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“Et Tu, Leon?”: Continuing The Tradition Of Those Who Feel Ungrateful Besmirching Of A Presidency Is A Mere Patriotic Duty

So let’s say you’re a former congressman, CIA director and Secretary of Defense. You (and probably a ghost or two) have been noodling with a memoir for a long time. You’re finally out of office and want to make some dough and remind people you’re still a big deal. You know that in the heat of a midterm election that’s supposed to be a “referendum” on your former boss, and with much of the world focused on U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East, you can get a lot of attention and sell a lot of books by biting the hand that fed you and criticizing the president. Do you hold back for a while until said president is out of office, as Vice President Joe Biden suggested everyone should do? Or do you cash right in?

Well, we know Leon Panetta decided to cash right in. He didn’t go far out of his way to advertise his book as a devastating expose of a weak and America-endangering president, but he’s doing interviews that lend themselves to the impression that he thinks Obama erred grieveously by failing to leave combat troops in Iraq and fight for higher defense spending. And thus, as WaPo’s Dana Milbank points out in a column that excoriates Panetta for “stunning disloyalty” to Obama, his book was seized upon immediately by Republicans–notably Bobby Jindal, who was doing a big Let’s Give the Pentagon A Lot More Money speech the day before the book came out–as evidence of their national security case against the 44th president.

Now as Milbank admits, Panetta (like Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton before him) probably thinks of his service to the current administration as just the capstone of a career that was in full flower when Barack Obama was still in middle school. As it happens, Panetta is treated like a living deity out here on the Central Coast, which he used to represent in Congress. But his current work revolves around the Leon Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which mainly hosts lectures and seminars featuring big-name has-been Beltway Movers and Shakers who engage in Bipartisan Discussions of the Issues of the Day. I suppose a little extra street cred from Republicans owing to book tour interviews that sadly dismiss Barack Obama as out of his league doesn’t hurt this post-political legacy-building.

I doubt I’ll actually read Panetta’s book, but those who do can perhaps check my impression that Leon went deeply native at the Pentagon and continued the deplorable tradition of Secretaries of Defense who just can’t stop rattling the cup for more money for the ravening beast. If so, I suppose his current carping is in the bipartisan tradition of those who feel ungrateful besmirching of a presidency is a mere patriotic duty to ensure no occupant of that office forgets his extraconstitutional duty to the Empire.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, The Maddow Blog, October 7, 2014

October 8, 2014 Posted by | Defense Budget, Dept of Defense, Leon Panetta | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Wrong Way To Measure Strength”: You Don’t Measure Security By Sheer Numbers Of Troops

The ancient Greek military historian Thucydides famously noted that in war, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Today, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, concurs.

“It’s a dangerous world, and we’re making it more so by cutting defense,” said McKeon, responding to the president’s defense budget. “We weaken ourselves, and that is how you get into wars. You don’t get into wars if you’re strong.”

The idea that “weak” countries must fight to uphold their status might seem self-evident. However, while McKeon’s logic might have made sense in the Bronze Age, it makes little sense in the modern age.

First, warfare has changed since Thucydides’ day, where the relationship between military strength and a nation’s survival was clearer. The larger your population, the more men you had under arms, the stronger you were. Today’s wars are different, mostly because interstate conflict has declined drastically over the last 50 years. Even the smallest, weakest countries don’t worry about fighting for survival anymore.

For instance, of the five countries with the lowest military expenditures in the world – Costa Rica, Panama, the Seychelles, Liberia and Belize – only one has fought a war against another country in the past 25 years, and that was Panama, which the U.S. invaded in 1989. Perhaps McKeon was right about weakness, albeit not in the way he intended.

By contrast, the superpower with the highest military expenditure in the world – the United States – has fought six major armed conflicts in the last 25 years, and that doesn’t even include “military operations other than war.” Of the four other strongest military powers globally – China, Russia, the U.K., and Japan – only China and Japan have not fought wars in the last quarter century, largely because they lacked force projection capabilities.

Modern history not only disproves the idea that “strong” countries do not fight wars, but also suggests a dated definition of strength. Strong nations fight more conflicts because they have more global interests to protect and also because they can protect them in the first place. Russia’s recent incursion into Ukraine exemplifies this trend.

Today, hard power is based on the overall capability to project force beyond national borders; the states that are most likely to fight wars are the ones that can do so. In this regard, the U.S. is still without peer, and the military cuts McKeon lambasts don’t diminish that capability. With 11 supercarriers and nearly 600 military installations overseas, the U.S. is well-positioned to respond to global crises.

“With these cuts, we are talking about the Marines are planning on going down to 21 infantry battalions. Twenty are called for in the plan to defend Korea. That leaves one battalion to handle Russia, Iran, Syria, Egypt,” McKeon argued. The U.S. would not “handle” crises with any of these countries by deploying Marine battalions, however. Capability trumps capacity; in this regard, air-, sea- and logistical power are more important. Cutting troop numbers doesn’t make us weaker, but cutting our force projection capabilities does. Thankfully, the president’s budget does not significantly reduce those capabilities.

McKeon’s logic, therefore, is the exact reverse of what the last several decades have proven. Strong states fight wars more often because they have so much more to lose.

 

By: Faris Alikan, National Security Fellow at Third Way; U. S. News and World Report, March 6, 2014

 

March 7, 2014 Posted by | Defense Budget, Foreign Policy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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