The ever contentious defense budget is being fought over in Congress. It is big and it is complex. The politics of Pentagon spending are also big-time -- an an all-in and nasty high stakes game. What determines what's decided and who gets what? In a better world, the many hundreds of billions in outlays would reflect sober judgments by our leaders as how much military, how configured, best provides for the nation's security. Those judgments in turn would be based on a reading of the world out there and our diplomatic strategies for navigating it. That is not the way the system works.
The main determinant is simple inertia. What is there has an a priori claim on resources -- be it weapons programs, force levels, shares divided among the uniformed services, combat doctrines or current deployments and commitments. Next in importance is the influence of contending parties: in descending order, the four branches of the military, defense contractors, purveyors of favored nostrums for what (they say) threatens us, and special pleaders for favored countries whose well-being is promoted as tantamount to our own. The whole is laced with partisan politics as various figures and factions shove and elbow each other to see who can seize the high ground whose occupant is seen by voters as sound on national defense while also sound on deficit control. The hand to hand combat gets especially mean in a presidential election year. Engaged, informed assessment of interests, aims and purposes in the world is skirted as too daunting -- except as a source for mining sound bites.
So what's in the cards this year?
Pondering the impressive array of military capabilities that are at the center of the current defense budget debates, one can be greatly reassured by the high degree of security they promise for us all -- whatever the exact outcome. The aching worries that have made sleep an exercise in anxious futility have dissipated. Here are a few highlights from the list of starred menu items.
- A missile defense shield for the Atlantic coast. No need to fret about WMD-tipped ballistic missiles with lethal payloads targeting Charleston, Rehoboth Beach or Kennebunkport. Morocco, Mauritania and places farther east are no longer even an existential long-term threat. Nor is there reason any longer to cast a troubled eye at all those Honduran banana boats, oil tankers, Carnival Line cruise ships, and phantom Viking long boats that ply the waters of the North Atlantic. Of course, these vessels could be equipped with cruise missiles. Not to worry. A picket line of anti-cruise missile batteries in the thousands surely will be deployed against them from Ft. Lauderdale to Portland as soon as Mitt Romney frees defense spending from the constraints imposed by the remnants of our social programs. But isn't it still true that Russia could smash us to smithereens and that we could not defend against their nuclear weapons? Of course. But that's a retro perspective. Washington is talking 21st century threats and New Age strategy.
- Special Forces will be assigned to retraining significant elements of the conventional Army so as to ready them for fresh counter insurgency campaigns. Now numbering only 60,000, the SF are stretched thin defending freedom and the American way of life in the Congo, Mali, Chad, Mauretania, Georgia, Siam, the Philippines, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala, Djibouti, Nicaragua, Belize, Burkina Faso, Colombia and Mexico (scheduled) -- leaving aside Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen. Those engagements leave us shorthanded in dealing with yet other terrorist micro cells germinating somewhere in the great beyond. That grave shortfall finally is being remedied.
- The CIA and the Pentagon will accelerate their plans for cross dressing. The Agency's already formidable lethal capabilities are slated to be ramped up. The DOD's multitasking that as of today encompasses an array of politico-intelligence activities, through the regional Commands, will be extended and enhanced. As for the State Department, it may be at risk of becoming lost in the shuffle. But let's keep in mind that it commands the Baghdad Embassy -- the greatest bastion of overseas diplomatic might that the world has ever known. 16,000 employees. Of whom, 3,000 fully armed mercenaries -- reporting directly to Hillary. An air force of scores of drones able to clear routes for flying squads of Foreign Service officers and contractors to sally forth in their MRAPs to coordinate with more distant outposts of faded American power in Basra, Mosul and Erbil. They also will tender vital advice to whichever Iraqis may still be polite enough to feign listening. The cost for operating this forward outpost of liberty? A mere $6 billion per annum. Shortly, Baghdad II will be up and running in Kabul. The dual capitals of the virtual American Empire in Asia (AEA).
- Then let us not forget the F-22s. Decades in development, astonishing science fiction capabilities and costing just $400 million a pop. Just a slight glitch to adjust before they go into service: pilots report a strong tendency to black out. Maybe, just maybe redirecting a small portion of the upkeep costs for Baghdad I could suffice to fix the oxygen system.
There are many, many more programs equally critical to national security that are or will be amply funded. Sweet dreams all.