Christopher Preble

Sequestration Will Not Make the United States Less Safe

Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Will sequestration undermine U.S. national security? Hardly. Today, the Cato Institute released a new infographic putting these minor cuts in perspective.

Military spending will remain at roughly 2006 levels—$603 billion, higher than peak U.S. spending during the Cold War. Meanwhile, we live in a safer world. The Soviet Union has been dead for more than two decades; no other nation, or combination of nations, has emerged since that can pose a comparable threat. We should have a defense budget that reflects this reality.

To be clear, sequestration was no one’s first choice. But the alternative—ever-increasing military spending detached from a legitimate debate over strategy—is worse. We should have had such a debate, one over the roles and missions of the U.S. military, long before this day of reckoning. And politicians could have pursued serious proposals to prudently reduce military spending. Instead, they chose the easy way out, avoiding difficult decisions that would have allowed for smarter cuts.

Real Defense Budget Alternatives

With the “fiscal cliff” behind us, it’s important to remember that in less than two months, the Congress will be dealing with another manufactured crisis: The budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act known as “sequestration.”  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of the prescribed cuts, eliminating an additional $492 billion over 10 years.  Although entitlement spending will also be on the table, the initial fight will be over cuts to the Defense budget.

A new study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation concludes that the defense budget cuts cannot be taken without altering our overall defense strategy, and that “the department should modify defense strategy to fit the new resource constraints and prepare its course of action sooner rather than later.”

The authors highlight three alternative strategies, which anyone interested in this topic should read and consider.  An accompanying article by the authors states, “Reductions of the magnitude implied by sequestration—some $500 billion over the coming decade—cannot be accommodated without a re-examination of current defense strategy.”

Chuck Hagel Would Be an Excellent Secretary of Defense

Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

The rumors that President Obama will nominate Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defenseshould be welcomed by anyone frustrated by years of war and foreign meddling, and out-of-control spending at the Pentagon. Which is to say, nearly everyone. I hope the reports are true.

The biggest boosters of the Iraq war, the Afghan war, the Libyan war, and possible war with Syria and Iran, are apoplectic. And they should be. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, understands war, and doesn’t take it lightly.

Although the president will obviously make the decisions, I expect that Hagel will generally advise against sending U.S. troops on quixotic nation-building missions. We might even see a resurrection of another Republican SecDef’s criteria for restraining Washington’s interventionist tendencies. At a minimum, Hagel will reflect Colin Powell’s view that “American GIs [are] not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board.”

GOP Groups’ Ads on Sequestration, Defense Jobs Are Misleading

Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

It is no surprise that the defense contractors want to protect their profits by getting taxpayers to pony up more money. Now they have secured the support of Crossroads GPS in a commercial against Senate candidate and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine. The Crossroads ad follows similar ones from Kaine’s challenger, George Allen, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. All three ads claim that spending cuts under sequestration will result in devastating job losses to the defense industry and Virginia; the Crossroads ad claims 520,000 jobs will be lost. But these estimates are wildly inflated and represent the short-term interests of the defense industry, not the American taxpayer.

Have conservatives lost their mind on foreign policy?

As a libertarian, it has been puzzling to watch how conservatives have reacted to the foreign policy of Barack Obama.  In almost every tangible way, Obama’s policies have been a continuation of his predecessor’s.  In fact, in some ways he has been even more aggressive - amping up the mission in Afghanistan, involvement in Libya, and increased drone attacks (including against American citizens).  Yet the right continues to pretend that the Obama administration has been “weak” on national defense.

This debate has reached an even greater level of absurdity in recent weeks as Obama has used the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing to tout his foreign policy successes.  Obama has even attempted to argue that Mitt Romney would not have ordered the killing (more than a bit far-fetched in my humble opinion).  Conservatives, on the other hand, have tried to minimize the significance of the event and find any way possible to not give Obama credit for it, when surely they would have praised George W. Bush.

And while military spending has not been cut at all under Obama, conservatives are still arguing that he is somehow short-changing the Pentagon.  Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma went as far as to claim Obama is “gutting” the military in recent comments regarding President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan early this week:

“Clearly this trip is campaign-related,” [Inhofe] said. “We’ve seen recently that President Obama has visited college campuses in an attempt to win back the support of that age group since he has lost it over the last three years. Similarly, this trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military.”

CBO can’t determine costs of Syria intervention

Tomahawk missile

Among the reasons that have been cited against military intervention against Syria is the potential cost, not just in terms of what the Obama Administration says will be “limited strikes,” but also the possibility of a broader engagement should the situation worsen.

But the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which frequently issues cost scores on legislation, issued a report on Monday afternoon noting that they could not accurately predict the cost of Syria intervention. Why? Because Obama Administration has “has not detailed how it would use the authority that would be provided” by the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

S. J. Res. 21 would authorise the President to use military force against the government of Syria, for up to 90 days, in response to its use of chemical weapons,” noted the CBO in its summary of the resolution.

The CBO explained the AUMF requires that President Barack Obama to submit a plan to Congress showing that it has exhausted potential diplomatic solutions and how strikes against the Syrian government are in the national security interest of the United States. It also requires the Obama Administration to present a strategy for completing stated objectives of the strike.

“The Administration has not detailed how it would use the authority that would be provided by this resolution; CBO has no basis for estimating the costs of implementing S. J. Res. 21,” they added.

CPAC Panel: Budgets and Readiness

Budgets and Readiness

Even after the sequester, there is a debate still going on inside the conservative movement over defense spending. With budget deficits expected to exceed $850 billion in the current fiscal year — this after four consecutive years of $1+ trillion deficits — fiscal conservatives are urging to keep the cuts to spending increases from the sequester. Hawkish Republicans, however, want to substitute or restore the defense spending cuts from the sequester with other discretionary cuts.

This issue was the subject of a panel yesterday on the mainstage at CPAC. The panel — “Budgets & Readiness: Can We Cut Defense Spending & Still Protect America?” — featured some bright minds from the think tank world and policy world.

 

  • Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Follow, Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, American Enterprise Institute
  • Van Hipp, Jr., Chairman, American Defense International
  • Lucian Niemeyer, Staffer, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee
  • Christopher Preble, Vice President, Defense & Policy Studies, Cato Institute,
  • Moderator: Donald Devine, Vice Chairman, American Conservative Union/Editor, Conservative Battleline
Check out the full video of the event below:

 

Anti-Hagel Movement Symbol of Conservative Hypocrisy

Chuck Hagel

Conservatives are always thumping their chests about America, and how we must defend America, and how we must be American, and how if we ever dare criticize the government, we’re hating America. It’s a common thread that has been going on for at least the past ten years, if not more, and was pretty effective in dominating liberals from the turn of the century until at least 2006, though it wouldn’t be until Obama’s election in 2008 that the narrative actually fell apart.

However, is this really true? Are conservatives really all about America? I have some doubts, doubts that are being fanned by the recent conservative alliance against Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, himself a conservative Republican. I don’t usually wade into these high-profile topics, leaving them to be picked by others, but there’s one thread here, a counterpoint to the thread of conservatives loving America to their dying breath, that I just have to comment on.

The Cato Institute has been supportive of Chuck Hagel’s nomination, with Chris Preble, their senior foreign policy scholar, noting that “Chuck Hagel Is Not Controversial.” He’s no libertarian dove, but as an enlisted man who was wounded in Vietnam, he is a damn sight better than most people who are nominated for the role. This is not what infuriates the right, however. Instead, it was his remarks concerning Israel, and more importantly, the Great Israeli Lobby, also known as AIPAC:

Can someone give an honest case against Chuck Hagel?

Chuck Hagel

“To question your government is not unpatriotic — to not question your government is unpatriotic.” - Chuck Hagel

Based on media reports, President Barack Obama will nominate Chuck Hagel, who spent two terms in the United States Senate as a Republican from Nebraska, to serve as Secretary of Defense.

The nomination isn’t exactly surprising. It has long been thought that Obama would nominate Hagel. However, the road to confirmation in the Senate looks shaky as hawish Republicans seem to be preparing for a battle because they believe that Hagel is “anti-Israel,” a sentiment expressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Sunday talk shows:

Republicans, in particular, have raised objections to statements by Mr. Hagel that they have described as dismissive of Israel and soft on Iran. Mr. Hagel once described pro-Israel lobbying groups as the “Jewish lobby.” He has insisted that he is a strong supporter of Israel.
[…]
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he personally liked Mr. Hagel, but that he was “out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy.”

“This is an in-your-face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” Mr. Graham said. “I don’t know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon — little if any — so I think it’s an extremely controversial choice.”

Romney’s 4 Percent: A Goal not a Promise, but Still Expensive

Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

The advisers who introduced Mitt Romney to the idea that he should spend at least 4 percent of GDP on the Pentagon’s budget are busy clarifying what he means. But “their comments,” conclude Bloomberg’s Gopal Ratnam and Tony Capaccio:

only add to the uncertainty about how much a President Romney might add to the Pentagon’s budget and when, what the additional spending would buy other than more warships and how he’d propose to pay for what analysts say may be as much as $2 trillion in added spending while also whittling down the federal deficit as he’s promised.

Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller in George W. Bush’s administration, told Ratnam and Capaccio that Romney’s 4 percent promise is a goal that “is not going to be achieved overnight or perhaps even by the end of the first term.” How quickly Romney reaches his 4 percent target, Zakheim explained at an event last week organized by the group Military Reporters & Editors, “will very much depend on the state of the economy and very much depends on the offsets you’ll be able to find within the defense budget,” but he affirmed that “Every effort will be made to ramp up as soon as possible.”


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