Defense Cuts: Campaign Talk or a Serious Issue?
It’s getting increasingly difficult to understand the importance Gov Romney assigns to foreign policy and the troops who might be called to implement it.
While Gov. Romney has repeatedly raised the issue of the upcoming defense cuts since he officially became the GOP candidate two weeks ago, he raised them in terms of jobs, rather than foreign or defense policy. “Cutting the defense budget cuts jobs” his ads in Ohio and Virginia claim, and last week in Florida he accused President Obama of cutting the defense budget by a trillion dollars. However in response to a question as to why he chose to forgo any mention of our deployed troops fighting in Afghanistan during his convention speech, he told the FOX News interviewer “When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list. You talk about the things that you think are important.”
While most Americans feel supporting the troops is one of patriotism and respect and not a campaign issue, perhaps it’s time to take an independent look at the proposed defense budget cuts and whether or not American security is indeed compromised:
This year’s defense budget is U.S. $ 716 billion, including Afghan-Iraq costs, but excluding Veterans Affairs:
- Army $ 245 billion, 562,000 active duty
- Air Force $ 170 billion, 329,000
- Navy $ 121 billion, 321,000
- Marine Corps $ 31 billion, 200,000
(Note the Marines and Army are ordered to reduce troop strength by 20,000 & 80,000 respectively by 2014; most of those discharged will be their experienced combat veterans)
The DoD budget exceeds the defense budget of the next 17 countries combined, while individually the Navy and Air Force each maintain a huge global superiority; the Navy’s battle tonnage exceeding the battle tonnage of the next 13 countries combined.
It should be noted that even as the GOP’s and Super-PAC’s campaign advertising castigates Obama for the US debt increases and budget deficits, the GOP-led House added $ 100 billion the DoD did not request to 2013’s proposed defense budget.
2-Sesquestration: The plan agreed by GOP-Dems in the recent debt-increase negotiations whereby the defense budget would be automatically cut if a budget deal could not be realized.
With the GOP’s Tea Party faction refusing Rep John Boehner’s pleas to negotiate, sesquestration was negotiated, supported, and voted by VP candidate Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee in the Budget Control Act. For Ryan to claim as he did last week that he “will never cut the defense budget” is deliberately incorrect, and Romney’s comment today on “Meet the Press” that both the GOP and Obama erred in sesquestration is interesting in view of his VP-candidate having worked hard to pass it.
However the mandated sesquestration cuts do not take effect immediately, but are implemented over a 10-year period – and at the end of the 10 years, the DoD budget still stands at 2006’s (at the time) all-time defense-budget high.
For Gov. Romney to claim the cuts are “gutting America’s defense” is simple campaign hype; the Pentagon clearly has sufficient funding to defend the United States. Instead of dollars, perhaps the most important question should instead be: Who will be America’s enemies in the next decade? Against what sort of enemy should the Pentagon most effectively prepare?
Unconventional Enemies & Unconventional Wars
It won’t be the Russians invading Poland, or massed Chinese in quilted uniforms outside the Chosin Reservoir; the next decade will bring nasty little conflicts against warlords, stateless al-Qada-like groups, and extremist mullahs. While rogue states like Iran and N. Korea make the news with belligerent statements, the problems will come from failed and failing states – some of which are important crude oil suppliers to America:
- Sub-Sahara Africa
- West & East Africa
These aren’t the conventional Cold-War threats Romney sees, instead these are threats caused by a multitude of socio-economic forces for which military prowess and firepower is counterproductive; threats such as:
- Religious Extremism
- Water Stress
- Youth Bulge
- Urban Stress
- Warlords: drugs, gangs
These threats do affect the United States, as we’ve learned painfully from to 9/11 to yesterday’s news:
Somalia: yesterday Somali pirates fired on an Italian Navy helicopter on a European Union anti-piracy patrol off the east coast of Somalia, slightly injuring a pilot. Ships ranging from oil tankers to merchant ships have been hijacked for ransom, with piracy incidents increasing worldwide.
Nigeria: A 4th Nigerian airline ceased operations Friday after months of non-payment of salaries, adding to the domestic economic chaos of yet another failing government. Nigeria is America’s # 5 crude oil supplier.
These aren’t issues resolved by shoveling more money into firepower and armored vehicles – fighter jets don’t convince villagers that America brings a better way of life, but schools, clinics, and a stable government does. “It’s very simple,” Col Dale Alford, currently the Marine liaison at Council for Foreign Relations, once explained “You want to make them choose us.”
Last July Gen James Amos, Commandant – USMC, explained from where he sees threats to the US arising:
“Within these exploding populations (in the Littorals) is a cataclysmic collision of poverty and the demographic of young males who are not going to have a job, which leads to political or criminal extremism. There will be places where clean, potable water will be as valuable as a gallon of fuel.
I believe the world will be full of these nasty, difficult, unclear conflicts that are energized by poverty, by stateless borders and by the proliferation of state-like weapons in the hands of organizations that are not states. These places will be the Marine Corps’ back yard for the next two decades. That’s where we’re going to do our business.”
It’s the adroit use of foreign aid, alliances, training programs, and advisors – a military that relies more on American boots-on-the-ground training the local constabulary instead of another $ 15 billion aircraft carrier sitting 1,000 miles off the coast that will keep America secure in the coming years – priceless.
Andrew Lubin, a member of Operation Free, is a defense analyst and author with 14 embeds into Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Beirut with US Marines. He writes for Leatherneck, The Gazette, and Janes Defense Weekly, and is the author of the award-winning book “Charlie Battery; A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq.” www.andrewlubin.com