Streetwise Professor

April 17, 2011

Gates and the Ghost of Christmas Future

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:41 pm

Robert Gates’s public criticism of Obama’s budget speech was the most under-reported story about the battle over the nation’s fiscal future.  Gates had already gone off the reservation about Libya and other matters, but this takes it to a whole new level:

The United States would have to abandon some military missions and trim troop levels if President Barack Obama presses ahead with new proposed defense cuts, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

. . . .

Minutes after Obama announced his austerity plan, the Pentagon renewed those concerns even as Gates endorsed Obama’s commitment to a thorough review before making any cuts.

Obama has pledged that his budget reductions will not compromise national security.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates “has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without reducing force structure and military capability.”

The Pentagon said Gates was not informed of Obama’s decision on budget cuts until Tuesday. Morrell said the issue would not affect the timing of Gates’ expected retirement. [Emphasis added.]

. . . .

“The secretary believes that this process must be about managing risk associated with future threats and national security challenges and identifying missions that the country is willing to have the military forgo,” Morrell said.

Here’s one interpretation of Gates’s startling remarks:

Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative suggests a different approach. He told me last night, “Secretary Gates fended off previous White House attempts to raid the Pentagon’s coffers but he seems to have lost the latest battle in a big way. If he really believes, as his previous statements indicate, that the type of cuts outlined by the President today will put our national security at risk, he should resign rather than continue to serve in an administration that is increasingly unserious about national security.”

Jennifer Rubin repeats her argument that Gates needs to resign.  But I don’t think that she–and any of the too few others that have written about this issue–have thought through the meaning of Gates’s public dissent, and hence have not fully grasped its gravity.  When someone who is more apparatchik than prima donna acts in this way, it is extraordinary.  It suggests something very serious behind the scenes.

I believe that had any member of other administrations, notably Bush’s but even Clinton’s, had been so outspoken in his or her criticism of the president and his policies on so many dimensions (Afghanistan, Libya, defense budget cuts) the press would be all over it.  Interesting, isn’t it, that the press is largely averting its eyes in this instance?

One brief comment on Libya, which is transitioning from farce to whatever is beyond farce.  France and Britain are running out of precision guided munitions.  No doubt this is in large part Sarkozy and Cameron doing their best Tom Sawyer imitations, trying to get Obama to finish the job they started.  But given the way the UK in particular has gutted its defense (or “defence”) establishment in recent years, it’s likely the case that non-US NATO nations do not have the capacity to do anything serious for any period of time, even against a 5th rate military power like Libya.  Which gives the lie to the “handing off the mission to NATO” line.  (Anyone who bought that one in the first place: please contact me.  I have some excellent deals for you!) In the meantime, Khaddafy is apparently sufficiently emboldened to make public rounds, making plain the incoherent and pathetic nature of the campaign against him.

Keep all that in mind when you evaluate Gates’s rebellion.  I’ve said before that Britain is like our Ghost of Christmas Future; it has gone far further down the path that the progressive left in the US would like to go, and we can see the results and profit from them–if we are as sensible as Scrooge.

In particular, Britain’s impotence in Libya is a great illustration of what happens when you cannibalize the military.  That’s what Gates is worried about, and warning about.  If he believed that he had a chance of getting a fair hearing within the administration on the issue, I’m sure he’d play Mr. Inside.  His determination to go rogue, to play Mr. Outside, is an indication that he believes he has no such chance.  Which means, most likely, that competing visions of American priorities, strategies, and the means needed to achieve them will be yet another issue in what is shaping up to be the most divisive–and consequential–presidential election in recent history.

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  1. Professor-I can ‘t express how much I respect your posts.

    As for this post the canary is on it’s back gasping for breath with it’s spindly legs wiggling ever slowly in the air. Just a year and half to see if we can recover.

    I just watched Russian news and it is clear Putin is at the top of his form.

    Medevedev is making submissive noises and notes a second term rests largely on the attitude of the electorate-wa ha ha-can you imagine he actually said that.

    Comment by pahoben — April 17, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  2. If we’re the worlds policeman, as we pay for, why can’t we all retire at age 50 at 90% pay with a full benefits package? The rest of the world free rides on our backs and it is bankrupting us.

    Comment by Bob — April 17, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

  3. I really do not understand how we reached this policy of continual limited warfare. If you go to war then go to war and then enjoy the fruits of victory. In many places in the world a victory in war requires the elimination of most males between say 17 and 60. If you are at war with a European country a negotiated settlement might be possible but in many places it is not possible without total warfare.

    Anyone with common sense believed Iraq would become a never ending battle against insurgents. Afghanistan what can I say and now Libya (which Gates opposed). It seems likely that this policy is being driven by people who do not have the interests of the US first and foremost.

    The Professor knows better than I but what would Clausewitz say about current US warfare policy. We have become the best at limited and self destroying warfare.

    Comment by pahoben — April 17, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

  4. Sarkozy may have fooled himself into thinking that [GKQ]adaffi was a pushover. (There’s nothing like a triumphant little war to boost your ratings.) But I don’t understand how he managed to rope in Obama into this adventure.

    Comment by So? — April 17, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  5. @pahoben–thanks so much. Deeply appreciated. Re canary metaphor–I regret to say I have to agree. Re US warfare policy–oi. Esp. wrt Libya, I’ve never witnessed anything so botched on every level.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 18, 2011 @ 5:31 am

  6. To a large extent, the “costs” of a weapons program is similar to a nationally administered insurance program. Whether a certain fighter jet costs 50-60 million dollars is very debatable. If a govt. allots a certain % of GDP for defense spending and say a certain percent of that is allocated to new weapons program, then the defense contractors have a knowledge of that and can “price” their products accordingly. The scant competition and the presence of tons of opportunities for collusion makes this even more probable. I believe that a lot of new weapons acquisition can be shelved without compromising national security. And yes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pull out of wars if you cannot afford one.

    Comment by Surya — April 18, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  7. It also helps to have more than 2 major defense contractors.

    Comment by So? — April 19, 2011 @ 2:00 am

  8. So? I agree, but its a common problem around the world in the aerospace industry, the US has Lockheed-Martin and Northrop-Grumman for combat aircraft, Russia has Mikoyan-Gurevich and Sukhoi for combat aircraft, while countries like Britain, France, and I think China only have one designer/manufacturer available.

    This certainly does drive up cost.

    Comment by Andrew — April 19, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  9. Andrew,
    In that case, it is best to have a govt. run weapons manufacturing program. Tax payers can then have some control of the costs. This seems to be one of the very very few cases for govt. control of a “industry”.

    Comment by Surya — April 20, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

  10. Or demerge the giants.

    Comment by So? — April 21, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  11. Bob wrote: “If we’re the worlds policeman, as we pay for, why can’t we all retire at age 50 at 90% pay with a full benefits package? The rest of the world free rides on our backs and it is bankrupting us.

    You are very selfish. Bob. I bet you have some elderly relatives who rely on Social Security and Medicare for survival. But have you considered how much misery defense cuts will bring to our Pentagon generals and warlike politicians. What fun is it to rule the country when you can’t get enough toys to kill natives all over the world?

    That’s why the Republicans will get all those lazy elderly off of Social Security and Medicare, and use the saved money to build missiles and give tax cuts to the the wealthy. After all, it is the wealthy twho create new jobs. My wealthy neighbor, for example, recently created 1000 new outsourced jobs in India by closing his office in USA and firing 100 Americans. He also bought a $100 million dollar French yacht, giving employment to hundreds of Frenchmen. He deserves cut as a patriotic American! Let the rich and foreigners trickle down all over the poor Americans! 🙁

    Comment by Ostap Bender — April 24, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

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