The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned American security policy upside down, and right at a time when America's security interests are being seriously challenged.
On one side, the brigades of those convinced of American being the 21st century bully are now convinced that much of the war on terrorism was proof positive that many in American politics want to use only military force to settle conflicts and ensure US security.
On the other side, dissatisfied with what they see as an imperial design to remake the Islamic world, and fearful that "imperial overreach" brings with it a huge expansion of the size and power of the federal government, even conservatives have turned away from supporting a strong defense posture and, echoing the 1972 campaign of Senator George McGovern, are calling for America "to come home" from far flung deployments.
A considerable amount of analysis, especially in the national media, has concluded that strong defense supporters in Congress have largely surrendered in trying to sustain the defense budget at current levels. In addition -- seemingly unaware of the administration's warnings that currently planned defense sequestration -- automatic across the board reductions -- to say nothing of even greater military force cuts, would severely harm the nation's security -- they have also concluded that further deficit reduction might usefully eliminate more weapons systems and defense infrastructure beyond those called for by sequestration.
Ironically, defense supporters in Congress have actually welcomed the possible changes to the budget -- scheduled to have been sent to the Hill April 10, 2013 -- that reportedly will scale back the sequestration from a $50 billion a year cut in defense to $10 billion annually. The proposal, however, may be fraught with some not-too-subtle political speed bumps. To keep defense cuts from going forward, as called for by sequestration, the price may be a trade for higher taxes through elimination of what are often described as "loopholes for the rich," changes in the tax code which are assumed to be possible as part of a trade for tax reform. If used to offset an increase in defense spending, the prospects for tax reform dim.
The three most prominent tax items for elimination are: the accelerated depreciation for leased airplanes, a tax break provision put in the stimulus bill in 2009; the oil and gas provision that allows some exploration costs to be deducted; and a provision currently allowing hedge fund fees to be taxed at the capital gains rate as opposed to regular income tax rates.
These items come to $4-5 billion a year in estimated lost revenue but the argument makes for good sound bites as members of Congress can campaign that they would love to support a stronger defense but they are being stopped by supporters for "loopholes" for the rich.
These calculations call into question how seriously Washington takes the warnings of former Secretary of Defense Panetta and the current Joint Chief of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey that defense sequestration cuts are going to seriously harm US national security. If that is in fact the case, defense supporters should be doing whatever they can to reverse the defense cuts: right now the trade-off appears to be between relatively small tax items and a hollowed out military.
Raising revenue could easily be accomplished without changing tax rates or even eliminating loopholes. As a number of analysts have concluded, simply increasing economic growth rates an additional 1-2% a year -- a number equal to the average of previous recoveries, which would reduce unemployment to the 4-5% level -- would literally raise trillions of dollars in greater revenue over the next decade. In addition, as a number of legislators have laid out, there are tens of billions -- perhaps even hundreds -- in annual Federal expenditures which are unnecessary, wasteful, and duplicative that can be eliminated. Presumably, though, a politically smart government would make fewer people dependent upon it -- a dependency that current policies seem, like drug pushers, to encourage.
The US economy remains with some trillions in lost GDP and revenue, compared to a normal post-World War II recovery. Now, over four years into an economic rebound, the number of Americans on disability, food stamps and extended unemployment compensation continues to rise -- the opposite of what one would expect.
As a number of former directors of the Congressional Budget Office have explained, Washington is making cuts from only 30% of the budget—discretionary spending -- while leaving relatively untouched the 63% of the budget which are entitlements and poverty programs (the remaining amounts are accounted for by interest on the debt). Of the 30%, the cuts fall most heavily on defense and security spending: an 11% cut in defense spending this fiscal year (outside of military salaries and overseas contingencies).
Although there always is some accommodation to security requirements in budgets, we are now disregarding risking seriously harming our security by engaging in an elaborate game of "budget chicken." The defense budget should not be held hostage to major tax increases. There are plenty of smart alternatives to the defense sequestration.
Here then comes the real downside to defense cuts which may not be able to be swept aside or excused through colorful sound bites or fortune cookie analyses. Regardless of our rhetoric, the consequences of a reduced American presence in the world could be severe: adversaries may come to believe, if they do not already, that the word of the U.S. is no longer credible, as we will no longer have the resources to fulfill our commitments
In Iran, we have a converging consensus. Top scientists now understand that Iran is within 2-4 months of producing enough nuclear weapons fuel for an atomic weapon. Former top inspectors for the United Nations have now warned us that the IAEA framework is simply inadequate to know where all of Iran's nuclear work is carried out, and that a stealthy sprint toward nuclear weapons would outrun our ability to recognize what is taking place.
We further know that Iran and North Korea have signed a new defense agreement that mirrors word-for-word the previous North Korean-Syrian agreement that led to Damascus constructing a nuclear reactor, in violation of all requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In addition, Iran, North Korea and China are working jointly to build better ballistic missiles for the mullahs in Tehran and the Kim family in Pyongyang. Having mastered the technology of multi-stage rockets and the use of solid rocket motors, both rogue states can now launch rockets with little notice and send warheads far beyond the previous limits proscribed by unitary Scud missiles. An analysis of the debris of the North Korean rocket launch uncovered Chinese technology and Russian fuel traces -- in direct contravention of the pledge from both countries that they would work to limit proliferation threats.
When our friends ask for help, the phone almost always rings on the desk of the President of the United States. It is not a coincidence that US military and economic strength since the end of World War II resulted in the greatest expansion of human freedom and economic prosperity in history. A US retreat at this time, especially given the growing threats from North Korea and Iran, may invite serious miscalculations by our adversaries, all the more dangerous given their rapidly advancing missile and nuclear capabilities.
Unfortunately, some proposed "solutions" to these threats border on the "wishful thinking", even utopian. For example, Global Zero calls for dramatic reductions in US nuclear capabilities; Cato Institute scholars push for the withdrawal of all American forces from the Republic of Korea; and some former high ranking government officials propose that we acknowledge Iran as the top regional power in the Middle East and work jointly together.
However beneficial nuclear arms control has been, further reduction proposals beyond the 70% cut we have achieved since 1981 do not appear to be crafted to secure reciprocal benefits. We cut, but will the other guys follow?
Likewise, eliminating our forces from the South Korea to "reduce tensions," as some have proposed, may provoke exactly the opposite reaction. US withdrawal has been the long-sought goal of Pyongyang; if done, it could spark an invasion from the North as it seeks to fulfill its long quest to reunify the peninsula under its rule.
Moreover, joining forces with the premier state sponsor of terror in the world—Iran-- is totally fraught with danger. Any "deal" faces the same problem: is Iran playing diplomatic rope-a-dope, buying time to achieve its objectives of hegemonic control over the Middle East and leadership of the Islamic world? As Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations warns, "As the great powers contemplate a solution to the Iranian nuclear conundrum, they would be prudent to appreciate how Tehran uses diplomacy to complement its quest for nuclear arms."
The details of our nuclear policy remain to be announced; our Korean deployments may be in jeopardy due to budget pressures; and our Iran policy remains muddled as we have not fully employed sanctions and we remain enthralled by the un-thought-through, childlike idea that settlement of Palestinian statehood would resolve much of the terror and conflict in the Middle East. Uncertainty may breed recklessness among our adversaries but it also may push our allies into making choices that undermine the security frameworks that have in many cases worked so well.
Nuclear reductions under START I, the Moscow Treaty and New Start have improved strategic stability but some projected cuts might reverse that.
A sense that the US is less committed to extended deterrence in the Persian Gulf or western Pacific has already engendered discussion of new nuclear deterrent capabilities by our allies that might trigger a cascade of further proliferation.
A partial Iran sanctions policy, filled with Swiss-cheese exceptions, enables Tehran to doubt our resolve, and our allies to follow their own paths.
Worse, a paradigm that sees terrorism rooted in genuine grievances against the United States, the West and Israel will only encourage the terror masters to probe for even more weaknesses -- whether real or fabricated for political expediency -- to extract even greater concessions.
The years after the fall of Vietnam were not pretty for American security or that of the free world. Nearly two dozen nations either fell to communism or other tyrannies. Toward the end of the decade, the mullahs took over in Tehran, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq went to war with Iran. The Soviets claimed the correlation of forces had dramatically shifted in their direction, and with it their friends and they became increasingly emboldened.
The 1976 Committee on the Present Danger said: "We recognize that the responsibility of the United States in today's changing world cannot be easily or cheaply met…Peace is not a cut rate commodity. We must be wary of oversimplified and easy solutions to complex international problems."
Some 28 years later, Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl announced the re-establishment the committee, writing in the Washington Post on July 20, 2004:
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks awoke all Americans to the capabilities and brutality of our new enemy, but today too many people are insufficiently aware of our enemy's evil worldwide designs. The past struggle against communism was, in some ways, different from the current war against Islamist terrorism. But America's freedom and security, which each has aimed to undermine, are exactly the same. The national and international solidarity needed to prevail over both enemies is also the same. The Committee will advocate strong policies both against international terrorists and their sponsors and in favor of freedom and security. We are committed to advancing this common cause on a bipartisan basis.
Retired USAF Lt. General Mark Shackelford and Rebecca Heinrich summed up the situation well in a April 1, 2013, AOL Defense editorial:
Above all, Washington must recognize that it is not asking the military to do less. As rogue regimes in North Korea to Iran to Syria edge closer to Administration-defined 'redlines', the odds increase that our servicemen and women will be asked to do more. Yet sequestration insists that they do more with less. That is the best recipe for the hollow force.