Butter Not Guns for the Next Four Years?



The Wall Street Journal had an interesting OpEd yesterday sort of dove tailing with Colin's story from Friday that broke the news of Democratic party Brahman Barney Frank's call for a 25 percent cut in defense spending.

Now, Frank is not a DoD budget decisionmaker, but his views tend to jibe closely with the liberal leadership of the House and even some in the Senate.

The Journal analyzed what Obama and his supporters have said about what they'd do with defense budgets, so it's worth a close read for a worst case scenario.

We've been fighting two wars, straining people and equipment. Weapons have generally become more complex and expensive. President Clinton's "procurement holiday" punted the modernization problems to the present. And even after the Bush buildup, defense spending amounts to just 4% of gross domestic product. By contrast, at the nadir of Cold War defense spending under Jimmy Carter, the figure was 4.7%.

All this should argue for at least a modest recapitalization effort by an Obama administration, assuming it really believes a strong military is "necessary to sustain peace." A study by the Heritage Foundation makes the case that defense spending should rise to close to $800 billion over the next four years in order to stick to the 4% GDP benchmark. That's unrealistic in light of the financial crisis. But holding the line at current levels is doable -- and necessary.

But what if a President Obama doesn't actually believe in the importance of a strong military to keep the peace? Or has an attenuated idea of what qualifies as a "strong" military? Or considers military strength a luxury at a moment of financial crisis? Or thinks now is the moment to smash the Pentagon piggy bank to fund a second Great Society?

Does anyone really know where Mr. Obama's instincts lie? During the third debate, he cited former Marine Gen. James Jones as a member of his wise man's circle -- which was reassuring but odd, given that the general made a point of appearing at a McCain campaign event simply to distance himself from the Democratic candidate.

The Obama campaign has also produced a lengthy defense blueprint on its Web site. It reads more like a social manifesto, promising to "improve transition services," "make mental health a priority," and end "don't-ask, don't-tell." All very well, except the document is notably vague on naming the kinds of weapons systems Mr. Obama would actually support.

And so the question remains: If elected, which Obama do we get? The nuanced centrist or the man from Ben and Jerry's?

From the writing I'm seeing on the wall, we can basically forget end-strength increases. There's no political capital in increasing the size of the military, but there's plenty of bacon in hardware.

During an interview with defense reporters in Washington earlier this month, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig -- a top Obama defense advisor -- talked to us about "revitalizing" America's "overstretched" military, then went on to highlight Obama's commitment to veterans care, traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

"It's just an example of trying to do more for our troops and create stronger incentives for recruitment," Danzig said.

What about more guns, ammo and tanks? I know a bunch of Marines and Soldiers who want that more than a little extra money for college classes.

Danzig went on to talk about how the acquisition system is broken (who hasn't said that?) and that cost overruns on programs have gone ballistic (tell me something else I don't already know)...

"We need to come to grips with the affordibility and the requirements process," Danzig said. "The requirements need to be more appropriately fashioned not only to the desire to buy the most modern program, but also to" meet realistic costs.

"We have a strong view that national missile defense is a rewarding area that should be invested in," Danzig added. "It's an area that demands scrutiny. It should be used to the extent that it works but used with other checks and balances."

"The future combat system in the Army is a system that's been criticized ... and needs to be looked at closely," he added. "With our ship building system it's just clear that we're not building enough. ... The shipbuilding program doesn't work. It doesn't add up."

Danzig said Obama supports a 65K increase in Army end strength and a 27K bump in Marines -- but Obama ain't Congress.

Here's more on hardware:

"The new technologies represent extraordinary capabilities -- UAVs and robotics -- we need to invest in that," Danzig said. "We need to recognize that there are a set of risks in cyber warfare that are now very intense."

On defense spending:

"I don't see defense spending declining in the first years of an Obama administration. There are a set of demands there that are very important to our national well being," Danzig said.

Then he went on to explain how out of balance it was that the U.S. spends $10 billion on national missile defense and less than $1 billion trying to control loose nukes.

"Is that the right proportion for what you want in your defense budget?" Danzig asked. "And look how you could increase the one by 50 percent if you reduce the other by 5 percent. We need to achieve a better balance [between soft-power spending and hard-power spending] and I think that can be done within the context of the DoD top line."

So let's see, more money for the corrupt failure of an effort to pad the pockets of Russian nuke warehouse guards at the expense of a missile interceptor that is our only line of defense against a nuclear warhead lobbed at Los Angeles? Soft power worked great against al Qaeda didn't it?

So let's get the conversation going here. Where will a swollen Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster-proof Dem majority in the Senate PLUS a Democratic president take us in terms of defense spending, programs and force posture?

-- Christian

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