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“Threat Multipliers”: Republicans Always Listen to the Pentagon—Except When It Says Climate Change Is Real

Faced with mounting scientific evidence that humans are causing climate change, Republicans are having an increasingly hard time denying the facts. Those denials became even more laughable Tuesday, when one of the party’s favorite agencies, the Department of Defense, told Congress that climate change is hurting military operations.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, a Department of Defense representative laid out how climate change is exposing its infrastructure in coastal and Arctic regions to rising sea levels and extreme weather, and that it’s even impacting decisions like which types of weapons the Pentagon buys. This is only the latest in a series of recent warnings from the military, which raised the issue as far back as George W. Bush’s second term. In March, the Pentagon warned, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that the effects of climate change “are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensionsconditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” In other words, increased drought and water shortages are likely to trigger fighting over limited resources. The military has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas footprint 34 percent by 2020and it’s already well on its way to that goal.

When the DOD says it needs something, Republicans usually listen. Perhaps the military can convince conservatives that climate change is real enough to obstruct national security?

So far, the GOP remains unconvinced. When the House of Representatives passed the Pentagon’s budget in June, it included an amendment, passed mostly along partly lines, barring the department from implementing its climate change initiatives. On Monday, The Hill reported that Republican Senator John Barasso called the military’s efforts to combat climate change “wasteful and irresponsible at best, especially as our friends and allies struggle with violent, deadly crises that have real implications for our security.”

The Pentagon’s first task in convincing the GOP to care may be debunking the idea that the U.S. must wait for perfect science before taking action (particularly when the scientific certainty on human-caused climate change is equal to the certainty that cigarettes harm health). And as the editors at Bloomberg View recently pointed out, the military doesn’t wait for perfect certainty before assessing a threat. Waiting, generally, is a poor strategy.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 23, 2014

July 24, 2014 Posted by | Climate Science, Greenhouse Gases, Pentagon, Republicans | , , , , | 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

“The Doomed Wars”: In Afghanistan And Iraq Wars, No Amount Of Enthusiasm From President Obama Was Going To Change That

Washington loves few things more than a tell-all memoir. Even if a memoir doesn’t tell very much, the media will do their best to characterize it as scandalous and shocking. So it is with the book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates which will soon be appearing in airport bookstores everywhere. From the excerpts that have been released, it sounds like Gates has plenty of praise for President Obama, and some criticisms that are not particularly biting. Sure, there’s plenty of bureaucratic sniping and the settling of a few scores, but his criticisms (the Obama White House is too controlling, politics sometimes intrudes on national security) sound familiar.

Gates’ thoughts on Afghanistan, however, do offer us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve come in that long war. The quote from his book that has been repeated the most concerns a meeting in March 2011 in which Obama expressed his frustration with how things were going in Afghanistan. “As I sat there,” Gates writes, “I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” Well let’s see. Should Obama have trusted David Petraeus? I can’t really say. Hamid Karzai is corrupt, incompetent, and possibly mentally unstable. As to whether he believed in his own strategy (the “surge” of extra troops), by then there were plenty of reasons to doubt that it would work. The war wasn’t his—it had been going on for over seven years before he even took office. And “it’s all about getting out”? Well wasn’t that the whole point? The reason the administration undertook the “surge” in the first place was to create the conditions where we could get out.

Another thing Gates writes is, “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” and that that is a problem for the troops in the field. I’m sure it can be, to a degree, and morale can be undermined if you think the president doesn’t believe you’re going to succeed. I would also imagine that if you were a soldier in Iraq in 2005 or so and you saw George Bush on TV all the time talking about how great everything was going, you’d think your Commander in Chief was an idiot, and that might not be so good for morale either. But the real point is that in neither case was the president’s confidence going to make much of a difference. The problem was never the president’s disposition, or the particular decisions made in one year or one month. It was launching the war in the first place.

Let’s look at Iraq. Bush was nothing if not confident, and after about 4,500 American deaths and an expenditure of two trillion dollars, things finally quieted down enough for us to get out. Success! And two years after we left, the country is devolving into another civil war, or if you prefer, the latest inflammation of a civil war that never ended. We sure as hell aren’t going to re-invade to deal with it, not just because the American people would never stand for it, but because it wouldn’t make anything better there if we did. No sane person can look at the situation today and believe that it all could have been averted if the Americans had made some different decisions along the way.

As for Afghanistan, the predictions back in 2001 that the country was impossible to pacify, the war would inevitably become a quagmire, and we’d end up washing our hands of the place and leaving it to its own miserable existence just like the Russians and British before us, well they’re looking pretty prescient about now.

So what’s going to happen when we leave? I’m hardly an expert in internal Afghan politics, but from this vantage point it sure looks like there’ll be a government in Kabul that isn’t capable of holding the country together, and there will quickly be a violent struggle for power whose outcome is hard to predict. In other words, pretty much exactly what would have happened if twelve years ago we had said, “We kicked out the Taliban, so we’ve extracted what revenge we can on this particular spot on the earth for September 11. Now we’re going to install a provisional government and get the hell out.”

That isn’t to say there weren’t plenty of mistakes along the way and things that could have been done better by both the Bush and Obama administrations. And the question of our moral responsibility to Afghanistan’s future is one we’re going to have to grapple with—though if Iraq is any indication, our response to future death and misery there is likely to be, “Wow, that’s unfortunate. Now put on American Idol.” The awful reality is that the Afghanistan war, like the Iraq war, was doomed from the start, and no amount of enthusiasm from President Obama was going to change that.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 8, 2014

January 9, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Confidence Masking Ignorance”: Rand Paul Has A Debt-Ceiling Plan

By now, you’ve probably seen the amazing bit Jimmy Kimmel aired this week, in which he sent out a correspondent to ask folks which they like better: the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. All kinds of people offered spirited opinions on the matter, arguing on behalf of one policy or the other, completely unaware that the two measures are exactly the same thing.

It was funny to watch folks express opinions on a subject they know so little about, though it was also easy to feel kind of bad for people who were made to look foolish on national television. After all, these were just regular Americans, not public officials whose job it is to understand the nuances and details of public policy.

When they say strange things on national television, it’s harder to feel charitable.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued Wednesday that there’s no need to raise the debt ceiling because the U.S. can pay the interest on its debt with existing revenue.

“What’s going on is, interestingly, the Democrats are scaring people saying we might not pay [interest on the debt] because Republicans don’t want to raise the debt ceiling,” Paul said on CNN. “If you don’t raise the debt ceiling that means you won’t have a balanced budget, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t pay your bills.”

Paul argued that the House has passed a bill, the Full Faith and Credit law, that mandates payments on debt interest, Social Security, Medicare and soldier’s salaries go out first. He said that if the debt ceiling is breached, other government function wouldn’t get financed, but that no default would occur.

This is, for lack of a better word, bonkers. Ezra talked with Rachel about this last night, explaining, “The way to think about Rand Paul’s plan is, imagine I said to you that unless you give me what I want, I’m going to burn down the studio. You said to me, ‘That sounds like a very bad idea if you burn the studio, nobody will have a studio.’ And I said, ‘No, no, I’ve got a plan. While it’s burning down, I will run in and grab all the things of value amidst the chaos, so that will all be fine.’ That’s basically the theory that he’s come up with here.”

The United States has a series of obligations and debts. For Paul, default is apparently an impossibility — the government will continue to collect a certain amount of revenue, which we can use to pay creditors. Once they’re paid, we can see if there’s money left for Social Security recipients and the military. If we still have a few bucks lying around, we can ignore some obligations and pay the others. Problem solved!

The world would abandon its confidence in the United States, many legal obligations would have to be ignored, and our full faith and credit would become a global punch-line, but isn’t Paul’s wacky idea easier than simply authorizing the Treasury to simply pay for the stuff we already bought?

Why would Rand Paul — a U.S. senator, mind you — say all this stuff out loud and on purpose? Because he thinks he’s saying things that entirely sensible.

This comes up all the time with the junior senator from Kentucky. In August, Paul spoke about the philosophic nature of “rights,” though his opinions on the subject were largely gibberish. The senator says he cares deeply about minority rights, which he struggles to grasp. Paul talks about drone policy, which he flubs badly. He’s expressed a great interest in the Federal Reserve, which he doesn’t understand in the slightest. Paul claims to hate Obamacare, but he fails to appreciate what the policy is and what it does. He says he’s deeply concerned about the deficit, but doesn’t know what the deficit is.

Obviously, no one is an expert in everything, but the key here is that Rand Paul, like the folks in the Jimmy Kimmel video, have strong opinions about subjects he claims to care deeply about, but about which he seems hopelessly confused.

The senator speaks with great confidence about these issues, as if he’s given them a great deal of thought, but the confidence masks a degree of ignorance that Paul seems blissfully unaware of.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 4, 2013

October 7, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For Most, There’s Been No Shared Sacrifice”: Syria And The Myth That Americans Are “War Weary”

Perhaps the most misleading phrase in the debate over Syria is “war weary.” Americans, say commentators and politicians across the political spectrum, are exhausted by a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with sideshows in Libya and Yemen. Now Syria? Where does it stop? Americans must be weary.

Of exactly what?

The truth is that for most Americans, the constant combat has imposed no burdens, required no sacrifices and involved no disruptions. True, the money spent has been substantial. From 2001 to 2012, reckons the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with related operations cost $1.4 trillion. Although that’s a lot even by Washington standards, it pales next to all federal spending and the economy’s total production. From 2001 to 2012, federal spending totaled $33.3 trillion; the wars were 4 percent of that. Over the same period, the American economy produced $163 trillion of goods and services. War spending equaled nine-tenths of 1 percent of that.

As important, no special tax was ever imposed to pay war costs. They were simply added to budget deficits, so that few, if any, Americans suffered a loss of income. It’s doubtful that much other government spending was crowded out by the wars.

The largest cost, of course, involves Americans killed and those who suffered life-altering wounds, both physical and mental. As of Sept. 3, the Pentagon counted 4,489 deaths connected to the war in Iraq and 2,266 connected to the war in Afghanistan, including some U.S. civilians. To these numbers must be added thousands more with serious injuries. Through September 2011, according to the CBO, 740,000 veterans from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan had received treatment from the Veterans Health Administration. In a study of veterans treated from 2004 to 2009, the CBO found that 21 percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, 2 percent with traumatic brain injury and another 5 percent with both.

The pain, suffering, sorrow and anguish of these and other losses are borne by a tiny sliver of Americans: those who joined the volunteer military, plus their families and close friends. There was no draft. There was no shared sacrifice, as there was in World War II, Korea and (to a lesser extent) even Vietnam. Those who have made the sacrifices have a right to feel “weary.” For the rest of us, it’s a self-indulgence.

What many Americans seem to mean by “weary” is “frustrated.” They’re frustrated and disillusioned that so much fighting over so many years has not brought the clear-cut psychological and strategic benefits of “victory.” For others, the lesson is more stark: These foreign military forays were a waste and, in many respects, have done more harm than good. One way or another, there’s a widespread impatience with our engagements when patience is often required for success.

If it is to be useful, the debate over Syria must broach larger issues. The United States cannot be the world’s policeman. It cannot rectify every wrong or redress every atrocity. It cannot impose the “American way of life” and values on diverse peoples who have their own ways of life and values. But the United States isn’t Monaco. Since World War II, we have assumed a sizable responsibility for the international order. We have done this not so much out of idealism as out of self-interest. The large lesson of that war was that American absence from the global stage ultimately contributed to a global tragedy from which we could not remain aloof.

This lesson endures. But it lacks a firm footing in public opinion. Members of the World War II generation have largely died. Their experience is now an abstraction. The new applications of an old doctrine often suffer from carelessness and expedience — sometimes too much eagerness, sometimes too little. We do have overriding interests in a stable global order. To state an obvious case: It cannot be in our interests (or the world’s) for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Whatever we do in Syria must spring from a sober calculation of national interest so that it commands broad public support. The worst outcome would be a retreat justified by nothing more than an exaggerated and artificial sense of “war weariness.”

 

By: Robert Samuelson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 4, 2013

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Syria, War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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