Tag: Robert Gates

This vote really matters!

Today the Senate voted to cap the Air Force’s purchases of the F-22 at 187 planes by stripping the funding for further purchases of the plane from the Defense budget. This is a very significant vote for several reasons:

1. Its a big political win for the President. Obama threatened to veto a defense bill. That just Does Not Happen–no one vetoes money for DoD.

2. This is the first major cut to a major weapons system in recent memory. The military industrial complex is mighty powerful, and a vast range of interests lined up to defend the F-22, led by its manufacturer and the congressional delegations of many of the states where significant parts of the plane are made. Leading supporter of the F-22 in the Senate? Saxbe Chambliss, R-GA. The F-22 is assembled in Georgia. The final vote tally shows bi-partisan support for killing the plane. It also shows bi-partisan support for keeping the plane. This spending is all about pork, and little about ideology.

3. It is a major victory for the prospect of restoring some sanity to the defense budget. As Spencer Ackerman points out, lose here and Gates and Obama have no chance to reign in the defense budget. The win here brings the Defense budget back to reality (if only a little bit, but its a start). Gates powerfully made the point that DoD needs that money more urgently elsewhere. Lest we forget, there are still 2 wars going on, with troops who need stuff to fight those wars. The F-22 has yet to see any role in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

4. It offers some hope to procurement reform at DoD. Much of the modern military–both operationally and administratively–is organized around the purchase of major weapons systems. This works if you have a great weapons system, but is incredibly inefficient, wasteful, and leaves you with the Army you’ve got– pace Rumsfeld, not the one you wish you had. One of the reasons we don’t have the military we wish we had is all of the support, doctrinally, institutionally, culturally, and financially for these weapons systems. The fighter jocks of the Air Force really want the F-22. They have resisted UAVs like Predator and Reaper and ugly Close Air Support planes like the A-10. And yet, these have been among the most useful and most in demand throughout the wars we’re actually fighting. The F-22? Not so much.

5. Gates went to the mattress on this one, with the full support of the President, and he won. He’s going to be in a commanding position to institute further reforms at the Pentagon. Its rather ironic, don’t ya think, just a little ironic, I really do think, that Rumsfeld came in determined to reform the Pentagon, and, arguably, left much of it in worse shape than when he arrived while Gates, called in to clean up the mess, so to speak, and then retained by an administration of a different political party which ran in opposition to the war Gates, as SecDef, was overseeing, manages to gain the bureaucratic and political strength to make reforms where it matters. The money. All about the Benjamins, that.

So, yeah, a big deal today in the Senate.

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The War that Matters

There is a massive fight simmering just below the surface here in DC, one that looks to get really ugly, really quick, and with major long-term consequences for national politics. No, its not the pending SCOTUS confirmation fight, but the battle over the Pentagon budget. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has taken on one of the most powerful and entrenched political forces in Washington, the Defense spending lobby, and as Eisenhower had warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” How right he was, and its taken a SecDef as powerful as Gates to launch the fight to bring this to the foreground.

The spark for this conflagration was Gates “reform budget” that reallocated defense spending. His proposal to cut or cap certain weapons systems while promoting others has rankled the Services, and their ideas of how they ought to provide for the common defense. Indeed, the US military is now about to embark on the one war it is most prepared to fight–the war for budget share and major weapons systems. Ten years ago, a fantastic little book described the DoD’s attitude toward the budget process as This War Really Matters, and its the fight that the Services, Contractors, and Congress are best prepared to wage.

The issues of the day involve the decision to shift money from legacy weapons systems designed to fight a “peer competitor” force (was USSR, now China conveniently fills that role) with weapons better suited for counterinsurgency operations, ie the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I trace part of this struggle to the historical evolution of an overlapping, unclear, and muddled command structure of today’s US Military establishment. In World War II, the fights between Army and Navy were epic, leading to two separate theater commanders in the Pacific (MacArthur and Nimitz) fighting, essentially, two separate wars against Japan. The National Security Act of 1947 unified the services under a civilian secretary, creating DoD. However, the Secretary was initially weak and the Services were strong, leading to several subsequent reforms. The most significant was the Goldwater-Nichols Act, giving us the structure we have today. As a result of Goldwater-Nichols, there are two separate structures of authority in the US military. Operationally, the chain of command passes from the President through the Secretary of Defense, and directly to the Combatant Commander who has complete and total command over all units in his theater (or functional area). However, for procurement, training, and equipping the force, authority passes from the Secretary to the Service Secretary and Chief of Staff of the uniformed service, who determine what the services should buy and how they will use it. Thus, the services sense of identity and mission have a huge role in procurement. Thus, combatant commanders must go to war with the army/navy/air force they have, not the one they would like.

Gates seeks to change this, privileging the needs of current combat operations over long-term service identity. Consider the most high profile of these cases in the Air Force. The AF has long seen strategic bombing and air to air combat as its core missions, and has thus pushed for a 5th generation air superiority fighter and new bomber. Gates wants to cut the future bomber and cap the F-22, instead buying more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and UAV’s. Indeed, some have speculated that the F-22 is the last manned fighter plane of its kind, with the future of air-war employing UAVs in combat roles. Current operations in the CENTCOM theater bear this out. The F-22 has not been used at all in either 6+ year long war, while the demand for UAV’s has skyrocketed, and they have become some of the most significant (if not controversial) weapons platforms in use. But, what is a modern US Air Force without fighter pilots?

Now the services and Congress are notorious for thwarting Pentagon budgeting plans. Congress sees the DoD budget as an unchallenged lard-fest, where government subsidies can be thrown to companies in a local district. Contractors facilitate this by actively distributing weapons system production in key Congressional districts, gaining allies for particular programs on the Hill. The Services have long had back-channels to lobby Congress to save particular weapons systems or insert new procurement that the Administration did not request. Gates seeks to end this practice.

The stakes are high. Hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake. Contracts, careers, and jobs are on the line. And, somewhere in there, the idea of American National Security almost matters. There will be principled arguments on both sides about the legitimate security needs of the United States. There will be a detailed discussion of the trade-offs between a counter-insurgency focused force vs. a peer competitor force. However, these principled and well reasoned arguments will probably be in the minority. Instead, we’ll see a lot more poorly reasoned arguments (I’ll let Ricks call it dumb) and faux-grandstanding about the rising China threat designed to produce only one logical conclusion: The Army/Air Force/Navy absolutely must must have the FCS/F-22/DDG-1000 to counter the “real” threats of the future.

Be wary of such arguments. Beneath all the posturing, beneath the future threats, dire warnings, and beneath the demands of 21st century warfare are good old fashion pork-barrel politics, of who gets what from whom: the most lucrative contracts in all the Federal Budget, supplying major weapons systems to the DoD.

If Gates can win this war, it will be as significant to the overall conduct of US National Security policy as operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, This War Really Matters.

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Scribbles in My Notebook…

I have a mental queue of about 3 or 5 post that I’ve been meaning to get up in the past couple of days, but the demands of a new baby in the house are leaving me sleep deprived and somehow unable to find time to construct the posts I want to write (go figure…). So, in lieu of that, a couple of scribbles from my mental notebook that merit your attention and our discussion.

–SecDef Gates unveiled his defense budget. This could be one the most significant policy undertakings of the Obama administration and lead to some real, meaningful reforms with profound consequences on both domestic and international politics. This issue is being covered quite well elsewhere, so I will only give a couple of quick points that I hope you keep in mind.

Stop talking about this as budget cuts. Its not. It still represents an overall increase in US defense spending. Rather, its a reallocation of funds and priorities, away from some things and toward other things.

This shows how backasswards defense policy is. The vehicle for a major reorientation of defense policy is the budget. Not a policy document, not a strategic review, but procurement. Procurement and budgets drive defense policy more than ‘policy’ does, in that going to war with the military you have, not the one you want is the product of weapons requirements from 20 years ago. The F-22, the fighter jet at the center of all this, originated with a set of requirements in the late 1980’s during the cold war. Sure, they’ve updated and reaffirmed a new set of requirements to keep the plane alive. But, current AF strategy and policy discussions surrounding this plane are still captive to budget cycles from a decade ago.

I like the go-for-broke strategy that Gates is employing, as it makes it more likely, I think, to overcome Congressional opposition to any weapons system cuts. He’s shown with his comments that he’s ready to take on the defense spending as jobs argument head on.

Check out this story on how closely the US is studying Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah and how that discussion is serving as a proxy for the larger debate on the future shape of the US military.

–Obama was in Europe, had a major NATO summit, and called for nuclear disarmament. Foolish critics called him naive. Reagan also wanted disarmament, he offered to give up all our nuclear weapons if the Soviets would do the same. Obama’s going to try again to get the CTBT ratified. I think these are important steps. Proliferation is one of those global, multilateral problems that no one country can address alone. Reaching any nuclear deal ultimately runs into the fundamental bargain of the NPT that leaves some states nuclear and others not. That bargain requires the nuclear states to work towards disarmament. Obama’s call for nuclear arms reduction gives him major cred in seeking further arms control agreements with new and potential nuclear powers, as he can now claim with some credibility that he is interested in matching the disarmament that he is asking others to undertake.

–North Korea launched a missile / satellite that failed miserably, crashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The interesting question, I think, is how this impacts their credibility–they continually threaten war, testing, and proliferation, but then continually fail when they try to make good. And yet, within the DPRK, this is a reaffirmation of North Korean resistance and US surrender. To the rest of the world, well, I don’t think it helps North Korea make any friends.

Obama invoked the UNSC, which was nice, but (predictably?), no one could agree on anything. Russia and China were not happy with the test, but it seems there’s a difference between not liking the test and allowing the SC to sanction a state for violation of a resolution. We shall see how much more fun this makes Stephen Bosworth’s job.

–Pirates take a US cargo ship. Charli has that covered, but as I mentioned to a couple of students we’re working with on a Pirate project this summer, Now things might start to get interesting. Which is to say, we’ll see if the US changes its tune at all when US interests / persons / items are at risk.

–Opening day for baseball, lets go Cleveland!!!

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Analyzing Obama’s National Security Team: change you can believe in?

Today Obama formally announced the core of his National Security team: Clinton at State, Gen. Jones as SAPNSA, and Gates to remain at DoD. It’s a team of experienced insiders, centrists, pragmatists, and even Republicans. Some have asked the obvious question: Is this Change you can Believe in for national security and foreign policy?

The selection of Jones is particularly interesting. He breaks a recent trend in the National Security Advisor position as a close policy associate of the President. Condi once said that her top job as NSA was to “staff the President” and she is very close to Bush. While Jones does not come from an academic or “policy” background, he is perhaps more experienced in areas relevant to the position.

First, he has significant first hand experienced in the integration of diplomacy as well as political and military security from his time as head of NATO. SACEUR is a unique posting within the US military. It’s a ‘dual-hatted’ job, as both powerful regional combatant commander and head of the NATO alliance. The NATO role gives the SACEUR direct access to allied heads of state and a large diplomatic role in intra-NATO politics. The tough part of the job is balancing responsibility to the USA and the US chain of command as head of EUCOM and responsibility to the alliance as SACEUR. Wesley Clark talked about the tensions in this arrangement in his Waging Modern War book. It’s a job with no parallel. That Jones could successfully negotiate it bodes well for his chances to successfully negotiate the White House and National Security Council.

Second, he has experience managing a large and complex organization and coordinating intra-bureaucratic activities. This perhaps suggests a shift in the role of the NSA and NSC. Originally, the NSA and NSC were designed as a coordination mechanism, to hash out differences within the bureaucracy in order to present a clear decision to the President and then ensure that the relevant agencies implemented the Presidents decisions in a coordinated and coherent manner. Over the years, the NSC has become the head policy shop and the NSA a key policy advisor—staffing the president rather than keeping State and Defense on the same page. The selection of Jones gives Obama an NSA who has the heft, skill, and experience to coordinate the massive cogs of the national security bureaucracy to implement Obama’s agenda. This is critical—too many seem to be focusing on the wrong indicator of change, be it a Cabinet secretary or potential policy prioritization. Any change you can believe in will require years to complete the slow boring of hard boards. Policies need to be implemented and institutionalized to provide lasting change, and Jones has the resume to accomplish this key task.

With respect to Clinton at State, this remains somewhat a mystery to me—not that Obama would select her, but that she would take the job. For him, it takes the person who is potentially his biggest political rival off the political stage and puts her on the team where he’s in charge and she toes the line. She will win some battles, but she will lose some battle, and like all Secretaries of State, she will advance the President’s agenda in diplomacy. For her, it takes her out of the Senate where she has an independent platform to maintain a national political profile and pursue an agenda of her own choosing.

It is, however, reflective of an emerging trend in Obama’s administration—selecting leaders with extensive Hill experience. Emmanuel as COS, Daschle at HHS and Health Czar, Clinton at State—these are three major players in Congress now joining the Administration. It suggests that Obama will place a key priority on relations with Congress, and he has people who know how to get a legislative agenda enacted. Maybe Clinton, using her Senatorial experience, will be able to win more funding for State and expanded foreign aid. That would be a welcome change.

At Defense, instead of keeping Bush’s appointee, what if Obama had nominated a SecDef who had said:

I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.

Now, that could have come from any Nye-reading foreign policy pragmatist, but it is a change from the Bush Administration’s policy of spreading democracy by invasion and fighting terrorism with military force. And yet in Gates, Obama has found just such a person. About a year ago, Gates gave an under-appreciated speech where he set out an agenda for the future of DoD in a larger national security bureaucracy that sounded like it could be very much at home in an Obama administration. To quote Gates at length:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of “man bites dog” – or for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

After all, civilian participation is both necessary to making military operations successful and to relieving stress on the men and women of our armed services who have endured so much these last few years, and done so with such unflagging bravery and devotion. Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.

Appointing a person with this agenda to head DoD fits in with Obama’s overall approach to international affairs, and this speech may be a major impetus behind keeping Gates.

At Homeland Security, Napolitano is perhaps the biggest and under-appreciated change, as she is the only true “outsider” (non-Washington) appointee. She represents a vision for DHS that is less counter-terrorism and more immigration and disaster response, both areas in which she, as a Governor (and former AG) of a border state, has existing expertise

At Justice, Holder seems like a very good pick, especially given the monumental job of rebuilding the disaster that is the Bush DOJ. My guess is that while he will play an important role in national security affairs (ie the legal issues surrounding the closing of Gitmo), his plate will be full with more pressing issues in the domestic legal arena.

Not mentioned and still to be determined: what Obama will do with the Intelligence portfolio in selecting his DNI and CIA head. He could treat the positions as ‘non-partisan’ and keep McCarthy and Hayden for a while (both served as head of the National Security Agency under the Clinton Administration and as career military men are more career officials than strictly Bush people) or he could bring in his own person to institute key changes and make statements on items like, say, torture policy.

Ultimately, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Obama’s promise to bring change will be judged by what he does as President: the policies he advances, the priorities he sets, the decisions he makes, the resolve he displays when under pressure, the course he sets for the United States in world affairs. While naming a couple of cabinet secretaries is certainly part of that, its only one small part. Regardless of what one may think of Clinton or Gates, they serve at the pleasure of the President and, in the end, are only as good or as bad as he allows them to be.

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