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In the last month we have published two commentaries which are
"It's Time To Scrutinize The Pentagon Budget" by Charles Knight, Carl
Conetta and James P. McGovern
"Meeting the Enemy with Serious Talks of Extraordinary Scope" by
"It's Time To Scrutinize The Pentagon Budget"
There is nothing about the absolute size of a half-trillion dollar
Pentagon budget that should concern Americans if that expenditure is
necessary for the defense of the nation and if, as a nation, we are
rich enough to foot the bill. But in the shadow of 9/11 and subsequent
wars, that budget has been exempted from the type of scrutiny it
received during the 1990s. Still it constitutes so much of our
discretionary spending and has contributed so much to our deficit
spending that we can no longer afford to look the other way.
The last ten years have seen the Pentagon's "baseline budget" grow by
45% - from $358 billion in 1997 to $518 billion today, not including
much of the funding for current wars and for Homeland Security.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the baseline budget
will grow another $30 billion in coming years. And it has been
reported that the Bush Administration will pass on to the Obama
Administration a revised five year defense plan which will push the
budget up another $80 billion.
Surely our national security needs are real and enduring. But there
also is an immediate need to shore-up our economy and to speed relief
to Americans facing hard times Americans of all ages also want reform
of the healthcare system in order to improve access to quality care
and to make it more affordable. We need diverse educational
investments and major investments to reduce energy dependence and to
curb global warming.
Meanwhile America is slipping further into recession, likely the worst
since the 1930s. The next several years are expected to add several
trillions of dollars to our already outstanding national debt of $10
trillion. As debt rises relative to revenue and new demands on the
budget loom, we simply must use our resources judiciously. With
millions of American households facing their own budget crises, the
next congress will be expected to exercise more vigilant oversight of
the government budget, the Pentagon's included.
Since 1998 we have spent about $5 trillion on defense (in 2008
dollars), $1.4 trillion more than the 1998 level. About $800 billion
(57%) of this increase was devoted to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Ending them would dramatically reduce the demands on the Pentagon. The
remaining $600 billion (43%) are additions to baseline spending. There
is much in that figure that deserves closer scrutiny.
For example we are currently adding nearly 100,000 troops to the Army
and Marine Corps. These two services have suffered due to the long
occupation of Iraq. But the increase is designed to be permanent. And
this part of the plan begs fundamental questions: What have we learned
from our Iraq experience? Is long-term, large-scale military
occupation of a foreign country a worthwhile or even practical road to
Apart from our current wars, the United States maintains a very large
military presence abroad. Even in peacetime we keep more than 200,000
personnel on foreign soil and 30,000 sailors on more than 100 deployed
ships and submarines. No other nation does remotely as much. And we
are planning to do more - with the recent addition of a new regional
military command covering Africa. Is this the best, most
cost-effective way to influence world events? Or might more be done at
less cost and more effectively through the State Department and
through regional and global institutions?
Finally, the Pentagon hopes to renovate US nuclear capabilities,
proceed with national missile defense efforts, and explore the
potentials of anti-satellite and space-based weapons. But these
efforts are plagued by questions about their effects on international
stability and on arms control, and about their feasibility and
reliability. In the case of nuclear weapons, perhaps the best course
is to retire much of our stockpile in tandem with reductions by other
Any adjustment in national security planning is bound to be
controversial - and it should be. But we can no longer afford to shy
away from that controversy. Our current circumstance demands that we
enter into a broad and deep discussion about national strategic
priorities, including security priorities. And this necessarily
entails looking behind the curtain that shields the defense budget
from more serious scrutiny.
-- Originally syndicated by Minuteman Media and published on 08 January
2009 by CommonDreams.org - http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/01/08-0
Also appeared on CommonDreams
"Meeting the Enemy with Serious Talks of Extraordinary Scope"
Consider this scenario. The president's national security advisor has
flown off to a distant capital to meet with the supreme leader of an
enemy state. After reassuring his host that the U.S. does not seek
permanent bases, the U.S. envoy says:
"So that the mere fact that we are sitting in this room changes the
objective basis of the original intervention.... For us who inherited
the war our problem has been how to liquidate it in a way that does
not affect our entire international position..."
"We have attempted to separate the military outcome from the political
outcome so that we can disengage from the area and permit the local
forces to shape their future."
No, those are not the words of James Jones, President Obama's national
security adviser, meeting with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Rather,
equally improbably, those are the words of Henry Kissinger meeting
with Zhou Enlai in June of 1972 ( transcript at the National Security
Although the term "rogue state" had not yet been invented in 1972,
"Red China" had been the object of fear-mongering in the American
press since the Korean War and was, if anything, more of a pariah
nation than Iran is thirty-seven years later. Few Americans at the
time could quite imagine the President's chief national security
adviser sitting down for a heart to heart talk with the leadership of
such a state.
But in 1972 Kissinger was making his second trip for secret talks with
the Red Chinese leadership. Thirty-seven years later, when the U.S.
once again has its troops seemingly stuck in an unending conflict in a
distance land, the transcripts of that meeting with Zhou Enlai make
for fascinating and instructive reading.
Kissinger's visit to Beijing shows us the wide and daring scope of
diplomacy that may be pursued in service of ending an unfortunate war.
What is remarkable is how much Henry Kissinger, representing the most
powerful nation on earth, concedes to the Chinese in an effort to gain
their help in getting the North Vietnamese to be more responsive
negotiators. He distances himself from the harsh statements directed
at the Chinese by the Johnson administration. He states directly that
the U.S. can live with a communist Vietnam, insisting only that the
U.S. can not be expected to overthrow its sponsored allies in the
south. He clarifies for Zhou that the U.S. expects to withdraw all of
its troops from Vietnam and leave no bases behind. Rather directly he
is asking the Chinese to persuade the North Vietnamese to allow the
U.S. to leave Vietnam with modicum of dignity and plausible denial
that they are abandoning an ally.
The US exit from Iraq can be less demanding. The Iranians look rather
favorably on the current Iraqi government and probably would object to
our abandoning it. What we need from the Iranians is their help in
persuading the Shia-dominated Iraqi government to make peace and share
proportionate power with the Sunni minority which will only happen in
the context of regional rapprochement of Iraq's neighbors including
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. Iranian cooperation is
essential to making this possible.
What will the Iranians want? Much like the Chinese they will insist
on an end to sanctions and a commitment for diplomatic recognition and
normalization. What about their nuclear program? Much like the
arrangement made thirty-seven years ago regarding the status of
Taiwan, the US will need to "agree to disagree" and accept the
ambiguous meaning of Iranian nuclear development with a silent
understanding that Iran will not weaponize its knowledge and materials.
Many in the US will argue that the Iranian government does not deserve
such treatment, but it is likely that such is the price of Middle East
stability and peace after Bush's strategic blunder with the Iraq war.
This commentary is not an exercise in drawing analogies between the
particularities of Iraq and Vietnam. Nor is it principally about
similarities in the strategic context. Rather it invites us to
imagine President Obama's Assistant for National Security Affairs or
Secretary of State sitting down for serious talks of extraordinary
scope with one or more of the leaders of present day 'enemy' nations
in the Middle East.
I am reminded that there was extraordinary suffering in store for the
people of Vietnam and Cambodia (and, for that matter, U.S. soldiers
and their families) for years after the Kissinger-Zhou talks took
place. I hope we have the will and imagination for talks in Iran and
the surrounding region that will yield better outcomes for the people
of the region.
Originally published on OpEdNews