It blows my mind that some legislators still think it's a good idea to peg our nation's defense budget to a percentage of the GDP. Call me a traditionalist, but a nation's defense budget should probably be based on a) how the nation sees its current and future threat environments, to include planning for contingencies, b) resources available, and c) how defense spending rates as a priority compared to other government expenditures. We can then have dynamic, fact-supported arguments about a), b) and most especially c).
Further, it makes some sense that our nation has spent a lot of money on national defense while fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if I am following the logic of those who want to tie defense spending to the GDP correctly, our defense budget should have shrunk in FY09. And if the world's economy collapses because the Iranians attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz, does that mean we then slash the budgets of the U.S. Navy and Air Force?
My friend Mike Horowitz -- author of this great new book -- has a really funny, well, debate up on Slate with Mark Oppenheimer on high school and college debating. Some of you younger readers may be under the impression that the same jocks who were cool at your high school are the ones who go on to rule the roost here in Washington, but the reality is that within the policy community, a lot of the most impressive people are veterans of the other NFL -- the National Forensic League. As a guy who played football in high school and college (even though I'm not the greatest athlete and probably would have been a lot better at debate), I am highlighting Mike and Mark's debate in part because I spent Tuesday afternoon being impressed with the way Colin Kahl effectively deployed facts and figures in his presentation on Iraq at our big CNAS event. Where did Colin learn how to do that? Well, what did Colin do with all his spare time in high school and college? Yup. So don't despair, nerds: you will someday inherit the earth. (Or at least the 202 area code.)
[Blog alumna Charlie Simpson? Yes, also a debater.]
Update: Oh, snap! And Nagl too! I never knew this, but he's now in one of the common areas talking up his skilz in something called IE.
Update II: This has started a feverish Friday afternoon conversation among the staff at CNAS. The office is roughly divided between those who did debate/mock trial(!)/school newspaper/Model UN and those who played sports along a 1:2 margin. Some, like Nagl (Debate, Track) and Bob Kaplan (School Newspaper, Swimming), did both. I can sense a research project here: what if we sampled people in government at the deputy assistant secretary level and asked about their high school activities. What do you think the result would be?
Update III: Kath Hicks, too, I am now told.
Update IV: Slate's Fred Kaplan reports he went to the NFL nationals in '72, and Dave Barno -- Ranger Dave freaking Barno! -- also confesses he was president of his high school debate team.
I thought Fred Kaplan's profile of Sec. Gates was very solid work and enjoyed reading it. Gates said some very reasonable stuff about when he might like to retire:
"I think that it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012," he said. It might be hard to find a good person to take the job so late, with just one year to go in the president's current term. And, he added, "This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year."
August in Washington, though, man: I'm already getting requests for comment on WHAT THIS ALL MEANS. What this means is that everyone needs to act like Fonzie and chill. (Especially you, Yolanda.) Sec. Gates is not resigning tomorrow, and there will be plenty of time between now and his departure to both assess his legacy and handicap his likely successors.
CNAS -- and specifically, the CNAS kitchen -- is apparently where retired military officers come to channel their inner smart-ass. Today's quote comes from Col. (Ret.) Bob Killebrew, who was deep in discussion with Cdr. Herb "Herbal" Carmen (of "Sun Kings" fame) about the horse-trading with Virginia's congressmen that could determine how JFCOM is shuttered. When someone in the kitchen floated the possibility that Sec. Gates might swap JFCOM for one or possibly two new DDG destroyers, Col. Killebrew responded with the following:
Well, if you close JFCOM and build one or two destroyers instead, that would certainly be a good deal. I don't know how Sec. Gates is planning to man a ship with all those retired colonels, though.
"Thank you," he then didn't add. "I'll be at the Laugh Shack in Cape May through Labor Day."
I just hope they don't make Ray Odierno Chief of Staff of the Army. We can't afford to get rid of the Army.
-- LTG (Ret.) David Barno, to me, outside the CNAS kitchen just now, in reference to Ray Odierno's habit of being the last man to hold a given position.
P.S. @chrisalbon is a genius.
The news that the Department of Defense is shuttering the Joint Forces Command was just broken to JFCOM's public affairs officer ... by a reporter. Ouch.
Rumors of JFCOM's demise have been floating around for some time, though, so this cannot be completely unexpected. One of the wisest military analysts I know remarked, upon hearing the rumors, that JFCOM does three valuable things that either the joint staff or another command will now have to pick up:
Other than that, I myself am unsure of what else we're losing.
Cancelling the F-22 Raptor, the most capable fighter plane ever produced, is yet another act in the tragedy of a nation that, bankrupting itself, embracing moral decline, and apologizing to its enemies, is losing the will to prevail.
I mean, I do not even know where to begin with this one aside from laugh at how over-the-top that sentence is. I guess I could point out that the Department of Defense's base budget grew, in a time of tremendous financial pressure, 2.8% last year. (1.4% if you adjust for inflation.) I could also point out that since 2001, even if you do not include spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the DOD base budget has increased 40%. (And 70% if you include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan.) You and Mark Helprin can both read about this in Travis Sharp's helpful primer on the QDR and FY11 defense budget.
Lamenting a reduced U.S. Air Force presence in Europe, Helprin writes that "while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and the Danube." He actually wrote that sentence. In a newspaper. A quick Wikipedia search tells me the U.S. military currently has 369,000 military personnel deployed in 150 countries. Hardly a shadow, those 369,000 troops. And maybe -- just maybe -- we have a reduced presence in Europe because it makes sense to stage elsewhere. Or does Helprin think the Visigoths might mount a comeback and threaten Rome anew?
Helprin points out that three successive U.S. administrations before Obama have down-sized the F-22 program, which, come to think of it, should have told Helprin something. Instead he cites the late Sen. Kennedy's support for the F-22, ignoring the fact that the F-22 was manufactured in 48 different states, meaning Helprin could have found a quote from 95 other senators if he had wanted to do so.
Oh, and he never mentions the word "drones". Not once. He never once takes on the inconvenient reality that the era of manned flight may be reaching its terminus and that remotely piloted aircraft might render manned aircraft irrelevant in the next generation. You would have thought he would have wanted to have at least challenged that idea as he mounted a lusty defense for the F-22, no?
The pity of all this is that I was talking with Fick just a few weeks ago about what a great book A Soldier of the Great War is. You should read that, and Helprin should stick to writing novels.
Travis Sharpe better watch out, because Shawn Brimley used to sit in his comfortable perch at CNAS and write all kinds of sensible stuff about the budget and the QDR, and look where it got him: in charge of the latter. That hasn't stopped Travis from writing this timely primer on the QDR and the new defense budget, which you can read here.
(Travis notes as an aside what a revolutionary budget the FY10 budget was because of the changes it made to the acquisition of 50 weapons systems. Carrying out one of those changes, though, has been more difficult than foreseen and has prompted Sec. Gates to invite Maj. Gen. David Heinz to try his Wu-Tang Sword Style earlier today.)
I received a paper copy of this a few days ago and understood it was embargoed so I didn't post it. But now I'm starting to receive it over email as a .pdf, so I figure it's out there already and that readers of this blog should get the chance to read it. My first thoughts on this are very positive.
Big news in defense policy circles. A draft of the QDR has been leaked to Inside Defense. It -- the QDR, not the leak -- has a strong whiff of Brimley about it. I would post the .pdf on my Scribd account, but the security settings on the file are too strict.
Update: Nevermind. One my tech-genius readers figured out how I could share the document.