Tuesday, December 6

If You Need To Root Out Stupidity The First Thing To Lose Are The Pruning Shears

Michael Moran, "On Defense, Silver Linings, Golden Opportunities". December 5

FIRST, read Natalie Hopkinson's Op-Ed "Why School Choice Fails".

I don't think I've written about education all semester. The simple reason is that, as the husband of a public school teacher, in a state infested by Mitch Daniels, the only thing left to do is howl. What happens with the "free marketeers" come in to save things? More bureaucracy. And where does that bureaucracy land? On the backs of the people who were doing the real work in the first place. Herman Cain is a risible bugwit, but Herman Cain is a successful entrepreneur.

Let's speak of something more rational: Defense spending:
Gloom and doom from one side, glee and visions of sugar plum fairies from the other: As usual, the Pushmi-pullyu beast that is America’s political elite has it exactly wrong as it weighs the dire (or wondrous) implications of “Draconian” cuts facing the U.S. armed forces over the next decade.

Pray tell, which are the "two" "sides" of the Defense spending debate? The Inside and the Outside? It sure ain't Republicans and Democrats. It sure ain't "Liberals" and "Conservatives". There may be a powerful enough Democratic minority that social spending isn't automatically steamrolled in the "deficit" "reduction" "process", but if there was anything amounting to a "side" exhibiting anything approaching glee at the idea of Defense cuts we might be somewhere slightly closer to rational in the first place.

And by the way, I knew my hope that the link at "Pushmi-pullyu" would take me someplace which defended the Manichaean Defense argument was destined to be dashed. So let me say, instead, that if you imagine that your childhood cultural reference requires a link to Wikipedia so your audience won't be lost, rewrite the fucking sentence.
With each side eyeing the supposedly automatic cuts in military spending amounting to $600 billion over the next decade, scare-mongers will build the nascent threat of China’s military into a goliath while politicians whose worldview automatically ranks “defense” as less important than, say, “high speed rail” will seek to make those cuts stick. Between the two polls, pols eyeing jobs and defense contracts in their home districts will weigh in, too, guaranteeing that, unless a more informed conversation displaces the current one, whatever happens on this issue will be misshapen, hacked, and contorted to suit ideological and pork barrel considerations, not the strategic needs of a great nation in relative decline.

Sure. "There's a first time for Everything" is pretty much a sure-fire legislative plan.

(Just for the record: $600 billion over ten years--which isn't about to happen, let alone get adjusted for inflation--represents about 1% of military spending that we know of, without dunning Defense for its share of the interest on the Debt, or the cost of care for former military personnel.)
Missing, so far, from the conversation that most of the American public has been exposed to is this question: What should the United States military be asked to accomplish in the first half of the 21st century, and is the awesome force slogging away in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, in more routine missions, across the planet properly organized, equipped, and trained to accomplish it?

Regular readers, if any, may be aware that I'm congenitally indisposed to listen to members of my species prattle about the future when we manage the present poorly or not at all. Isn't NASA going to find us all a new planet to move to? And that's only setting us back $10 billion per.

Now, it's all well and good to talk about what sort of force the US taxpayer should be footing the bill for, but if we're going to do so under the threat of the Enormous Budgetary Armageddon which requires, requires, partly in sadness, of course, us to slash grandma's catfood money and eviscerate what we call, with as straight a face as we can muster, the "public health care system", then cuts in Defense should be determined the same way, not by everyone spitballing ideas as to what sort of global hegemony we need to buy ourselves next.

In fact, while we're at it, the whole concept of "Silver Linings" to some marginal cuts in the World's Largest Military Budget By a Factor of Fifty, Est. 1946, tells us nearly all we need to know about what's gone on with the Defense budget to this point. Creating a force which actually responds to the Worst Possible Case Scenario, Exaggerated By a Factor of Two Thousand isn't a bonus feature. It's what our elected officials are supposed to do year in year out. And what there's no chance in hell they will do.
Following 9/11, the Bush administration punted on this question, though before the attacks Rumsfeld had indicated he planned a significant rethink of America’s global footprint and capabilities. This effort, which went by the wonky moniker “defense transformation,” ultimately became conflated (and tarnished) by the completely separate and ultimately disastrous decisions taken by Rumsfeld and his commanders to try and invade and occupy two countries in Asia with a force roughly the size of the one that invaded the island of Okinawa in 1945.

Okay, why don't we try to untangle the line before we measure it? It was the Carter administration--alone among post-war executives--which tried to downsize the military, to adjust it to the real world, and to make it more about nuts, bolts, and boots than invisible bombers and space shields. It didn't begin to go far enough, but we may recall what happened when it was so soundly, so ideologically defeated by the Reaganauts. We reinstated the fucking B-1, fer chrissakes.

Spreading manure doesn't help this stuff. If the Rumsfeld Doctrine was ever intended as anything other than a PR ploy, it sure wasn't with the idea of reducing the American Defense budget. The main point of the Rumsfeld Doctrine seems to've been to excuse undertaking the long-planned Bush Revenge Tour of Iraq with an all-volunteer force.

If we can't start telling the truth to ourselves about all this shit, how do we expect to accomplish anything serious? And the truth is the whole goddam thing's a canard, and has been since the military takeover at the end of WWII. Plans to mothball carriers, or sell them to Pakistan? Not one-tenth as important as getting rid of the fucking mindset that got us a ten-carrier Navy with no mission in the first place. Same with the Fulda Gap mechanized force. While it is undeniably true that we have the world's most impressive, and most expensive, 20th century fighting force, it is also true that we got here not only by institutionalizing bloat and failing to modernize at the expense of cherished big-ticket systems; we got here by buying two dozen of everything. We got here by specifically fighting the idea that we should modernize, downsize, match our force, and our expenditures, to real world threats. Fer chrissakes, look at what we tried to do with Iraq and Afghanistan: win with domestic PR campaigns what we obviously couldn't do in the field.

And all of this just conveniently ignores the evil face of war by drone, of low-cost, remote-control Death at Our Whim substituting for a foreign policy upgraded to the reality of the 21st century. War isn't just too important to be left to the generals; permanent war footing is too expensive to be left to the war buffs.


Jim Norris said...

Just for the record: $600 billion over ten years--which isn't about to happen, let alone get adjusted for inflation--represents about 1% of military spending that we know of…

Uh, did you accidentally borrow Megan McArdle's calculator? I don't think the US spends $6 trillion a year on defense; 10% seems like a more accurate number.

Anonymous said...

60 billion (600 trillion/10 years) is how many percent of 6 trillion?


Deggjr said...

Hmmm, two sides of the Defense spending debate? Is that like both country and western, or the president's and the vice president's views?

Perhaps air power (F-35) vs. sea power (more carrier groups)? I really don't know.

Tracy said...

Slightly OT, but the great Mr. Pierce name-checks you today.


burned prairie curmudgeon said...

Occupy this: are the 99.95% ers fighting and dying for the 0.05% ers who define the meaning of "fighting for our freedom." Class warfare alright.

Shop on. Hold the market.

Helmut Monotreme said...

I don't think drone warfare is all that low cost. It just doesn't result in our pilots getting killed or captured in the event of a crash. I think the drones in use now were built (comparatively) cheaply because the major aerospace defense contractors didn't predict them getting more popular than conventional airplanes anytime soon. Once they realize that there will be no more contracts for manned fighters and bombers, I invite you to watch drone prices (and spending) balloon.

KWillow said...

I can't help but muse about the fact that drones are radio-controlled. Therefore they can be taken over, turned around and sent to bomb whoever the controller wants.

Ruby Claire said...

Ans to anonymous is . 36000

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