- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

In 1938, a British backbencher published a book titled “While England Slept.” The book was notable for its stinging criticism of Britain’s Conservative Party government; and, remarkably, it was written by a fellow Conservative Party member. Less surprising, given his track record as an author, soldier, analyst and leader, the member’s name was Winston Churchill.

Churchill was dismayed and alarmed by his government’s failure to arm Britain in the face of an unprecedented Nazi German arms buildup. Alone, he warned of the threat posed by a revanchist, Nazi-led Germany, primed and ready for war.

There is today no comparable nation-state preparing to challenge America and the Free World. Still, the military threat today is equally real and dangerous - and growing. The threat today comes from a transnational network of terrorists and extremists intent on destroying nation-states and destabilizing the world.

As the U.S. Army explained in its “2008 Posture Statement to Congress,” “Persistent conflict and change characterize the strategic environment. … Expect a future of protracted confrontation among state, nonstate, and individual actors who will use violence to achieve political, religious, and other ideological ends. … Highly adaptive and intelligent adversaries [will] exploit technology, information, and cultural differences to threaten U.S. interests.”

Unfortunately for Americans high on “change,” and eager to take a holiday from history, this dangerous situation is not about to change anytime soon. To the contrary: all indications are that this terrorist threat will intensify in the years and decades to come. Terrorist states like Iran, Syria and North Korea will ensure that is the case, as will third-rate dictators like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

And the world’s worsening economic crisis will exacerbate this problem by giving extremists new rationales for their failures and new excuses for violence.

Yet, in the face of this growing threat - and even as it dramatically increases domestic social spending in a so-called stimulus package - the Obama administration is ordering the Defense Department to significantly scale back weapons procurement modernization.

Indeed, published press accounts report that the U.S. military has been instructed to reduce its budget request by more than $50 billion. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, has explained, this necessarily means that weapons procurement modernization will suffer the budget ax. Personnel costs, after all, are fixed and growing, and current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan must continue to be funded. That leaves only one area, essentially, to cut: weapons procurement modernization.

“The one thing we have known for many months is that the spigot of defense spending that opened on Sept. 11 is closing,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress last month. “With two major campaigns ongoing, the economic crisis and resulting budget pressures will force hard choices on this department.”

But why should the Defense Department be the only government agency asked to cut spending? Does this make sense, especially at a time of war?

Military Requirements: Antiquated Army combat vehicles, which use 1970s-era industrial-age design technology, are being blown to smithereens in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army requires new vehicles designed for this new information age and this new era of asymmetric warfare.

Air Force planes perform crucial reconnaissance and surveillance missions in theater. But these aircraft are overused and overtaxed; they sometimes fall, quite literally, out of the sky due to age and duress. (This happened, for instance, on Nov. 2, 2007, during a routine F-15 training mission over Missouri.) These aircraft, too, need to be modernized and replaced.

The Navy, moreover, simply doesn’t have enough ships - and enough modern ships for asymmetric littoral combat - to meet all of its operational-mission requirements. If the absence of more robust naval modernization, warns analyst Seth Cropsey in the Weekly Standard (Jan. 26), the Navy will have “a combat fleet of a size we haven’t seen since 1911.”

America’s military leaders have been disturbingly quiescent about all this. One hopes that, behind closed doors, they are candidly explaining the very real equipment modernization requirements that bedevil each of the military services.

Public Dialogue: U.S. military leaders must speak publicly about their joint service requirements. Yes, civilian control of the military is an important foundational element of American democracy; but so, too, is an informed and educated citizenry.

Policymakers and the public need to be educated about U.S. military requirements so they can make wise and informed decisions. Policymakers and the public can’t make wise and informed decisions, however, if U.S. military leaders simply defer publicly to civilian political appointees and elected officials.

A public dialogue and debate is urgently needed and constitutionally demanded. Unfortunately, Pentagon officials and military leaders have shown little willingness to engage the public dialogue.

“We are going to be facing a constrained budget. That is the economic reality of the times we are living in,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters early last month. “This department is well aware of the fact that times are tough, and we are prepared to do the belt-tightening that is required and responsible of us.”

But not all of us. Domestic social spending just got a dramatic cash infusion of several hundred billion dollars. The only government agencies being asked to tighten their belts, it seems, are the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, which are bearing the brunt of the burden in this long war.

The reality is that, even without Iraq and Afghanistan, military requirements are increasing, not decreasing. Indeed, the Army today has 254,000 soldiers forward-deployed in nearly 80 countries. Yet, virtually alone among government agencies, the military is asked to do more with less.

Economic Illogic: The economic logic here also is backwards. Historians and economists acknowledge that it was World War II spending (coupled with better monetary policy), and not the New Deal, which ended the Great Depression and restored America’s economic engine. Today, America is at a similar economic crossroads. That’s why Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein and Bush administration economist Lawrence B. Lindsey called for an economic stimulus package that included increased defense spending.

According to the Heritage Foundation, America today spends about 4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense versus a high of 34 percent during World War II. Since the end of the Cold War, reports Heritage, America has spent twice as much on mandatory entitlement programs - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - it has on defense. Yet, the military faces - and apparently is accepting - a “constrained budget.”

The question now is: Who is the Winston Churchill of our time? Who is the member of the president’s own party, in Congress, who will call him to task for his unconscionable and dangerous gutting of the defense budget?

John R. Guardiano is a writer based in Arlington. He served as a Marine in Iraq in 2003.


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