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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Obama's "deep cuts" in military spending largely illusory

A couple of months ago, President Obama announced 'deep cuts' in US military spending, sending signals to hopeful liberals and pessimistic conservatives alike. But, as is so frequently the case with Barack Obama's announcements, rhetorical flourishes need unpacking, and who better to open up this matter than someone who's job it is to read the fine print and tell us what the 'deep cuts' announcement actually means.

Not very much, as it turns out. Despite being the 'soft power' president, offering the hand of friendship rather than a clenched fist to the world, Brack Obama continues to pursue policies that fit right in with his Republican predecessor. 50 years and a few short months after President Eisenhower's warnings about the corrosive effects of a 'military-industrial complex', President Obama continues to fund, empower and encourage the most aggressive and militaristic elements of American society, economy and polity.

The author of the article reprinted below from a blog at Forbes magazine is:

Loren Thompson is Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of the private consultancy Source Associates. The Lexington Institute receives money from many of the nation’s leading defense contractors, and Source Associates provides technical services to companies in the industry.


Obama’s “Deep” Defense Cuts Won’t Amount To Much

Apr. 19 2011 - 9:16 am | 4,059 views

Posted by Loren Thompson

On April 13, President Obama finally got around to saying what he would do about the federal government’s huge budget deficit. Not surprisingly, one of the items in his proposed deficit-reduction package was cuts in spending on national security — $400 billion over 12 years, to be precise. Well, maybe precise is the wrong term to use here.

The White House hasn’t clarified whether it’s counting inflation, where the cuts would fall, or when. In fact, it hasn’t really said much at all beyond the big top-line number. Nonetheless, the lead in the next day’s Washington Post story described “deep cuts in military and domestic spending,” and Politico warned of “far-reaching implications” that might entail “a dramatic reduction in the U.S. military’s global footprint, size and capabilities.”

These characterizations seem a bit exaggerated. Mr. Obama’s new and improved plan for slimming down America’s national-security posture likely will entail little sacrifice for the federal government’s biggest source of discretionary spending, the Department of Defense. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of wasteful spending to be found — the Army will spend over $2 billion during the period in question just on its music bands — but the way the President has couched his proposed savings minimizes their likely impact on security (and the deficit). Let’s take a look at some of the factors mitigating what seems like a very big cut in spending.

The first and most obvious point to note is that Mr. Obama won’t even be in office during most of the period when his reductions are supposed to be realized. The factsheet distributed by the White House press office predicts the president’s security cuts would “save $400 billion by 2023,” but even if he is re-elected to a second four-year term in 2012, that would still require his successor to follow through on implementing the savings for the last seven years of a twelve-year period. Nobody today can say whether that successor will be a Democrat or a Republican, what new security challenges might arise, or how the government’s fiscal circumstances could change. What can be said for sure is that new presidents seldom feel bound by the priorities of their predecessors, and thus the Obama efficiencies are likely to be forgotten long before 2023 rolls around.

A second factor that has gotten short shrift in initial coverage of the president’s proposals is the sheer scale of planned defense spending during the period in question. The government hasn’t yet released spending plans for the last two years of the period covered by the President’s pronouncements, but it has disclosed planned defense spending of over $6 trillion during the ten years ending in 2021. Robert Ewers of Height Analytics estimated in an April 14 note that the last two years of the covered period — assuming two percent inflation annually — would raise the 12-year total to $7.5 trillion in military outlays. So if the president is expressing his aggregate security savings in then-year rather than constant dollars, which is almost certainly the case, then the $400 billion only amounts to 5.3 percent of Pentagon spending during the period. Saving one out of every twenty dollars spent from a defense budget that has seen buying power balloon by 75 percent over the past ten years doesn’t sound like a herculean task.

But the task isn’t even that hard, because a third mitigating factor in the president’s proposed cuts is that they would be derived from the government’s entire security community, not just the Department of Defense. That broader security community currently includes an annual budget of $53 billion for the Department of State and international programs, $57 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $43 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $11 billion for Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs. Each of these departments expects annual budget increases during the period in question, and there are additional intelligence outlays not reported in public documents that are funded outside the Pentagon budget. Add those to the defense budget for the period 2012-2023, and total security outlays approach a staggering $10 trillion. Thus, the $400 billion in savings that President Obama is seeking represents only about four percent of the amount the government currently proposes to spend on all security functions during his target period.

Finding an average of $33 billion in annual savings in America’s current, overgrown security apparatus is not likely to entail heavy political lifting for this president or whoever follows him. In fact, Mr. Obama’s aides were able to identify two trillion dollars in prospective savings across the entire federal government over a ten-year period during his first month in office, half of which were supposed to come just from getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But those savings didn’t materialize the way the administration planned due to congressional resistance, and that brings us to one other point about the Obama defense cuts: none of them will happen unless Congress goes along, which it probably won’t. Despite all the speculation about Tea Party deficit hawks making common cause with liberals on the other side of the aisle to cut Pentagon spending, there just isn’t much evidence Republicans are ready to slash military outlays. Party leaders like Representatives John Boehner and Paul Ryan have explicitly said they will not countenance big cuts in the military budget, regardless of what other tradeoffs have to be made.

So the bottom line on President Obama’s “deep cuts” in security spending is that many of them probably won’t happen, but even if they did the damage to America’s military posture and global presence is likely to be modest. The White House has already directed that any new cuts to defense spending be preceded by a comprehensive review of capabilities and missions, meaning that whatever budget cuts occur will be allocated to avoid harming essential functions. What’s remarkable about the proposed reductions isn’t their size, but the stubbornness with which the Obama Administration continues to resist turning the Pentagon into a bill-payer for other priorities. This isn’t the way Democratic administrations are supposed to behave when wars are ending, and it suggests much of the rhetoric about a coming defense downturn has been overdone. Preserving a strong security posture may be one area where bipartisanship still has a future.

Loren Thompson is Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of the private consultancy Source Associates. The Lexington Institute receives money from many of the nation’s leading defense contractors, and Source Associates provides technical services to companies in the industry.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Despite Obama's anouncement, America in Afghanistan to Stay

There's an old saying about the art of political smoke and mirrors: 'signal left while turning right'. Obama's Afghanistan speech last night has been hailed by some as a turning point, and in the long run it may well turn out to be. In the short term, however, very little is likely to change: the US will still have ca 70,000 troops on the ground after the 'surge' troops Obama ordered in 2009 leave. 70,000 troops is still around twice the levels Obama inherited from the Bush administration.

There's another saying: 'follow the money'. The article below does just that.

Journalist: Charles Riley
Original Post: Troops Drawdown Won't Stop Spending Machine
Type: Blog Post

June 22, 2011 — When snow starts falling in Afghanistan later this year, fewer U.S. soldiers will be on the ground, and fewer taxpayer dollars will be required to continue to finance the war.

President Obama is expected to announce Wednesday evening that a portion of the 30,000 surge troops he ordered to Afghanistan will be brought home later this year.

But the savings in the first year -- probably less than $10 billion -- won't be much to write home about, especially considering the U.S. has already run up a $443 billion tab in Afghanistan.

It's not yet clear exactly how many troops will leave the country, or when. But according to an analysis conducted by Center for a New American Security researcher Travis Sharp, if 15,000 troops were removed in fiscal year 2012, taxpayers would save $7 billion over the previous year's spending levels.

That level of savings is hard to get excited about.

"Seven billion is really quite modest," said Sharp. "If people think taking out surge troops is the answer to the Pentagon's budget problems, they have another thing coming."

In recent years, spending in Afghanistan has skyrocketed, right along with troop levels.

The United States spent $43 billion on the war in 2008, seven years after hostilities began, according to a Congressional Research Service report. This year, spending will hit $118 billion. There were 33,000 troops on the ground in 2009. Now there are 102,000.

Generally speaking, more troops mean higher costs for the military.

The bin Laden spending spree

Some researchers have estimated that each soldier on the ground in Afghanistan costs the military as much as $1 million a year. That's the top-end range.But there are other factors to consider.For the military, one of the biggest cost drivers in simple geography. Afghanistan is home to some very, very rough terrain, no ports, and little in the way of infrastructure.

"It's a landlocked country and you have to truck everything in from somewhere," said Chris Hellman, senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project, who added that supply lines are often disrupted by Afghan militants.

Fuel, for example, is shipped from Pakistan in convoys of trucks that must endure challenging terrain, a lack of decent highways, and a tricky border crossing. All that increases cost.

Another driver of cost in recent years is a vast expansion in operations and maintenance costs, which have nearly doubled between 2004 and 2008, from $42 billion to $80 billion.

And spending on war-related investments like mine-resistant trucks and base construction necessary for the unique challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan still costs billions every year.

Pentagon budget: Time to cut

Just because troops start leaving Afghanistan, those costs won't go away. And if combat forces leave, other kinds of spending might have to increase.

"We may see a shift in funding rather than a reduction," Hellman said. "We might just be moving money from combat accounts to support accounts."

Afghan security forces, for example, might get a funding boost as their duties expand. Already the United States has increased the money spent on that force from $1.3 billion in 2005 to $11.6 billion in 2011.

Hellman said U.S. taxpayers will be footing that bill for a long time. After all, the GDP of Afghanistan was only $27 billion in 2010, according to the CIA factbook.

And even the act of pulling soldiers out of the fight will cost, Sharp said, citing additional transportation and security spending necessary to complete the drawdown.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Tony Blair: New Chapter, Same Old Imperial Story

Tony Blair, interviewed on BBC Radio 4 this morning, selling the paperback of his autobiography, A Journey. It has a new chapter further to justify Western military and other interventionism in the Middle East. He gave two reasons: first, what happens "over there" affects "us" over here; secondly, the changes in the Middle east need to be comprehensive - political, economic, social - and must be "evolutionary" NOT "revolutionary". This was loosely introduced under the broad banner of "humanitarian" intervention.

Blair provided no elaboration on precisely how "over there" affects "over here", nor was he pressed to, indicating an underlying assumption in the discussion: that everywhere is a "Western" interest, and the "West" (which presumably now also includes Saudi Arabia) had better be ready and willing permanently to intervene. The second assumption was just as instructive: that Middle eastern states are of interest to the West because the latter just want to 'do good' in the former, neatly eliding very recent history not to mention the longer record of colonial rule and interference. In that regard, Blair echoes, from his perch as Middle East peace envoy, the message pumped out of the White House by President Barack Obama, and by current premier, David Cameron.

Back in 2010, USBlog noted that Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal coalition government’s foreign and national security policy team may be inexperienced, but their ideological record is not unclear: the team is made up of a mixture that may prove quite lethal in terms of overseas interventions behind a ‘renewed’ and ‘re-balanced’ ‘special relationship’ with the United States.

David Cameron has denied being a ‘neo-conservative’ in foreign policy terms; he claims to be a ‘liberal-conservative’. On those grounds, Cameron had supported the Iraq War and, in 2010, restated his commitment to that course of action.

Cameron outlined his interventionist plans at a speech at Chatham House, in January 2010. There is nothing original in his national security ‘strategy’s’ goals: he wants Britain to intervene before potential threats become actual threats: “we need to do much better at stopping wars from ever starting and that means really focussing on the causes of conflicts and then joining all that together to make sure that DfiD and the Foreign Office deliver a really tight, tied-up, progressive approach.”

In 2006, Cameron told an audience at the British-American Project that 9-11 style attacks represented a kind of “terrorism [that] cannot be appeased – it has to be defeated”, and called for increasing the size of the security services. He wanted to take elements that were best in the British neo-conservative approach (i.e., what Cameron attributes to Tony Blair’s approach) – appreciation of the scale of the terrorist threat, the centrality of “the leadership of the United States, supported by Britain… to the struggle”, the correctness of “extending freedom…[as] an essential objective of Western foreign policy”, and commitment to the use of military force, including “pre-emptive force” and for “humanitarian purposes”.

As a liberal, Cameron supports “spreading freedom and democracy,” but as a conservative he remains sceptical of “grand schemes to remake the world”. Cameron’s is a call for ‘realism’ in light of what’s happened since 2003 in Iraq and Afghanistan: greater multilateralism, exploring military and non-military options, including winning “hearts and minds”, development aid, public diplomacy and strategic communications.

At the same time as calling for multilateralism, Cameron argued that the United Nations may not always be the best vehicle for decisive international intervention; “So we may need to fashion alliances which can act faster than the machinery of formal international institutions.” This sounds suspiciously like ‘coalitions of the willing’ assembled ahead of the Iraq war.

In the struggle to defend “civilisation”, Cameron told the British-American Project that Britain would be “moral”, that its foreign policy (quoting Victorian era prime minister, WE Gladstone), “should always be inspired by a love of freedom”, and that its methods match the morality of its goals.

This may not be full-blooded neo-conservatism, hubristic before the chastening experience of Iraq. It may not be full-blooded conservatism, eschewing grand schemes and ideas on a global scale. Cameron’s views, which are now central to his coalition government, merely serve to remind us that the post-9-11 Anglo-American story was not a neo-con hijacking: it was the fusion of several tendencies that had previously been in tactical disagreement – liberal interventionism combining Gladstonian and Wilsonian morality, with a wounded (American) conservative nationalism, in a language and terminology so skilfully developed by groups of neo-cons previously known as ‘the Crazies’.

That post-9-11 fusion was institutionalised in the US by the passing of power from Republican George W. Bush to the Democratic Obama; and in Britain by its passing from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour to the Conservative-Liberal Cameron. Blair may have written a new chapter; he remains fully committed to his imperial journey.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Militarised Memorials

The post below is by Richard Jackson and is characteristically excellent. It is from his blog, the address of which is below. It is timely, of course. Britain is at war in Libya and in Afghanistan, and its military casulaties are honoured and on display in practically all aspects of life: schools, nurseries, TV shows, charitable events, and sporting occasions, most recently when Manchester United were awarded the Premier League champions trophy.

USBlog has noted numerous times the militarisation of British national life, and the great discomfort it causes those who take the views that Richard so eloquently, and sensitively, espouses. This discomfort with "military sacrifice" and "heroism" exists at all levels including at the very pinnacles of British government and state.

I've been reading Sherard Cowper-Coles's book, Cables From Kabul, which is very enlightening about the mindsets of British and American elites as a seemingly endless war rages in Afghanistan. Cowper-Coles is a loyal servant of the Crown but refers to the mission in that tragic country as "a kind of military colonialism" foisted on a country and people who have little say in in their own affairs. He also indicates the lack of "balance" and levels of deference towards the military that exist today. This makes it "awkward and unpatriotic to criticise that [military] machine..."

Managing the war machine is not easy, Cowper-Coles argues: in the Ministry of Defence, he says, top civilian officials are "treated by their military colleagues rather as second-class citizens", making it difficult to argue with military planners. In addition, even Cabinet Ministers don't know, and appear unwilling to find out, the difference between a Tornado ground attack aircraft "and a torpedo" and, therefore could not "possibly question the Chief of the Defence Staff on this".

Memorial Day 2011

I would attend Memorial Day services if…

I would attend Memorial Day services if the churches were not festooned with military flags and the emblems of war and conquest. It would be more appropriate to have flags of peace and pictures of war’s pity and grief so the congregation might be better reminded of its brutality and the colossal destruction and waste of human life war has always caused.

I would attend Memorial Day services if they laid wreaths of the white poppies of peace rather than the red poppies of the Legion. It seems to me that the red poppies have lost their original meaning as remembrance for the unspeakable destruction of human life and the commitment to ensuring ‘never again’; instead, they valorize the heroic dead, plaster over the waste of human life, and make the call to sacrifice a noble gesture. The white poppies, in contrast, symbolize an explicit commitment to finding alternatives to ritual slaughter and the remembrance of all the victims of war, soldier and civilian alike.

I would attend Memorial Day services if they said prayers for all the victims of war, and not just the soldiers sent to kill. It seems obscene to me to pray solely for those who rained down death on their fellow human beings, and not for the countless, nameless, innocent people they killed in the name of patriotism, militarism, imperialism.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the clergy prayed for the forgiveness of the massacres, the unlawful killings, the torture, the brutality and the crimes committed by our own soldiers acting in our name. It is a willful deception to pretend that our soldiers have not committed grievous crimes against humanity, that they have not fought in wars of aggression and imperialism to enslave others and pursue our own material gain. Some prayers for forgiveness for this long history of brutality would seem to be in order when we remember war.

I would attend Memorial Day services if prayers were prayed against the venal, cowardly, vainglorious politicians who are so willing to spill the blood of fellow humans so freely, who hunger for the glory of military victory, who believe that national identity requires an enemy to defeat and humiliate, and who lack the intelligence, imagination and moral courage to find a non-violent solution to their conflicts. Politicians are the slave-owners of previous centuries, prisoners of a brutish bygone era, moral luddites who refuse to believe in the ethical progress on plain view before their eyes. To them, the discrediting of eugenics, the establishment of universal human rights, women’s emancipation, and the growth of global environmental responsibility are as nothing; they still see the orgy of organized killing as a necessary response to human conflict – as if slavery could be an alternative to multiculturalism. They are the enemies of humanity, a demonic force to be resisted, dangerous lunatics.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the priests and clergy took the opportunity to preach a message of peace and non-violence: if they spoke of Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek, to love your enemy, and to pray for those that persecute you; if they recounted how Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and how he was called the Prince of Peace; how in his first sermon, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’; how Christians are commanded to work towards the coming of God’s kingdom when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and no one will study war anymore. The Jesus I read about in the Gospels would never shoot someone in the face or drop a bomb on their house, tearing the bodies of children into pieces. He would never light someone on fire with a flame-thrower to hear their flesh bubble and burn in the heat. The Jesus I read about would lay down his life, rather than call down his army, even when he was unjustly persecuted by an occupying imperial power.

I would attend Memorial Day services if they spoke the truth about why we sent our best young men to war, instead of telling blatant lies about how they fought for our liberty, how they died so we might be enjoy democracy. More often than not, they were sacrificed on the altar of imperialism and greed or the venal stupidity of politicians. Few soldiers I know join to fight for country or patriotism; they most often fight instead for bread, opportunity denied them through unjust social structures, or their mates.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the clergy made it clear that according to Christian doctrine, war is evil, and that the Just War doctrine used to legitimize military force today was written by clergymen, not by Jesus Christ, and that it has little basis in scripture. The clergy need to make it clear that this man-made doctrine of Just War is based on the proposition that war is evil, even though sometimes it may be a greater evil not to go to war – but that the most important point is that war can never be good; it is inherently and irrevocably evil. This point has never been made in any Remembrance Day service I have ever attended or seen.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the clergy followed Christ’s example and refused to serve in the military, refused to bless militarized patriotism, prayed for our enemies instead, and if the church made clear its first loyalty to God’s kingdom of peace and justice.

I would attend Memorial Day services if such rituals were not part of the social infrastructure of military propaganda that primes people to accept violence as normal and makes war likely again.