning to this tradition as the comments above suggest. A smaller military budget is a sound conservative goal, and should not be reflexively trashed just because the left also desires it for the wrong reasons. 

    • #6
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    @PaulARahe
    Fred Cole: Here’s a useful metric. . .

    And here’s another one: · 29 minutes ago

    Fred, neither metric is of much use. The real question turns on the character of our military’s mission — which is drastically different from the mission pursued by any of the other countries surveyed. We superintend the world. We guard the seas. We prevent local hegemons from interfering with their neighbors’ freedom of commerce — and as a mass exporter and importer we profit greatly from this.

    Put in other terms, we pursue a grand strategy aimed at preventing anything like World War II and the Cold War from happening again. That requires on our part a capacity to bring pressure to bear anywhere, and having an over-capacity in that regard reduces the likelihood that we will have to do anything of the sort. It is incapacity that gives rise to risks, and liberal, commercial polities — from the late 17th century onwards have been prone to incapacity.

    Arthur’s recourse to raw numbers may be wrong. But his basic point is right. And though you are correct in emphasizing what a given weapons platform can do, one needs also to take into consideration its vulnerability.

    • #7
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    @PaulARahe
    Petty Boozswha: In my opinion the most underrated statesman of the 20th century was Senator Robert Taft – Mr. Republican before Goldwater, then Reagan. Taft wanted to keep us out of NATO, his speech on the Senate floor against involvement in Viet Nam is one of the most heartbreaking in the Congressional Record.   I am glad that we as Republicans are returning to this tradition as the comments above suggest. A smaller military budget is a sound conservative goal, and should not be reflexively trashed just because the left also desires it for the wrong reasons.  · 19 minutes ago

    Were it not for NATO, the Soviets would have taken Europe. But perhaps you would not regard such an eventuality as a catastrophe.

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    @PettyBoozswha

    Paul A. Rahe

     

    Were it not for NATO, the Soviets would have taken Europe. But perhaps you would not regard such an eventuality as a catastrophe. · 5 minutes ago

    Edited 2 minutes ago

    There are a lot of times when I honestly believe, in the long run, we would have been better off letting Western Europe spend three generations under the Russian boot – it might have taught them some humility.

    • #9
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    @HangOn

    I agree with Paul Rahe about grand strategy and having a military to carry it out. The question is what is it and have we had one since the end of the Cold War? I don’t see a lot of evidence of that.

    I disagree about being a policeman of the world. I think there are parts of the world where war is to our benefit. If we have Sunnis and Shia at war with each other, we benefit. So let the fighting begin.

    Since the end of the Cold War, I mainly see pipedreams of building democracy in places where a) it has no roots and b) even if it did, it would be to our detriment. 

    • #10
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    @ByronHoratio

    And yet no one has so far offered one concrete solution or prescription either here or on threads on the same subject. It’s easy to say “lets’ stand up to Putin” and other braggadocio. So we should bomb Sebastopol? Drop half a million men at Balaclava? Just “talking tough” doesn’t stop annexation.

    • #11
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    @PaulARahe
    Petty Boozswha: I 

    Paul A. Rahe

     

    Were it not for NATO, the Soviets would have taken Europe. But perhaps you would not regard such an eventuality as a catastrophe. · 5 minutes ago

    Edited 2 minutes ago

    There are a lot of times when I honestly believe, in the long run, we would have been better off letting Western Europe spend three generations under the Russian boot – it might have taught them some humility. · 33 minutes ago

     . . . and it would have cost us dearly. The ingratitude of the Europeans cannot retrospectively justify folly on our part. What we did benefited them and served our interests at the same time. I share your frustration with our allies. But let’s face it: their ingratitude is a given, human nature being what it is. The trick is to find a policy that is both generous and self-serving — and that we did.

    • #12
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    @FredCole
    Paul A. Rahe

    The real questionturns on the character of our military’s mission — which is drasticallydifferent from the mission pursued by any of the other countries surveyed. We superintend the world. We guard the seas. We prevent local hegemons from interfering with their neighbors’ freedom of commerce 

    So let’s be clear about this.  By “local hegemons” you mean Russia and China.  We seen not to give a fig about local hememons in Africa.  

    When we’re talking about China and trade, they have as much interest in protecting the free flow of trade as we do.  The US and the EU are China’s biggest trading partners.  Their ruling class bases all their legitimacy on the rapid economic growth they’ve seen in the last two decades.  

    Put simply: They need the gravy train (gravy flotilla?) that comes from trading with us.  

    When we’re talking about Russia and trade, we’re mostly talking about energy exports and those exports are to Europe.  That’s the enormous string they have to yank to control anything.  Frankly, that’s a European problem.  If Russia cuts off their natural gas supply,they’re the ones who are going to freeze.

    • #13
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    @PaulARahe
    Hang On: I agree with Paul Rahe about grand strategy and having a military to carry it out. The question is what is it and have we had one since the end of the Cold War? I don’t see a lot of evidence of that.

    I disagree about being a policeman of the world. I think there are parts of the world where war is to our benefit. If we have Sunnis and Shia at war with each other, we benefit. So let the fighting begin.

    Since the end of the Cold War, I mainly see pipedreams of building democracy in places where a) it has no roots and b) even if it did, it would be to our detriment.  · 9 minutes ago

    If one is skillful, one can superintend without having to do a great deal of policing. The trick is to have military superiority of a sort that makes this possible.

    • #14
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    @FredCole
    Paul A. Rahe

    Put in other terms, we pursue a grand strategy aimed at preventing anything like World War II and the Cold War from happening again. 

    I’ll take these in reverse order.  The Cold War was a worldwide division between two superpowers who were ideologically incompatible with one another.  I don’t see that happening again.  Russia has returned to old form rather than Soviet form.  The Chinese communists aren’t really communists anymore.  There’s no one to divide the world with and go eye-to-eye with anymore.  (Although to listen to the rhetoric of some conservatives, everything is the new Cold War.)

    World War 2 was two rampaging empires with modern weaponry engaging in raw conquest.  If you want to prevent that, fine.  But the United States should be the defender of last resort, not the defender of first resort.

    • #15
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    @FredCole

    Paul, what you ignore is the enormous costs of engaging in this grand strategy (a strategy which, to my cynical ears, sounds like a post hoc rationalization, not yours obviously).

    1. The fiscal costs.  If we were running a balanced budget, I’d like to think I’d be making a lot of these same arguments.  But they’re very easy to make when we’re running a 700 billion dollar deficit.  We have to borrow from the Chinese to defend ourselves from the Chinese?

    2. The international image of the United States.  Our image suffers when we fight ever war for everybody.  And we suffer blowback for dropping bombs on people everywhere all the time.

    3. The social and economic costs.  I work with a guy who was in the Army in the ’70s (post Vietnam).  His important job was “defending Germany from a bar stool.”  Every body and every dollar we take out of the economy to sit around costs us.  And on the individual level, men and women are away from their families often and wars break and kill people.  Yes its obvious, but its a cost and worth mentioning.

    • #16
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    @FredCole

    4. Standing armies are a threat to freedom.  I realize this is a rigidly old fashioned argument, but its also an eternal one.  Our Founding Fathers understood this fact and curbed their own militarism accordingly.  An enormous standing military means that a tyrannical government has an enormous force of men with guns to potentially use against an unruly populace.  Yes we have control, yes we have protections, yes we have checks in place.  But so did Rome.  (And I’ll be accused of being delusional for mentioning this, but why do Second Amendment violations and DHS ammunition buys get mentioned but not this?)

    That’s just a few.  There are plenty of other costs that accompany this grand strategy to prevent World War 2 or another Cold War that somehow involve us preparing to refight both of those wars.

    • #17
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    @PettyBoozswha
    Paul A. Rahe

     . . . and it would have cost us dearly. The ingratitude of the Europeans cannot retrospectively justify folly on our part. What we did benefited them and served our interests at the same time. I share your frustration with our allies. But let’s face it: their ingratitude is a given, human nature being what it is. The trick is to find a policy that is both generous and self-serving — and that we did. · 6 minutes ago

    I reluctantly agree – I should have said I subscribe to that view only when giving in to the the nastier emotions. The better angels of our nature required America to bear the burden of the Cold War – especially against a psychopath like Stalin, his bureaucratic successors much less so. Even so Taft and his like minded colleagues could have devised programs or alliances short of the NATO that would not have empowered the military-industrial complex to such a degree.

    • #18
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    @ByronHoratio

    As someone with dear relatives and friends in the military, why on earth should we have the slightest interest in the Ukraine or Russia? Those problems and whatever fighting ensues from them is wholly the concern of those belligerents involved. Our only concern there should be the protection of American citizens. I admit I have followed it only passingly, but i gather from conservative circles that we are ‘”weak” if we don’t rattle our sabers about the internal political divisions of others.

    • #19
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    @PaulARahe
    Byron Horatio: As someone with dear relatives and friends in the military, why on earth should we have the slightest interest in the Ukraine or Russia? Those problems and whatever fighting ensues from them is wholly the concern of those belligerents involved. Our only concern there should be the protection of American citizens. I admit I have followed it only passingly, but i gather from conservative circles that we are ‘”weak” if we don’t rattle our sabers about the internal political divisions of others. · 8 minutes ago

    This is not primarily about the political divisions of others. It is about the dismemberment of one European state by another.

    The language that you use is precisely the language that some in Britain used when Hitler dismembered Czechoslovakia. Remember the Sudetenland?

    I do not mean to suggest that Putin is the threat to us that Hitler was. I do mean to suggest that we cannot stand idly by while such shenanigans go on. Moreover, the matter can be handled by us and our allies without resort to boots on the ground.

    • #20
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    @ArthurHerman
    Fred Cole

    Shouldn’t the number of military personnel be based on our military threats instead of historical numbers which are useless as a metric?

    These metrics aren’t useless or alarmist, they’re right on point.

    One, it doesn’t matter how many friends or foes Vietnam and Turkey have. They are regional powers, we are a global power with global responsibilities.

    Two, numbers matters for an Air Force.  If it  can’t replace planes lost to mission damage or fatigue it can’t win wars.     From 2008 to 2012, USAF retired 700 more planes than it bought, while Obama has nixed or delayed seven separate production lines, including the F-22.   We’re forcing the Air Force to put all its operational eggs in one high tech basket, the F-35, and at this rate we’ll never be able to buy enough to make it the kind of decisive air superiority weapon it needs to be.    

    Three,  useless metrics include those numbers for Reserve and National Guard.  “Reserve” is a complete misnomer; as the Army’s numbers have dwindled, it’s shifted more and more front-line responsibilities to both the other forces.  

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Contributor
    @ArthurHerman

    Where was I?

    Something like one third of forces in Iraq were Reserve or National Guard.  They’ve become life support for an Army that’s become too small to do its jobs. 

    Four, perhaps the most useless metric of all is the size of the US defense budget vis a vis other nations.   That big budget doesn’t just reflect our global responsibilities (China’s navy doesn’t support global humanitarian missions or protect the Straits of Hormuz; ours does).  It also reflects the fact that almost half of that budget goes to the personnel costs involved in recruiting and keeping a large professional force.   It tells us nothing about the state of readiness, or effectiveness in future conflicts.  

    Trends in spending on weapons, equipment,  and force strength and size  (sorry that annoying metrics again!) will.   That trend for us is going down, when the trend for other powers like China is going up.    That’s why this budget is a unilateral disarmament budget.  

    Finally, where in the world comes the idea that we’ll be sitting on the sidelines if North Korea invades the South.  We’ve got 28,500 troops there: we’ll be all in. 

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    @ArthurHerman
    Paul A. Rahe

    Hang On: I disagree about being a policeman of the world. I think there are parts of the world where war is to our benefit.  · 9 minutes ago

    If one is skillful, one can superintend without having to do a great deal of policing. The trick is to have military superiority of a sort that makes this possible. · 15 hours ago

    Paul is exactly right.  Military superiority is itself a strategic asset, that deters foes and attracts allies–who in turn relieve some of the burden that goes with global responsibilities.   

    But there’s another important question that goes begging here.  Why does the US have global responsibilities in the first place?  Because we’re the world’s biggest economy, with vital economic, political, and cultural interests spread everywhere.   Our economic fortunes depend on a greater or lesser degree of stability in more places than anyone else; that’s why, pace Hang On, we never benefit from other people’s wars, not even a Sunni-Shia civil war–let alone a Russian conquest of Western Europe after WW2.    

    Does that being the world’s 24/7 SWAT team?  Obviously not.   But prosperity and power go together.  

    • #23
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    @PettyBoozswha
    Arthur Herman

    Paul A. Rahe

    Hang On: I disagree about being a policeman of the world. I think there are parts of the world where war is to our benefit.  · 9 minutes ago

    But there’s another important question that goes begging here.  Why does the US have global responsibilities in the first place?  

    Does that being the world’s 24/7 SWAT team?  Obviously not.   But prosperity and power go together.   · 6 hours ago

    I disagree with your analysis – I think the reason we have these global responsibilities is because, in a fit of post WWII hubris, we accepted all the obligations of empire without any of the benefits. After 70 years of fulfilling that obligation I think its time to think anew and start anew.

    • #24
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    @FredCole
    Arthur Herman

    These metrics aren’t useless or alarmist, they’re right on point.

    One, it doesn’t matter how many friends or foes Vietnam and Turkey have. They are regional powers, we are a global power with global responsibilities.

    But comparisons side by side of raw numbers of troops between Vietnam, Turkey and the US are useless.  First of all, Vietnam and Turkey are going to skew higher because of their neighbors and history.

    Additionally, an individual American, being trained and maintained at enormous expense, is going to be worth more than an individual Vietnamese or Turkish conscript.  So while the raw numbers may be similar, that’s a useless metric because of the difference in capacity.

    And comparing the raw numbers of personnel between 1946 and 2014 is useless because an American GI in 2014 can do a hell of a lot more than an American GI in 1946, or at least he damn well better be able to considering the enormous expense involve in training and equipping him.

    • #25
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    @FredCole
    Arthur Herman

    From 2008 to 2012, USAF retired 700 more planes than it bought, 

    And this is another situation where the numbers don’t tell the story.  Taken in the aggregate, each replacement plane has a greater capacity than the plane it replaced.  Since each individual plane can do more stuff, you can achieve the same thing with less of them.

    Arthur Herman

    Three,  useless metrics include those numbers for Reserve and National Guard.  “Reserve” is a complete misnomer; as the Army’s numbers have dwindled, it’s shifted more and more front-line responsibilities to both the other forces.   

    Well, excuse me then, I think you’re making my case for me.  If the reserves aren’t really reserves, then they should count as active duty then, shouldn’t they?

    So if our number of active duty troops is X, but Y number of reservists are doing active duty work, then the number raw number of active duty troops doesn’t represent the size of the army, since it should be the X + Y.

    • #26
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    @FredCole
    Arthur Herman

    Four, perhaps the most useless metric of all is the size of the US defense budget vis a vis other nations.   That big budget doesn’t just reflect our global responsibilities (China’s navy doesn’t support global humanitarian missions or protect the Straits of Hormuz; ours does).  It also reflects the fact that almost half of that budget goes to the personnel costs involved in recruiting and keeping a large professional force.   It tells us nothing about the state of readiness, or effectiveness in future conflicts.  

    Not for nothing, but if we can’t be ready or effective spending more than our two next biggest rivals put together, than something is seriously rotten in our entire defense structure.  

    And throwing more money at it won’t fix the a structural problem like that.

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