Wednesday, March 18, 2009

American Military Leaders and Experts are Unhappy

-Published on Hurriyet Daily News on March 17th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 17 mart 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

It is reported that the Obama administration has asked the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon's budget request for fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent. Following all the stimulus packages and augmented budget-spending bills, it seems that there is only one federal department receiving a cut: the American Department of Defense, or DoD.
The Pentagon has an annual budget of about $800 billion a year, however amid escalating national deficit and dues, defense cannot be invulnerable to cuts, many authorities concede, though it seems these cuts will probably be sweeping ones with the new administration. Also the other US ally countries, including Britain and especially Eastern European ones, have the same resources problems. Therefore, the US will have to deal with its shrinking operating defense budget as well as many allies’ indisposed attitude when it comes the joint operations including but not limited to the Central Asian conflicts. In a couple of private conversations lately, I was told that there is a growing concern among some military leadership that the new administration might consider being soft on Eastern Europe to Russian sway after many years of political and strategic investments to this region, and this leeway is another matter that seems to infuriate many in the field.
In the US capital, whilst the current economic downturn is being discussed, numerous frightening scenarios about exploding China and Russia and would-be upshots of such episodes around world are also other chatting points in the different panels. Many experts perceive the current economic instability as the biggest threat to many countries’ national security outlook, including the US. The Washington Post reported recently that new Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress that instability in countries around the world caused by the current global economic crisis is the primary near-term security threat to the United States, rather than terrorism, Iraq’s fragility or the blackening situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan.
I participated in a series of conferences at several places in America in recent weeks and had a chance to listen to many of the active military leaders, academics and experts, both from the private and public sectors. Keep in mind, America is still fighting two wars, and also many other troubled regions and countries are being dealt with at present.
Notable discussions show that the Pentagon military leadership and defense experts are unhappy with the current cuts. The debate is continuing amongst the authorities and connoisseurs fiercely, and many suggest that, with the mammoth deficit ominous before Congress, the DoD will have to cut many of their projects, future ambitions and hopes in the imminent future, and this situation prompted many defense experts to call outright for profound changes in the US military forces. For example, among the ideas, despite the ongoing wars, cutting the Naval vessels by half or third in the coming years is gaining support. Some others say that there is an urgent needs to focus on a cadre system in the Navy – reduced Navy with enhanced mobilization readiness. One of the biggest reasons for that, simply, is that the US Treasury might not have enough money to sustain current Navy expenditures, staff numbers and their pensions. Therefore today’s deficit problems are already pushing the Pentagon to reflect on proposed intense adjusting policies in their future attitude.
It is reported that the British Navy is already overstretched and is short of funds, and the British Government doesn’t have a lot of options to borrow more capital. Thus the British military forces are already about to shrivel, and will have to also withdraw from many theaters of the world behind “an era dominated by a Blairite philosophy of active interventionism, characterized by the promotions and pursuit of values in shaping a globalised World”. And it seems that if the current economic downturn goes on, “within two or three years time”, American Military missions might catch the same choking end.
Scores of today’s challenges before the US Armed forces were not in place when the National Security Act, 1947, was written and approved after the Second World War. There is a “need for organizational changes that bring the original National Security Act of 1947 in line with reality and the redundant competing decision-making authorities in the Pentagon.” For example, nation building is one of these new contests that the US Army has been increasingly focusing in recent years that were not in the what to do list a few decades ago. US Army’s mission is getting more sophisticated and multifaceted, spending time and money in different ways and means to reach peace, without having an up-to-date road map.
Many defense experts also are worrying about the culture in the US Army. It seems that taking risk, saying ‘no’ to superiors or making ‘out of the box’ decisions is not popular in the current US Army culture. Another worry that the Army culture might be defiant to the change and also resistant to adopt new techniques and ideas, and this probability also poses a great peril for evolving new threats from different corners of the globe. Pentagon and Defense Department are having a great difficulty to attract bright people to their organizations, because it seems that the US Army doesn’t promise a dazzling future for the competent young minds; maybe promoting young risk taker lieutenants early would be one way to attract them. Though “if you were facing your third yearlong combat tour in five years, what would you do?” one said when I talked about these problems, “everyone would be worn out and fatigued” continued; and it seems the American Army is no exception to that.
Brains of the Obama administration support the current budget cuts for the DoD as “things are not as bad as Vietnam era” and call the last 8 years of bad management as reasons of today’s troubles. One expert said that military leaders’ politicization is one of the weaknesses of today’s US Army, and some military commanders coming out to defend politic decisions of former administration publicly was a worrisome point in recent times. “Actually it is hard to argue that the military has been politicized any more than other times in history. It is not heard for an active duty officer to criticize the current administration,” one retired Army personnel told me in an email exchange.
The problems are acute in the American Defense outlook, concluded another prominent defense expert. Defense strategists call for quick cut and change for the Defense staff and the culture in the system. It has been discussed in many books in the last years that the decision making process in the Pentagon is alarmingly slow and is very painful even for urgent circumstances. The much-praised recent ‘surge’ policy for the Iraq war was a proof of this slow process and it took a very long period of discussions and endless meetings. And it was a sober warning to many who already worry about the procedure. “It is not enough to make good decisions, you need to make them timely and fast” one defense specialist said at another panel. Nonetheless how the reduced Defense budget would help to drive needed changes in the Army is not known.
The US was hit by the economic crises despicably first. And it seems America’s mighty Army will be taking another batter in the coming months and years. The War on Terror has been winding down by the new administration; the fists are expected and asked to be unclenched, and US diplomats are wandering around the globe promising to listen and learn more, instead of telling and arranging. This divergence in attitudes will soon be felt across the world, though whether this transformation has been a necessity or voluntarily can be another topic to be discussed with the newest America’s state of economic uncertainty.
Ilhan Tanir lives in Washington, DC and works for a private consulting firm as a Research Director. He can be reached at:

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