This week, there's been a rash of articles on the state of GOP foreign policy thinking, as well as some interesting and constructive responses to my Foreign Affairs essay on the same subject. I will try to respond to some of these over the weekend -- but first I think it would be useful to talk more precisely about the claimed benefits of military power.
One of the points I made in my essay was that Republicans need to take economic statecraft more seriously, but to be fair, this holds for the foreign policy community more generally. The relationship between military power and economic influence is often talked about in general terms, with a lot of casual assertions getting tossed around. But I think a lot of these assertions are wrong.
For example, prominent American foreign policy commentators often trump the benefits of America's overseas military presence. Danielle Pletka gets at this in her Foreign Policy essay when she says, "Americans have benefited tremendously from their involvement abroad," though she stays in generalities. To talk specifically, how exactly does the U.S. gain economically from its outsized military footprint?
Fortunately, we do have an attempt at an answer. In the latest Foreign Affairs, Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth argue strongly in favor of "deep engagement." They proffer a number of reasons why the U.S. benefits from current grand strategy -- but one of the more intriguing ones is that the U.S. receives direct economic benefits from its security arrangements:
A global role also lets the United States structure the world economy in ways that serve its particular economic interests. During the Cold War, Washington used its overseas security commitments to get allies to embrace the economic policies it preferred -- convincing West Germany in the 1960s, for example, to take costly steps to support the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. U.S. defense agreements work the same way today. For example, when negotiating the 2011 free-trade agreement with South Korea [KORUS], U.S. officials took advantage of Seoul's desire to use the agreement as a means of tightening its security relations with Washington. As one diplomat explained to us privately, "We asked for changes in labor and environment clauses, in auto clauses, and the Koreans took it all." Why? Because they feared a failed agreement would be "a setback to the political and security relationship."
Now, this gets specific!! According to this paragraph, reliance on U.S. security means that Washington can obtain better economic terms. Sounds great!!
Except that I don't think it's true.
With respect to West Germany, it's certainly true that Washington was able to get Berlin to accommodate to U.S. preferences -- but only for a few years. The Bretton Woods system ended in 1971 because the Germans finally said "Nein!!" to U.S. inflation. So the economic benefit wasn't that great.
The South Korea case is more intriguing, because it's present-day and there's a real, live policymaker quote there. If a U.S. administration official asserts that the security relationship mattered, then it mattered, right?
Well.... no. We need to compare KORUS with something equivalent to provide a frame of reference. If security really mattered that much, then the Korea-United States free trade agreement should contain terms that are appreciably more favorable to the United States than those contained in, say, the Korea-European Union free trade agreement, which was negotiated at the same time. This is a great test. After all, the U.S. is the most important security partner for South Korea, whereas the only thing the European Union could offer to Seoul was its large market. So if Brooks, Ikenberry and Wohlforth are correct, the U.S. should have bargained for much better terms than the E.U. Right?
A Korean analysis of the two agreements, however, do not reveal that result:
[T]he United States has more favorable treatment in meat and vegetable products and transportation, while the EU has better treatment in processed foods, chemicals, and machinery. The large difference in outcomes in animal and animal products between the KORUS FTA and the Korea-EU FTA can be ascribed to the the reflection of greater sensitivity of the Korean market in this sector in the Korea-EU FTA compared with the KORUS FTA. Therefore the EU received a less favorable tariff reduction schedule than the United States in this area. This is true in the areas of raw hides, skins, leather, and furs, and transportation.
We have the opposite case, however, in the foodstuff sector: the many differences in Korean tariff liberalization schedules in the U.S. and European FTAs could be a result of the reflection of the EU positions, which preferred earlier tariff eliminations on many items in the Korea-EU FTA. This is also true in the manufacturing sectors such as hemicals and allied industries, plastics and rubber, textiles, and machinery and electrical products.
In (slightly) plainer English, the U.S. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more, and the E.U. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more. Both agreements are comprehensive in scope and contain roughly similar terms across most other sectors. Indeed, both the Congressional Research Service and U.S. Trade Representative's office acknowledge the basic similaritry between the deals, as well as the areas where the Europeans did better. So, in other words, America's ongoing security relationship with South Korea did not lead to any asymmetric economic gains.
Now, this is not to say that there are no economic benefits to America's forward military presence. There are other arguments out there, and they should also be evaluated. My point here is simply to cast a skeptical eye on claims that America's overseas military presence pays for itself in the form of geopolitical favoritism. Because I don't think that's true.
Look, let's be blunt -- as a responsible foreign policy blogger, I should be trying to divert your attention away from the tawdriness that is the David Petraeus scandal. There's no shortage of other interesting stuff happening in the world. Things like Argentina's slow-moving debt debacle, or the discord between the EU and IMF over Greece, or even the possibility of the United States overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer.
The thing is, I can't, I just can't. I'm weak, and the way this scandal has metastasized is friggin' incredible. The best summary of where things stand right now comes from Ace of Spades' Gabriel Malor:
Jill Kelley, the woman who was (allegedly) threatened by Gen. Petraeus's squeeze Paula Broadwell and who (apparently) started the FBI investigation that led to Petraeus' ouster, who went to the FBI for help after the threats and then (allegedly) had a relationship with the FBI agent in charge of her own case, who (allegedly) sent her shirtless pics of himself, also (apparently, allegedly) had "compromising" communications with Gen. John Allen, the Big Damn Commander of our war effort in Afghanistan.
Yeah, that's about where we are now, and I'm afraid of checking my Twitter feed because there might have been new developments.
Look, America's foreign policy community is gonna be transfixed on this for a spell. Because it's got that car-crash quality that means it is just impossible to look away. This is the kind of scandal that causes the Daily Beast's writing style to go so over the top that it actually published the following sentence: "Broadwell may be able to run a six-minute mile with Petraeus, but Kelley looks like a woman who lets the guys do all the running—and in her direction." I'm surprised they didn't embed a whip sound at the end of that sentence.
And that's the interesting thing if one steps back for a second. To repeat a theme, the American people by and large don't care much about foreign policy and national security. But, based on my deep immersion into supermarket checkout literature, they do appear to be very interested in tawdry sex scandals and reality television. Well, this scandal has copious amounts of this -- plus, you know, power.
So unlike, say, questions about drone warfare or counterterrorism policy or homeland security or civil liberties, Americans will pay attention to this stuff. Which is interesting, because over the past decade the military has been the one institution to inspire significant amounts of trust in Americans. The less that the public trusts the military, the less that they will trust what the military is doing. And as Thom Shanker notes in the New York Times, this scandal might affect that trust:
[A] worrisomely large number of senior officers have been investigated and even fired for poor judgment, malfeasance and sexual improprieties or sexual violence — and that is just in the last year....
Long list of scandas involving top brass]
The episodes have prompted concern that something may be broken, or at least fractured, across the military’s culture of leadership. Some wonder whether its top officers have forgotten the lessons of Bathsheba: The crown of command should not be worn with arrogance, and while rank has its privileges, remember that infallibility and entitlement are not among them.
And this doesn't even get into other scandals at various homeland security agencies *cough* Secret Servivce *cough*.
The military and intelligence communities have been doing a lot of things over the past decade that fall outside the bounds of traditional American foreign policy practices. I'm not saying all of these things are bad -- it's a new century, new kinds of threats, and so forth. But most Americans have passively gifted these agencies a lot of goodwill for them to do what they want. I wonder whether a silly sex scandal will change all that.
This television season has been a mixed blessing for those of us who like to study how humans behave under anarchy. On the one hand, in addition to Season Three of The Walking Dead about to start, two new shows have explored that theme at some length. The first to premier was Revolution. On the other hand, Revolution really isn't that good.
What about the other new show? Here's the extended trailer for Last Resort:
So, you get the premise: the nuclear sub USS Colorado gets an order to fire their nuclear weapons at Pakistan. While the codes check out, the order seems just a bit wonky cause it goes through a secondary alert network. After the captain and executive officer question the order to their superiors, all hell breaks loose.
My take? SPOILERS AHEAD.
Cards on the table: I definitely liked this show more than Revolution, although that's an admittedly low bar. This has a lot to do with the acting. Andre Braugher knows how to project authority, Robert Patrick is perfect as the grizzled and misogynistic chief of the boat, and I'm surprised to report that Scott Speedman is really compelling as the XO. Having watched the pilot and second episode, the tensions within the crew of the Colorado play out nicely. The mystery behind the launch also seems quite interesting. And the pilot does explain why, after a failed first attempt, the U.S. navy doesn't try to take out the Colorado again -- welcome to network television, MAD!!
So there's some potential here -- but there are also some serious, serious problems with the show as it's played out so far. In ascending order of importance:
1) in the pilot, Captain Chaplin relates to his XO an anecdote about Reagan needing to seem just a bit crazy to convince the Russians he could launch a nuke, while Brezhnev had already done that by invading Afghanistan. This ia a good setup for Chaplin's own need to seem just a bit crazy. The problem is that, Steve Saideman points out, it was Nixon and not Reagan who believed this logic.
2) I've met some submariners, and, well, let's just say that they're a different breed from the rest of the U.S. Navy. Any individual willing to be in a small hermetically sealed tube for up to six months has to have a particular mindset, and Last Resort doesn't hint at that. At a minimum, there would have been a few very religiously devout sailors on the Colorado, but that's not talked about at all. This is a shame, because the presence of Navy SEALS on the boat suggests the opportunities for some culture clashes that haven't panned out.
3) The Washington, DC scenes are not terribly convincing, particularly the super-hot defense contractor Kylie Sinclair, played by Autumn Reeser. Now let's be very clear here: I have no prejudice whatsoever against super-hot defense contractors. I do, however, have a problem with the notion that supposedly whip-smart Kylie is going to spill all the beans about her super-secret system that's on board the Colorado to the guy she's about to sleep with.
4) Oh, and about that system that Kylie set up -- essentially, it's a device that renders the Colorado invisible to detection. Not to put to fine a point on it, but this would not be a system that would make deterrence that stable. In fact, if memory serves someone made a movie based on this very premise.
5) Really, though, 1-4 are small matters compared to the elephant in the room with respect to Last Resort. The plot gets moving when the USS Colorado is ordered to fire its missiles at Pakistan. Later in the pilot, we discover that the USS Illinois did obey orders and fire two missiles into Pakistan, "killing millions" as one character later mentions.
After those missiles are fired, 98% of what we see is how Washington and the crew of the Colorado cope with the Colorado's refusal to obey orders. Which is pretty important... but maybe, just maybe, not as important as the U.S. NUCLEAR WEAPONS THAT WERE USED AGAINST PAKISTAN!!!!
Seriously, there are one or two mentions of how things in the world are "complicated" because of this, and that's it. Nothing on Pakistani retaliation, India's reaction, China's reaction, and so forth. In the Washington scenes, all anyone seems to care about is the Colorado, which is pretty funny, since I'd think the first use of nuclear weapons since 1945 might raise a few hackles.
Now you might think that since this is a show about the crew of a renegade sub, that's fine -- except it isn't. The plot in episode two hinges on Russian Spetsnaz forces trying to seize the boat. At one point the U.S. Secretary of Defense gets pretty indignant at a Russian official for trying to do this. In the show, the Russian official just looked sheepish. If this had played out in the real world, the Russian would have said the following:
"I'm sorry, what was that? You, the United States military, initiated the use of nuclear weapons in South Asia, killing millions of people, right? And now you have a rogue sub firing missiles close to Washington. You're asking what the hell Russia is doing? With all due respect, f**k off, Mr. Secretary."
I know I'm not going to watch Revolution again. I'm on the fence with Last Resort... but this whole nuking Pakistan thing going unmentioned might drive me away.
I know that Daniel Klaidman's Newsweek cover story on the Navy SEALs is supposed to make me feel all warm and safe because of the uber-competence of SEAL Team Six and President Obama's comfort with using them adroitly:
This is a Special Ops moment. The Navy SEALs, in particular, have never appeared so heroic and effective. They killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, and just last month rescued two aid workers held hostage in Somalia. At a time when many Americans think their government is incompetent, the SEALs are public employees who often get the job done. They’re a morale booster, and they know it.
The thing is, one of Klaidman's more detailed anecdotes actually gives me great pause about the decision-making process within the Obama administration about the use of force:
The CIA and military had been hunting Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan for years. He was a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and had been directly implicated in other deadly terrorist attacks in East Africa, including a suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Mombasa. He was an important link between al Qaeda and its Somalia-based affiliate, and a potential wealth of information on how the jihadist networks operate. Killing him would have been a significant victory, but capturing him alive could have been even better.
After months of patiently watching him, American intelligence officers suddenly learned that Nabhan was preparing to travel along a remote desert road in southern Somalia....
McRaven told the group that Nabhan’s convoy would soon be setting out from the capital, Mogadishu, on its way to a meeting of Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe. The square-jawed Texan and former Navy SEAL crisply laid out the “Concepts of Operation” that had been developed in anticipation of this moment. Several options were spelled out, along with the military hardware that would be required for each, as well as collateral-damage estimates:
The military could fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast. This was the least dangerous option in terms of U.S. casualties but not the most precise. (Missiles have gone astray, hitting civilians, and even when they strike their target, they don’t always take it out.) Such missile strikes had been a hallmark of the Bush administration. For all of its “dead or alive” rhetoric, the Bush White House was generally cautious when it came to antiterrorist operations in anarchic areas like Somalia. The second option was a helicopter-borne assault on Nabhan’s convoy. There was less chance of error there: small attack helicopters would allow the commandos to “look the target in the eye and make sure it was the right guy,” according to one military planner. The final option was a “snatch and grab,” a daring attempt to take Nabhan alive. From a purely tactical standpoint, this was the most attractive alternative. Intelligence from high-value targets was the coin of the realm in the terror wars. But it was also the riskiest option.
Unstated but hanging heavily over the group that evening was the memory of another attempted capture in Somalia. Many on the call had been in key national-security posts in October 1993 during the ill-fated attempt to capture a Somali warlord that became known as “Black Hawk Down,” after a book of the same name. That debacle left 18 dead Army Rangers on the streets of Mogadishu, and inspired al Qaeda leaders to think they could defeat the American superpower. As Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during the meeting: “Somalia, helicopters, capture. I just don’t like the sound of this.”
As everyone left the meeting late that evening, it was clear that the only viable plan was the lethal one (emphasis added).
The mission was a success, and I'm sure that there's more to this decision than is in Klaidman's story. That said, based on the story, this decison-making process seems flawed. The deciding factor appears to have been that the more aggressive option had echoes of the 1993 Black Hawk Down fiasco. Because the situations seemed analagous ("Somalia, helicopters") the worst-case outcome -- a botched raid -- also seemed likely.
Here's the thing though -- as analogies go, this one seems somewhat ill-suited. The most obvious difference was that this raid wasn't going to take place in a city but a remote desert road. It was extremely difficult and bloody for U.S. forces to battle their adversaries in the urban anarchy of Mogadishu. In the open, with no civilians to use as shields, I would think JSOC has the advantage. Even if the snatch-and-grab option was the riskiest option, it does not seem as risky as U.S. efforts to rescue the downed Black Hawk crew back in 1993. In this instance, the worst-case scenario would have been some JSOC soldiers killed -- but given the terrain, the lack of civilians and cover, and the likely firepower advantage held by the Americans, a Black Hawk Down II outcome sounds unlikely.
Despite these differences, analogical reasong triumphed. The mission succeeded in taking out Nabhan, but it sounds like the slightly riskier option would have yielded greater rewards.
Let me stress, yet again, that I'm not an expert on special ops. I'd welcome commenters explaining to me why I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Still, based on this story, the guiding factor in this case appears to have been a poor analogy. I hope this is the exception and not the rule for the current administration.
Am I missing anything?
Fareed Zakaria thinks that the Libya intervention signals "a new era in U.S. foreign policy":
The United States decided that it was only going to intervene in Libya if it could establish several conditions:
1) A local group that was willing to fight and die for change; in other words, "indigenous capacity".
2) Locally recognized legitimacy in the form of the Arab League's request for intervention.
3) International legitimacy in the form of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
4) Genuine burden sharing with the British and French spelling out precisely how many sorties they would be willing to man and precisely what level of commitment they would be willing to provide.…
The new model does two things:
First, it ensures that there's genuinely a local alliance committed to the same goals as the external coalition. This way, there is more legitimacy on the ground. And if there is anything Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us, it is that local legitimacy is key.
Second, this model ensures that there is genuine burden sharing so that the United States is not left owning the country as has happened so often in the past.…
In the future, we will again have to follow this limited model of intervention.
This sounds great, except that the set of criteria that Zakaria lists is so stringent that I seriously doubt that they will be satisfied again in my lifetime. Russia and China regretted the U.N. support the minute after it passed, and the president of the Arab League had buyer's remorse almost immediately after NATO started bombing. Even if the Libya operation looks like a success from here on out, there's no way that list of criteria will be satisfied. Ever.
Now, for those readers worried about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy, this might sound like a great idea, as it creates a ridiculously high barrier for military intervention. And, indeed, so long as these criteria are only used to satisfy humanitarian military interventions, it sounds good. Except that most military interventions aren't strictly humanitarian. The moment core national interests kick in, these criteria get downgraded from prerequisites to luxuries.
So Zakaria is wildly inflating the importance of the sui generis nature of the Libya intervention. But that's OK; he's a pundit, not an actual policymaker. There's no way anyone working in the White House, say, would make such a simplistic, facile -- hey, what's in this Josh Rogin FP interview with Ben Rhodes?
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with . "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."…
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Excuse me for a second; I have to go do this.
Look, ceteris paribus, burden-sharing and local support are obviously nifty things to have. I guarantee you, however, that the time will come when an urgent foreign-policy priority will require some kind of military statecraft, and these criteria will not be met. The Obama administration should know this, since its greatest success in military statecraft to date did not satisfy either of these criteria.
There is always a danger, after a perceived policy success, to declare it as a template for all future policies in that arena. Pundits make this mistake all the time. Policymakers should know better.
As I type this, most of Tripoli is now in the hands of Transitional National Council forces and supporters, two of Muammar Khaddafi's sons are in custody, and the backbone of Khaddafi's military has been broken. TNC forces do not control all of Libya, but they control an ever-increasing amount of it, including all of its oil infrastructuire. The whereabouts of Gaddafi, Khaddafy, and Qaddafi are still unknown, however.
So, six months after a spontaneous protest movement morphed into armed resistance and NATO got involved.... what does this all mean? With events on the ground still evolving, let me suggest the following list of tentative winners and losers from this operation:
1) The people of Libya. I think it's safe to say that an overwhelming majority of Libyans are pretty pleased that they're no longer living under the thumb of the Qaddafi family. Juan Cole has a pretty triumphalist post up about how this is playing out. He's a bit overoptimistic in places, but this point rings true -- appearances to the contrary, this was not a civil war:
It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic. There was nothing like the vicious sectarian civilian-on-civilian fighting in Baghdad in 2006. The revolution began as peaceful public protests, and only when the urban crowds were subjected to artillery, tank, mortar and cluster bomb barrages did the revolutionaries begin arming themselves. When fighting began, it was volunteer combatants representing their city quarters taking on trained regular army troops and mercenaries. That is a revolution, not a civil war. Only in a few small pockets of territory, such as Sirte and its environs, did pro-Qaddafi civilians oppose the revolutionaries, but it would be wrong to magnify a handful of skirmishes of that sort into a civil war. Qaddafi’s support was too limited, too thin, and too centered in the professional military, to allow us to speak of a civil war.
Brian Whitaker makes similar points in The Guardian. This fact does not necessarily mean that an armed insurgency won't persist, but even if it does, it would lack domestic political legitimacy.
2) NATO. Quick, was the 1999 Kosovo operation a NATO success or a failure? During the operation, it seemed like a failure, as a) everyone thought it was taking too long; and b) the operation expost the operational gaps between the U.S. and European forces. After Kosovo ended, however, it seemed like a victory... because it was.
This operation parallels the rhythms of the Kosovo intervention, but in many ways represents a bigger victory. The UK and France shouldered a greater share of the burden, there were no casualties in the alliance, and this operation directly led to regime change (whereas Kosovo had only an indirect effect on Serbia). As Blake Hounshell has observed, at the cost of $1 billion, Western involvement was totally worth it.
3) Air power advocates. Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers' New York Times account of the march into Tripoli suggests the ways in which NATO air power played a critical role in aiding TNC forces on the ground. Stepping back, one has to conclude that NATO's air power was a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for Libya to play out the way it did. Despite some neoconservative calls for even heavier intervention, however, Western boots on the ground were not necessary.
4) Tunisia and Egypt. If TNC forces are able to consolidate their hold on Libya and restore some semblance of law and order, that means the return of more than 680,000 Libyan refugees. This would be good not just for Libya proper, but for the countries housing most of these refugees -- namely, Egypt and Tunisia. These countries are attempt their own transition into more representative regimes. Eliminating the socioeconomic pressure of displaced Libyans is an unalloyed good thing for the political development of Libya's neighbors.
5) President Obama. To quote Eli Lake: "President Birth Certificate has done what Reagan and W could not: end Gadhafi's reign and kill bin Laden." It's worth noting that oth operations took more than six months to play out. While he won't necessarily be this blunt about it, Obama can now credibly argue that patience + determinaion = badass military statecraft.
1) Other authoritarian despots, particularly in Africa. I don't want to overstate this -- I'm skeptical that the scenes from Tripoli will lead to spontaneous uprisings in Damascus and elsewhere. Still, this is the kind of event that will always make other despots nervous.
In the case of African authoritarians or quasi-authoritarians, the fall of Khaddafi also leads to the permanent end of a pipeline of cash from Libya to his friends in Africa.
2) U.S. cable news networks. Useless. Totally f$%*ing useless. Seriously, until FOX news started airing live footage from its SkyNews partner, I got vastly more information from my Twitter feed than any of the cable news nets. That's when they were even covering events in Tripoli -- I think it took MSNBC something like five hours to realize there was something worth covering. Yesterday's performance was just embarrassing.
3) Realists. The United States should never have intervened!! It's a civil war!!! Libya is an example of the militarization of American foreign policy!! The U.S. will be drawn into an expensive quagmire that is not a core national interest!! Air power alone will never work!! Many, many other realist cliches!!
Readers are warmly welomed to provide realist rationalizations for why they are still right/will be proven right in the future in the comments.
4) KT McFarland. There has been a lot of stupid American punditry on Libya, but I think McFarland's FoxNews.com essay from last Friday takes the cake as the Dumbest Thing I've Read on Libya in the past month. Thankfully, it's also completely obsolete.
5) President Obama. [Wait, how is he a winner and a loser?!--ed.] On the one hand, Obama certainly wins by insulating himself against foreign policy criticism. On the other hand, foreign policy victories in the bank are quickly forgotten -- just look at the way in which bin Laden's death translated into a transitory blip for Obama's popularity.
In 2012, the only issue any voter cares about is the economy. A successful operation in Libya will mean less news coverage about Libya and even more coverage of the economy … which is not exactly Obama's strong suit at the moment.
Hmm... let me think about this for a second....
It's hard to deny Boot's assertion that, over the past century, U.S. military power has been a necessary and successful tool to advance American national interests. That said, however, if we look only at last decade, the picture darkens considerably. After Afghanistan and Iraq, is it really possible to claim that the U.S. armed forces have been our most effective instrument of power projection? Have we purchased more than $1 trillion worth of increased security since 9/11? No, I don't think that we have.
My opinion doesn't count all that much, but former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates's opinion should. While in office, he wasn't shy in observing that the U.S. military was playing too outsized a role in the crafting of foreign policy.
Furthermore, let's take a look at this graph, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation:
The striking thing about this chart is that we're spending more on the military now than we did during the peak of Cold War tensions and Reagan's military build-up in the mid-1980's -- especially since military spending by the rest of the world has fallen dramatically since the end of the Cold War.
Just to repeat a point I made last fall:
AEI's latest "Defending Defense" paper doesn't do it either. Despite numerous claims about the hollowing out of the U.S. military, I didn't see a single instance in the report in which American military capabilities were compared to either extant threats or possible security rivals.
Neoconservatives are going to have to present more reasoned arguments for why defense spending should not be on the chopping block than the scare tactics of Boot -- or, for that matter, this whopper from Robert Kagan:
Spit-take!! Look, I'm just as scared of the AARP's political muscle as the next foreign policy wonk, but to claim that there is no domestic interest group support for more defense spending is just as bad as, oh, I don't know.... writing a whole book pretending to discover that there's an interest group lobby that supports Israel without defining it properly.
This critique of Kagan's assertion is pretty overwrought, but the core point ain't wrong.
Question to readers -- what is the best logical, empirically grounded argument you can make for not cutting the defense budget?
UPDATE: For more on this point see Christopher Preble, as well as Shadow Government's Kori Schake. Schake makes a trenchant point -- if there are to be serious cuts, defense experts need to start thinking seriously about the best way to do it, rather than simply lopping a certain percentage off the top.
Kim Sengupta and Solomon Hughes have one of those exclusives in The Independent that's an equal mixture of intriguing and dubious on the current situation in Libya. Here's the lead:
The Libyan regime is preparing to make a fresh overture to the international community, offering concessions designed to end the bloodshed of the three-month-long civil war.
The Independent has obtained a copy of a letter from the country's Prime Minister, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, being sent to a number of foreign governments. It proposes an immediate ceasefire to be monitored by the United Nations and the African Union, unconditional talks with the opposition, amnesty for both sides in the conflict, and the drafting of a new constitution.
David Cameron and Barack Obama met yesterday to try to find an exit strategy from a conflict increasingly appearing to have no definitive military solution in sight. The US President acknowledged that the allies now seem to face a long, attritional campaign.
Reading through the whole story, I certainly believe that Libya sent out a cease-fire proposal. What I don't buy is the notion that various NATO countries are eager to accept such a deal. That part seems much less clearly sourced.
There's also this interesting Financial Times story by Michael Peel and Sam Jones suggesting that Libya's sovereign wealth fund has less money that previously anticipated:
Libya lost billions of dollars on sophisticated financial products sold to Muammer Gaddafi’s sovereign wealth fund by some of the world’s leading financial institutions, according to a confidential Libyan government document.
Banks and hedge funds led by France’s Société Générale are named in about $5bn (£3bn) of deals involving the oil-rich nation, some of which had resulted in heavy losses by the middle of last year.
One of the most striking losses, outlined in an internal report for the Libyan Investment Authority, was a 98.5 per cent fall in the value of the sovereign wealth fund’s $1.2bn equity and currency derivatives portfolio....
The report for managers of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, dated June 30 last year, said its bank and hedge fund investment products had fallen in value from about $5bn to roughly $3.5bn, out of the body’s total assets of $53.3bn.
This is an interesting strategic dilemma for NATO. On the one hand accepting a cease-fire would potentially end an intervention that has lasted longer that top policymakers apparently expected.* On the other hand, a cease-fire doesn't exactly scream "geopolitical win." There's always an incentive to hold firm and count on the Gaddafi regime to crack.
If you were Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, or David Cameron, which bet would you make? A cease-fire now or rolling the dice for a more complete victory?
Steve Coll breaks some news about Afghanistan at The New Yorker. He reports that the Obama administration is now "entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders."
Readers should feel free to debate the wisdom of this move in the comments. I was struck by Coll's concise one-paragraph description of the situation on the ground:
[T]he Obama Administration has understandably concluded that the status quo is untenable. The war has devolved into a strategic stalemate: urban Afghan populations enjoy reasonable security, millions of schoolgirls are back in class, Al Qaeda cannot operate, and the Taliban cannot return to power, yet in the provinces ethnic militias and criminal gangs still husband weapons, cadge international funds, and exploit the weak. Neither the United States nor the Taliban can achieve its stated aims by arms alone, and the Administration lacks a sure way to preserve the gains made while reducing its military presence, as it must, for fiscal, political, and many other reasons.
Now, Coll states above that this situation cannot last. Here's my question: why?
I'm not saying the status quo is good, mind you. I'm just wondering -- exactly what fiscal or political pressure will force a change in U.S. policy? As previously noted, there's not much daylight between the Obama administration and the GOP on Afghanistan. The Obama administration's position has mutated from "firm withdrawal in 2011" to "did we say 2011? Cause we really meant 2014." Even if the war is unpopular with the American public, I see no groundswell that would force a political response.
As for the fiscal question, it's true that the Afghanistan conflict is not cheap. It's also true, however, that overseas military adventures are not the primary driver of the deficit, and there's no chance in hell that the GOP will embrace defense cuts because of fiscal strictures.
One could argue that the negotiations themselves are a signal that the administration wants to change the situation. That's undeniably true, but Coll notes that these negotiations will take quite some time: "Yalta this is not."
There's a tendency, when analysts see a stalemate or deadlock, to assume that something has to give. Surely, one side or the other will indicate a willingness to negotiate a change. This is particularly true if the analyst doesn't like the status quo. Sometimes, however, the intolerable situation can last a good while longer than anyone wants it to. I suspect that will be the case in Afghanistan.
OK, apparently the Wall Street Journal now has a policy to publish an op-ed every quarter asserting that:
1) U.S. defense spending is woefully inadequate compared to the Cold War era;
2) Those advocating further defense cuts are advocating taking the United States back to the 1930's; and
3) Today's threat environment is really, really bad.
Last quarter it was the Arthur Brooks/Edwin Feulner/William Kristol op-ed. Today it's Mark Helprin. The gist of his argument:
Based upon nothing and ignoring the cautionary example of World War II, we are told that we will never face two major enemies at once. Despite the orders of battle of our potential adversaries and the fact that our response to insurgency has been primarily conventional, we are told that the era of conventional warfare is over. And we are told that we can rest easy because military spending is an accurate index of military power, and we spend as much as the next however many nations combined.
But this takes no account of the nature of our commitments, the fading contributions of our allies, geography, this nation's size and that of its economy, conscription or its absence, purchasing power parity, exchange rate distortions, the military trajectories of our rivals individually or in combination, and the masking effects of off-budget outlays and unreported expenditures. Though military spending comparisons are of lesser utility than assessing actual capabilities, they are useful nonetheless for determining a country's progress relative to itself.
Doing so reveals that from 1940 to 2000, average annual American defense expenditure was 8.5% of GDP; in war and mobilization years 13.3%; under Democratic administration 9.4%; under Republican 7.3%; and, most significantly, in the years of peace 5.7%. Today we spend just 4.6% of GDP—minus purely operational war costs, 3.8%. That is, 66% of the traditional peacetime outlays. We have been, and we are, steadily disarming even as we are at war.
Hmm... I'll concede Helprin's point about fading contributions from allies from Western Europe -- but not elsewhere. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that if a sober analyst took into account geography, purchasing power parity, off-budget outlays, conscription, and actual military readiness, the argument in favor of moderated defense spending becomes stronger and not weaker. When the closest great power rival to the United States has difficulties supplying an anti-piracy flotilla, I think it's safe to say that the gap in capabilities is not going to shrink all that dramatically anytime soon.
More, importantly, it's not the same threat environment as the Cold War. If the Wall Street Journal is going to recycle the same tired argument about going back to Cold War era defense spending, then I'll just cut and paste what I said the first time this argument was made:
Terrorism and piracy are certainly security concerns -- but they don't compare to the Cold War. A nuclear Iran is a major regional headache, but it's not the Cold War. A generation from now, maybe China poses as serious a threat as the Cold War Soviet Union. Maybe. That's a generation away, however....
I'm about to say something that might be controversial for people under the age of 25, but here goes. You know the threats posed to the United States by a rising China, a nuclear Iran, terrorists and piracy? You could put all of them together and they don't equal the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And until I see another hostile country in the world that poses a military threat in Europe, the Middle East and Asia at the same time, I'm thinking that current defense spending should be lower than Cold War levels by a fair amount.
The "we're-not-spending-enough-on-defense" argument reminds me that I'd like to see the foreign policy community make some New Year's resolutions. To be specific, there are arguments and memes that commentators have made over the past year that I'd like to see less of in 2011. More about this later.
Am I missing anything?
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One of my guilty pleasures is Ana Marie Cox's Twitter feed, and based on what I'm reading there, there's apparently some hearings going on down in Washington about repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy with respect to homosexuals serving in the military. The House has already voted to repeal; it's up to the Senate now. The Defense Department report seems pretty through and clear that, in the end, it's a repeal that should take place as soon as possible.
Senator John McCain, who earlier in the decade voiced cautious support for the repeal of DADT, is now
digging deeper into his bunker expressing serious reservations about any change in the policy. He wants the soldiers polled directly (though that's kinda what the DoD report already did) and wants their opinions to dictate the policy change (which kinda contradicts the 200+ year traditions of civilian control of the military and, you know, the chain of command).
In doing so, McCain seems to be undercutting his past statements on how and if/when to repeal DADT, as Jon Stewart demonstrates to devastating effect in the clip above. This has prompted much pop psychoanalysis about what's exactly driving John McCain's truculence.
My position, based on careful consideration of the matter, is as follows:
1) The perceptual bias in the testimony to date is focusing on the risks and costs of changing the status quo. Will unit cohesion be compromised? Will the change undermine national security during wartime? This partially misses the point: the status quo is undermining national security far more than any change. The rigorous enforcement of DADT is preventing competent and patriotic soldiers from serving their country, particularly in high-demand positions like, say, Arabic translators. It's fine to say that repealing DADT might have some costs -- but those costs have to be weighed against the costs of continuing as is. And from what I read, those costs are serious to the country and debilitating to the affected soldiers.
2) I therefore really and truly don't give a s**t why John McCain's position has shifted. I just want to know why the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services committee is throwing national security, civilian control of the military, and the hierarchical chain of command under the f***ing bus. John McCain is weakening the institution he claims to love the most. I don't care why he's doing it -- I just care that he's doing it.
That is all.
Hmmm.... which magazine should I peruse online this AM.... maybe TNR? The National Interest? Nah, I'm not in the mood for deep thinking. I'll just look at Rolling Stone, that won't take much intellectual heavy lifting.... oh, look, a profile of General McChrystal.... hmmm.... um.... holy cats.
Since everyone and their mother has their take on this
Mongolian clusterf**k imbroglio already, I'm not going to bother linking to the rest of the blogosphere. Instead, just a few measured and a few off the cuff reactions:
1. Doris Kearns Goodwin makes the case in today's New York Times that Obama doesn't have to fire McChrystal, pointing out that Union General George McClellan was far ruder to Lincoln, and yet was not fired. This is historically true, but I'm not sure it's really the best example. To put it gently, McClellan was a lousy, timid general -- by letting him stay on, Lincoln accomplished little but to prolong the war.
2. I find myself in agreement with Tom Donnelly and William Kristol:
McChrystal should not be the only one to go. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and “AfPak” czar Richard Holbrooke should likewise either submit their resignations or be fired by President Obama. Vice President Biden and his surrogates should be told to sit down and be quiet, to stop fighting policy battles in the press. The administration's "team of rivals" approach is producing only rivalry.
They're right (see also David Ignatius). McChrystal did himself no favors in the RS article, but he's hardly the only Afghan policy heavyweight to be tarnished by the essay. Eikenberry poisoned the well with his press leaks last year, and Holbrooke is, well, Holbrooke. A clean sweep might be the best move Obama could make.
3) Speaking of neoconservatives, it's worth noting that, contra Josh Rogin's take, GOP policy wonks are reacting the way you would expect a loyal opposition to react. That is to say, sure, they're making hay of the problems with the Afghan strategy, but they're also quite firm in saying that Obama should dire McChrystal. See Kristol, Eliot Cohen, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham.
This should not be terribly surprising. Neoconservatives have been pretty clear all along about civilian control of the military, and McChrystal's gaffes cut right to the heart of this issue.
4) One final point: beyond the descriptions of McChrystal and his aides acting like jackasses in Paris, the RS article was of little use. It presented a slanted portrait of COIN and it's advocates, and seemed determined to paint McChrystal in the worst light possible. As Blake Hounshell observed, it failed to note that at this stage it's impossible to evaluate the COIN strategy, because these approaches tend to have "darkest before the dawn" qualities.
What do you think?
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I spent the last two days in the great state of Alabama, giving a talk on the financial crisis and national security at the Air War College's National Security Forum. The audience consists of Air Force colonels and community leaders.
In theory, I was there to impart wisdom, but I always find that I learn more from these experiences than my audience. Now, most of what happens in Alabama stays in Alabama, but I can say I learned the following four things:
1) The rooms at the Air Force Inn on Maxwell Air Force Base are charming -- and they come equipped with clubs and golf balls for guests to practice putting.
2) It's a really big ego rush when you walk into the lecture hall and everyone stands at attention for your entrance -- until, of course, you realize that they're not standing for you, they're standing for the base commandant.
3) I would describe my audience as somewhat right of center -- so it was surprising to me that, when I gently suggested that the War on Drugs might be the most counterproductive policy in existence, there was some robust support from the audience.
4) It's going to take a lot longer for the public's anger at the financial sector to dissipate than anyone in either Washington or New York realizes.
Mark Bowden has a long profile of CENTCOM commander David Petraeus in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. There's a lot of interesting material in there, and I'm sure Tom Ricks will have many interesting things to say about it. For your humble blogger, this part stood out:
Petraeus went off to Baghdad in early February of 2007 with a mandate from the president to put counter-insurgency into practice. The surge, then, was not just an infusion of new troops. It was an infusion of new ideas. He took with him some of the scholars, military and civilian, who had helped him write the counter-insurgency manual. The assignment was a stark illustration of the difference between academia and the military. In academia you publish and subject your work to criticism and comment, and sometimes your ideas are shot down. It can be a humbling experience. In the military, you publish, and then you arm yourself for battle. If your ideas are wrong, you don’t just suffer criticism. People die (emphasis added).
[Hold on a sec... I need to write this down....important stuff.....OK, I'm good!!--ed.]
Not to quibble with Bowden too much, but the difference might have more to do with time than impact. To repeat a famous observation from John Maynard Keynes:
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.
Perhaps the difference is that the soldier has to witness firsthand the implementation of his or her ideas. The academic might very well be dead already by the time his or her ideas are in vogue.
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Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.