Raymond "Galrahn" Pritchett argued as much on his maritime strategy blog today:
I truly believe the think tank community in Washington DC is one reason why the US Army has so much influence right now in the Pentagon. About 70% of the defense analysts in think tanks that focus on defense issues are veterans of the US Army, and it has been like that since around the time of Gulf War I.
It is probably a coincidence the Army has been fighting a land war in Asia for over a decade, and the Army has been fighting a second land war in Asia for almost a decade. Probably. And it is also probably a coincidence that the US Navy has been shrinking during that same time period.
In response to the figure cited by Pritchett, my research intern and I went through the following think tanks and scanned their security-related research programs for veterans: the American Enterprise Institute (0!), the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (9), the Center for a New American Security (7), the Center for American Progress (2), the Council on Foreign Relations (2), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (10), the Brookings Institute (1), the Heritage Foundation (4), the Institute for the Study of War (4), and the Atlantic Council (4).
We did not count active-duty military fellows and only looked for people with military service in their official biographies. So I'm sure we missed a few people. We also did not look through the federally funded research centers like Rand or the Institute for Defense Analyses. So this is a decidedly non-scientific exercise. Galrahn's assertion just piqued my interest.
The results of our informal survey, though, show 18 veterans of the U.S. Army, 11 veterans of the U.S. Navy, 10 veterans of the U.S. Air Force, three veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, and one lone Coast Guard veteran currently working on defense policy issues. Even allowing for the fact that our survey was unscientific and that Galrahn is a product of the Arkansas public schools system, 43% is not "about 70%." The service break-down of veterans working on defense policy issues in think tanks does, though, seem to roughly correspond to the respective numbers of active duty officers in each service: U.S. Army (39.3% of all active-duty officers), U.S. Navy (22.8%), U.S. Air Force (28.7%), U.S. Marine Corps (9.2%), and U.S. Coast Guard (3.6%).
Based on our initial research, we can advance the following hypothesis: there is no think tank conspiracy against the U.S. Navy.
Regarding the focus on ground forces over the past decade, Galrahn has probably inverted his causal relationship: are think tanks focused on issues related to the ground forces because we have been in two ground wars for the past decade, or have we been in two ground wars for a decade because think tanks focus on the ground forces? I think the former is a lot more likely than the latter.
Further complicating Galrahn's tin-foil musings is the fact that -- aside from the whole "the U.S. Army has so much influence right now in the Pentagon" thing, which Ray Odierno and Lloyd Austin U.S. Army officers everyone in the Pentagon will find hilarious -- our most recent report on the future defense budget has made our own U.S. Army veterans personnae non gratae in the Dept. of the Army. Led by LTG (Ret.) David Barno (USMA '76), our team argued that if you're going to cut the budget for a service, you should cut the budget of the U.S. Army. You'll need the U.S. Navy and Air Force, our report argued, to meet the future security challenges in the Persian Gulf and East Asia.
[I tease Galrahn because his Razorbacks beat up on my Volunteers each fall, but his blog is seriously great. Check it out here.]
Last night's CNAS 5th anniversary celebration was a tremendous amount of fun. Although the precedings were off-the-record, I don't think I'm breaking any rules by confirming numerous reports that Gen. Marty Dempsey called out this blog a number of times, wryly noting the way I've given him a hard time for his reading list and for his Pentagonese.
It says a lot about the health of the United States and about civil-military relations that the most powerful military officer in the country is willing to have a good-natured back-and-forth with a blogger who has criticized him. (That's not the case, for example, in Egypt, the recipient of $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, where the military leadership is so lacking in confidence that it throws critical bloggers in jail.) The United States has the most powerful military in the world, and it sends a strong message to military officers in other countries when our officers hold themselves accountable to the people they serve. (And have a sense of good Irish humor about it in the process.)
It also says a lot about Twitter and other new media that @Martin_Dempsey noted I rather liked his speech at Duke and is willing to use social media to have a conversation with the public. A few months ago, I marvelled at a back-and-forth between former senior State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter and George Washington University student Dan Trombly on the Responsibility to Protect. How cool, I thought. Any medium that facilitates egalitarian conversations between generals and bloggers on the one hand and between the former head of policy planning and an international relations student on the other hand is pretty darn amazing.
I felt really blessed last night to work at a place like CNAS. But I also felt blessed to live in this kind of country -- and at a time when technology is democratizing the public discourse to an extent never seen before.
The New York Times generated a handy budget calculator that allowed its readers to trim dollars off the budget of the Department of Defense. As my colleague Travis Sharp noted, the cuts they collectively voted on reveal some really interesting things about what a reasonably informed public -- the kind of people who participate in online defense budget surveys, for example -- thinks about defense policy.
1. John Mearsheimer and Bob Kaplan may believe in the stopping power of water, but the public isn't so convinced. It has little idea what the U.S. Navy (SEAL teams aside) does in terms of national security. The public is more ready to stop building ships than it is to stop buying aircraft or to cut ground forces. Here the public is at odds with the majority of defense policy analysts I know.
2. Half of the public is in favor of removing one leg -- nuclear weapons on bombers -- from the nuclear triad.
3. The public wants to close bases overseas -- even though, as Travis noted in an email, these bases can save money by reducing the cost of getting soldiers in and out of theater.
4. The public might not fully understand how much of the defense budget is eaten up by personnel costs. The public was very reluctant to cap the pay of service personnel and wanted to keep TriCare -- though it was open to a raise in TriCare premiums.
I think we in the defense analysis community have to do a better job explaining some things to the public, such as why, in the event of a major war, you can recruit and train new infantry battalions quicker than you can design and build ships, and also how much of the budget is eaten up by personnel costs. If you are a member of the Congress, meanwhile, I think you will find that you have more support to cut the defense budget than you might have previously thought. It will be up to you, though, to explain to your constituents why some cuts are smarter than others and why some "obvious" cuts are not as smart on second glance as they are at first.
I think it is possible and even appropriate to question whether or not this administration has gotten everything right in terms of the ends, ways and means in our strategy. But I appreciate the way in which this administration is actually trying to link the three. I was not terribly impressed by the lack of planning that preceded our intervention in Libya. But I have been impressed by the deliberate nature of the processes that preceded both the decision to surge in Afghanistan in 2009 and now, in 2012, the defense budgets for FY13-FY17.
One of the delights of studying defense policy is watching the U.S. military's heroic but losing battle with the English language.* The new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has a master's degree in English from Duke University**, but in the new Joint Operational Access Concept (.pdf), the "Central Idea" is something called "cross-domain synergy."
Oh, you don't know what "cross-domain synergy" is? Obviously, it is "the complementary vice merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others."
That, folks, is what happens when documents are written by committees of lieutenant colonels who went to universities that prefer to give out all their degrees in engineering. I had to read three more documents before I figured out the term is basically something we used to call combined arms. (With space and cyber capabilities added to those of the air, land, and sea.)
Left unexplored, of course, is how cross-domain synergy works out when the Chinese knock out our satellites around H+1.
**Having written that, I think Gen. Dempsey graduated from Duke when that university's English Department was hip deep in the Derrida fad. And when Of Grammatology is your standard for lucidity ...
Considering the origins of the practice of fisking, I figured Andrew Sullivan wouldn't mind (and might even appreciate) if I offered some points of contention with his Newsweek apologia for the president. I'll ignore the sections on health care and the economy -- since no one would confuse me with a specialist on either subject -- and stick to the sections on national security.
On foreign policy, the right-wing critiques have been the most unhinged. Romney accuses the president of apologizing for America, and others all but accuse him of treason and appeasement.
Well, here Sullivan and I are in agreement. I would like to chalk all of the craziness up to election year politics, but some of the rhetoric in these Republican primary debates has been downright scary.
Instead, Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest — but most ambitious — plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further.
The president deserves real and enduring credit for his bold decision to launch the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but let's not overstate the case here. Sullivan makes it sound as if the president was the de facto J3 for JSOC. (That was actually Rich Clarke, if anyone at home is looking to assign credit.) The raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a great victory for the United States, but if victory truly has a thousand fathers, plenty of others deserve credit -- including George W. Bush, who was the president as JSOC and its allies in the intelligence community built up many of the capabiltiies that allowed them to track and kill bin Laden. Bush most certainly did not "ignore" bin Laden. Ultimately, the raid was enabled because the United States caught a break on intelligence. And does anyone think that George W. Bush, if given a similar break, would not have made similar decisions?
If George Bush had taken out bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now. But where Bush talked tough and acted counterproductively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war. Since he took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted.
There are several factors that have been driving al-Qaeda's decline in popularity -- a decline, like the economic collapse, that preceded the Obama Administration. Al-Qaeda's own missteps have been one factor, as have been the rise of moderate Islamist groups who have come to power through elections, not bombs. Will McCants discusses the threat moderate Islamists pose to al-Qaeda in this Foreign Affairs piece, and I discuss al-Qaeda's various own goals in my chapter in this book.* Finally, the drone campaign initiated by President Bush and intensified by President Obama has unquestionably degraded al-Qaeda's leadership. But we have no way of measuring second and third-order effects and have not begun to even ask questions about what they might be.
Obama’s foreign policy, like Dwight Eisenhower’s or George H.W. Bush’s, eschews short-term political hits for long-term strategic advantage. It is forged by someone interested in advancing American interests—not asserting an ideology and enforcing it regardless of the consequences by force of arms. By hanging back a little, by “leading from behind” in Libya and elsewhere, Obama has made other countries actively seek America’s help and reappreciate our role. As an antidote to the bad feelings of the Iraq War, it has worked close to perfectly.
Over the past 60 years or so, the nations of Europe have been "free-riders" off U.S. military strength. There is no evidence, though, to suggest that as the United States takes a backseat in regional security, European defense spending will increase or European nations will take on more responsibility. The nations of Europe, in the words of one defense intellectual, showed up to a gunfight in Libya with knives.** The United States brought the guns. And the ammunition. And all the taregting. And all the in-flight refueling. And the ISR. This is not a rebuttal of Sullivan's point but rather a word of warning to those who believe that Europe will opt to "defend itself" if the United States reduces its leadership role.
The Iraq War—the issue that made Obama the nominee—has been ended on time and, vitally, with no troops left behind. Defense is being cut steadily, even as Obama has moved his own party away from a Pelosi-style reflexive defense of all federal entitlements.
The defense cuts on the table at the moment make sense. If we go into sequestration, they become really stupid, really fast. This is the fault of the U.S. Congress and not the president. (It's not the president's fault that Republicans in the Congress opted for lower taxes over defense spending.) With regard to the Iraq War, let me make two points: (1) The war is not over. It has not ended. U.S. involvement, rather, has ended. (2) The Bush Administration negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement that ended the U.S. involvement. It deserves credit for having done so.
I railed against him for the better part of two years for dragging his feet on gay issues. But what he was doing was getting his Republican defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to move before he did. The man who made the case for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was, in the end, Adm. Mike Mullen.
I am no specialist in gay rights or Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but I thought DADT was a silly policy and do not mourn its passing. I guess the president deserves credit for ending it, but I think all the new policy does is reflect the norms of this generation of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen -- as opposed to the more conservative norms of earlier generations.
Yes, Obama has waged a war based on a reading of executive power that many civil libertarians, including myself, oppose. And he has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself). But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice. If he is not reelected, that cancer may well return. Indeed, many on the right appear eager for it to return.
I too opposed the way in which the administration went to war in Libya -- though, I must admit, things turned out a lot better than I thought they would. And I really have no issue with the rest of what Sullivan says. Though I think the loser in the 2008 presidential election, John McCain, deserves some credit of his own for partnering with human rights lawyers to set new standards for interrogation and detention.
*I was paid a flat fee for that chapter, so if you buy the book, I will not receive any royalties. I just wanted to be clear about that since I am linking to a product of my own.
**I was trying to remember where I heard this construct used. Oh, yeah -- in a discussion with Tom Ricks.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan responds to my criticism.
Andrew [Exum] ignores the fact that Obama actually had a major fight with McCain in the debates in 2008 over whether he would unilaterally launch a mission into Pakistan to get the guy, without Pakistan's approval. McCain and the rest of the right cited this as evidence of Obama's naivete and incompetence in foreign policy. Obama set a new course in early 2009 - and did exactly what he said he'd do. Here's what we know of Bush and Bin Laden. He let him escape in Tora Bora; in 2002, he said this on Bin Laden.
Allow me to add a little bit to the historical record. I have a very small amount of personal experience with special operations in Afghanistan during the Bush Administration years. Cross-border operations into Pakistan were never explicitly ruled out. Rather, they were treated with all the gravity they deserved. Yes, you can go into Pakistan if it means killing or capturing Osama bin Laden. But if you go into Pakistan, crash a helicopter or get into a gunfight with Pakistani police and don't get bin Laden ... well, you can imagine what the costs would be to U.S. policy in the region. That was the logic in 2004, and as far as I can tell based on subsequent research, that remained the logic in 2011 and even today. I firmly believe, based on both personal experience and subsequent analysis, that George W. Bush was committed to capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. Were resources that could have been used toward that end diverted to deal with a worsening situation in Iraq? Absolutely. Did the administration's decision to invade in Iraq in 2003 take our focus off of al-Qaeda? Absolutely. But to argue that President Bush "ignored" Osama bin Laden is to overstate the case.
And if President Bush made public statements that he didn't really care about Osama bin Laden, I support those. Those were smart statements to make in public -- lest Osama bin Laden be turned into even more of a folk hero in the Muslim world than he already was. The longer the narrative was about "the United States versus Osama bin Laden," the longer bin Laden was a heroic figure who -- alone among Muslim leaders -- stood up to the great hegemonic power. Once that narrative went away, the Muslim world had to confront the ugliness and horrors of al-Qaeda's actions. And it didn't like what it saw.
As far as what Sen. McCain argued, well, I cannot defend that. But my point was about George W. Bush.
Gulliver at Ink Spots called my attention to some excellent commentary on TIME Magazine’s blog that deserves a wider readership. In it, a collection of defense analysts demolish some arguments Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation has made in support of the F-22 and F-35 and make some very important points about readiness and our aviators.
I am a specialist in neither air power nor the defense acquisitions process, but I know a devastating argument when I see one. Carafano had invoked the ghost of John Boyd to defend the new fighter-interceptors, and the analysts – all of whom knew Boyd personally and had spoken with him about each weapon system prior to his death – correct some of Carafano’s assumptions in the most brutal way.
But the commentary also sparked some lively back-and-forth over Twitter when I suggested that it had taken a few cheap shots. Not content with merely demolishing the substance of Carafano’s arguments, the analysts strongly imply that the reason Carafano argues what he does is because his organization, the Heritage Foundation, receives support from Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-22 and F-35. Here I cry foul. On the one hand, defense policy analysts have an obligation to speak up whenever their work relates to the interests of a donor. This is why I maintain a policy of transparency on my blog and why my employer, I am proud to say, is one of the very few think tanks that publicly discloses its supporters. People like Carafano and myself have an obligation to announce our conflicts of interest and to let the public make an informed decision about the substance of our research.
On the other hand, though, I strongly believe that if you are going to impugn a man’s integrity, your evidence better be air-tight. It is not enough to establish correlation (“Jay Carafano’s employer receives money from large defense contractors”). One must also establish causation as well (“Jay Carafano argues what he does because his employer receives money from large defense contractors”). You better have hard evidence to support the latter.
Because it has been my experience that most people make their arguments – even their dumber arguments – in good faith. And as Daveed Gartenstein-Ross points out, you can also slander good work with accusations of financial motivations. Finally, it has been my experience that when defense analysts argue to cut weapon systems, they are rarely congratulated for taking stands that run counter to the short-term financial interests of their research institution. You only hear a research institution’s donors mentioned when it affords people an opportunity to undermine an argument in favor of buying weapon systems.
There is a lot that is wrong with the defense policy community and its public discourse. One of the problems is that analysts are too slow to mention when there is a conflict of interest. (I learned the hard way a few years ago that you need to mention every conceivable conflict of interest as soon as possible if you want your arguments to be taken seriously.) Another problem, though, is that rival analysts are not satisfied with criticizing the substance of a given argument but also feel the need to rashly question the integrity of the analyst. If you can prove that an analyst is more or less paid to produce his or her "analysis," by all means impugn that analyst's integrity. (Such a situation, sadly, would not be without precedent.) If you cannot prove it, though, don't mention it. It weakens your argument. And as much as I love to engage with those who challenge the substance of my own arguments, you'll note that I simply ignore those with a history of making evidence-free attacks on my integrity instead.
By the way, yes: Lockheed Martin is a supporter of the Center for a New American Security. Do with that information what you wish.
I should also point out that my values here were not born from the womb. My natural instinct in argumentation, in fact, is to be just as nasty as others. But I like to think I have grown a little and matured over the years and that the discourse on this blog reflects that maturation.
Dave Barno took this picture of CNAS staffers watching yesterday's Pentagon press briefing. From right to left, USMC fellow Rob Clark, USAF fellow Tom Cooper, Nora Bensahel, Travis Sharp, and some guy too busy writing snarky comments on Twitter about Leon Panetta's yellow tie to pay attention to what is actually being said. This is an "action" shot of life at a think tank.
As promised, I live-tweeted the press conference with the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. A few quick comments, which are based on the press conference as well as the defense strategic guidance reproduced below.
1. I spent the months before Christmas meeting with some U.S. allies in the Gulf, who expressed their concern that a U.S. shift to East Asia would mean the United States was abandoning its security commitments to the Gulf. The president, the secretary and the guidance explicitly pushed back against that worry. So our Gulf allies should rest easier tonight. (One rare specific offered by Sec. Panetta during the press conference was the scenario whereby the United States fights a land war in Korea and also keeps the Straits of Hormuz open.) But I wonder how this will change if the behavior of U.S. allies make continued cooperation more difficult. If Bahrain continues its brutal crackdown on democracy activists into 2012, the United States will have a huge political problem on its hands -- as well as a potentially huge engineering problem as it considers other basing options for the Fifth Fleet.
2. Europe is so very 20th Century. The United States has a deep appreciation for its European allies, but those same allies are going to have to figure out how to fund and support their own defense. Because in terms of U.S. priorities, Europe ranks lower than ever.
3. Quoting the strategic guidance on counterinsurgency and stablity operations:
In the aftermath of the warsin Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.
This may surprise those of you who still consider me some kind of FM 3-24 fundamentalist (which I never was), but I feel really good about that guidance. If the United States has to fight another resource-intensive counterinsurgency campaign (and I pray that we do not), it is easier to design and build new brigades than to design and build new aircraft or ships. I am more concerned the U.S. Army and Marine Corps will abandon the doctrine, training and education wrapped up in preparing for counterinsurgency and stability operations.
4. A lot of folks remarked that Sec. Panetta's ideal force sounded a lot like that of Sec. Rumsfeld. True. But the latter tried to continue to build that force while ignoring the needs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. role in those conflicts has now either ended or is in transition. Thom Shanker once told me that he always faced an up-hill struggle convincing his editors Don Rumsfeld wasn't wrong about everything.
I will be live-tweeting the speeches by the President and Secretary of Defense today, starting around 1050. I will then offer comment on the blog on matters that relate to my areas of study -- the ground forces, irregular warfare, posture in the Middle East, etc.