- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Singapore no fairweather friend

What was published of my exchange with Arnaud de Borchgrave, in his article “Singaporean leader warns of Iraq crisis” (Commentary, Feb. 15), focused more on the past and the errors that could have been avoided instead of the future. That gave an incomplete picture of my views.

The Singapore government (of which I am a member) supported President Bush when he ordered the attack on Afghanistan after September 11. We also supported him when he ordered the invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein.

Singapore is not a fair-weather friend. Although things have since gone awry, we continue to support Mr. Bush’s efforts to redeem the situation. The president did not take the politically easier option in the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report. Instead, in the face of congressional opposition, he ordered a surge of 30,000 troops led by Gen. David Petraeus in 2007.

Gen. Petraeus has improved the security situation significantly. The final judgment on the decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam cannot be made for many more years. The costs of a withdrawal from Iraq without stabilizing the country will be grave.


Minister mentor


Resources for national security

James Jay Carafano’s argument for a floor for U.S. defense spending (“In defense of defense spending,” Commentary, Thursday) tied to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) is fundamentally flawed. His comparison of the cost of arming a high-tech military with the modern high-tech living room proves it. Does every American household really need a plasma screen and a Wii, or does everyone simply want these expensive gadgets?

The key issue is whether our spending is meeting our strategic national security needs. In truth, whether we spend more or less on defense than the rest of the world, or more or less than we did during the Cold War, is irrelevant.

Four percent of GDP is certainly affordable and sustainable, as is 5 percent, 6 percent, 7 percent or more. The question is not whether we can spend that much, but whether we need to do so.

Defense spending is not like charitable giving. We should be under no ethical obligation to give until it hurts when there is no evidence of compelling need.

At this time, we simply do not need to set a floor for defense spending. The kinds of likely threats we face do not require investment in expensive high-tech weapons platforms designed to combat peer or near peer competitors.

The biggest challenge we face militarily comes from the adoption of a global strategy of regime change and occupation. The dirty little secret about this approach is that it is not a strategy that can be implemented simply with more money.

It will take more personnel. If we are serious about this approach, we need to be talking about a military draft, not a floor for defense spending. We are beginning to reach the natural limits of what we can demand of the all-volunteer military, regardless of the number of dollars thrown at the problem.

Most important, an obsession with a floor for defense spending neglects the urgent need to invest in the other tools of American statesmanship, including diplomacy and foreign aid. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has argued in favor of an increase in funding for “soft power” initiatives, including the Department of State.

The key question is not whether we can afford the current defense budget but whether this level of spending is, in fact, the best allocation of national security resources.

It isn’t.


Senior fellow

American Security Project


Drilling in the Arctic

Regarding oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Rosemary M. Hamill (“Oil realities,” Letters, Saturday) says: “We would have been fools to burn when the price was $10 a barrel.” So when would we not be fools to use it? No doubt, Miss Hamill’s response would be “never.”

Though putting the country on an energy diet is desirable, refusing to use our known and extensive energy resources makes about as much sense as refusing to eat today because you will only be hungry again tomorrow.



Rosemary M. Hamill misrepresents Richard W. Rahn’s point that current energy costs are caused by governmental restrictions artificially limiting energy supplies while worldwide demand is exploding (“Washingtonomics,” Commentary, Feb. 12). Mr. Rahn’s observations are hardly controversial merely Economics 101. Arctic drilling is just one example Mr. Rahn provides of such pernicious policies.

Miss Hamill’s statement that energy needs “can’t be solved on the supply side” is like a declaration that nutritional needs can’t be solved by food but should be addressed solely through dieting and fasting.

“Better fuel economy, transit and walkable communities” may make sense for a few, but such choices should be made voluntarily by people who understand the unique tradeoffs they face and should not be imposed coercively by politically motivated politicians and turf-building bureaucrats pursuing their own dubious interests. Government meddling is the problem, not the solution.


Great Falls

Medicare funding

Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s Friday Op-Ed column, “Medicare and entitlements,” portrays a bleak future for Medicare Part A. Mr. Hensarling tells how every attempt by the president to reform Medicare or Social Security is proclaimed “dead on arrival” by Congress.

The funding problems with Medicare are current, not way out in the future. Medicare Part A costs exceeded their cash income by $6 billion in 2007. The column says the Medicare Part A trust fund is scheduled to be exhausted in 2019.

The Medicare Part A trust fund, like the Social Security trust fund, consists of special-issue notes that are held in the national debt. These notes must be redeemed using the current budget. Medicare Part A is not self-supporting.

Social Security surplus income can fully cover the Medicare Part A shortfall until 2015. After 2015, Medicare Part A requires supplemental funding from the then current budget. Social Security will have no surplus income after 2017, and it will then require supplemental funding from the current budget. The statements that Medicare Part A and Social Security are solvent until their trust funds are depleted is a myth. The trust funds draw from current budget.



Military justice

Bruce Fein’s otherwise insightful column “Degraded justice” (Commentary, yesterday) erred in invoking the maxim that military justice is to justice as military music is to music. Mr. Fein changes the wording of the axiom by saying that “military justice is to civilian justice what military music is to Beethoven.” His addition of “civilian” and substitution of “Beethoven” for “music” are innovations but do not alter the meaning of the saying, which is attributed variously to Georges Clemenceau and Groucho Marx.

Military commissions whether those established by President Bush in 2001 or those authorized by Congress in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 are emphatically not exemplars of military justice, and conflating them with the military justice system used to prosecute our own personnel does a serious disservice to the courts-martial Congress created in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Let’s not confuse the two.



National Institute of Military Justice


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