Thursday, February 28, 2013

Unclear On the Concept

Our new Secretary of Defense seems unclear on how his department is different from the State Department.


Decorated Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel was sworn in as U.S. defense secretary on Wednesday after a bruising Senate confirmation battle, promising to renew old U.S. alliances and forge new ones without attempting to "dictate" to the world.

That's nice. Implicitly trash your country--and the two prior secretaries in the same administration, I'd add--on your first day in office. You'd think that having an apologetic president would be enough. But no. Enough of that dictation stuff. Let's not bicker over who killed who, right?

Also, Secretary Hagel (it still grates that this doesn't mean he takes dictation) doesn't seem to really get the concept that when the president turns to the Secretary of Defense for options, it is precisely because other countries don't want to voluntarily do what we want (or stop doing what we don't want them to do), so we may send in the military to compel them. That is, our military will try to dictate the outcome to them after beating them about the head and shoulders with force.

When anyone says that only veterans should hold foreign policy and defense positions, the counter-arguments will be Hagel and Kerry.

Hey, one piece of advice: old allies and potential allies really value our ability to dictate to those portions of the world that our old and potential allies are worried about. So maybe get on this problem that supposedly will reduce our ground forces by 200,000 troops.

I find it hard to believe that the cuts would be this much on top of reducing training. Is the sequester really that badly designed? And if it is, the president really wouldn't sign a bill passed by Congress to do this more rationally?

The defense budget numbers look worse than I think they are since--if I recall correctly--the Obama administration simply has a unified defense budget including war operations rather than the base budget and war supplementals of the Bush administration. So cuts in our budget now also take into account reductions in warfighting accounts.

Whether we are ending the fight too soon is a separate question of whether defense spending is declining too much for the core military budget, but this budget change is a factor in judging the seriousness of the spending levels going forward.

Also, I dislike using defense spending as a percent of GDP to decide what is enough for defense. It is useful to show whether it is really a burden on our economy (it is not, given our very large economy). But it is not useful for deciding whether we are spending enough on needed capabilities.

Oh, and I hate the idea of scrapping the F-35 Marine Corps version since it denies us our stealth carrier capabilities.

But I'm sure that Secretary Hagel is well aware of all the nuances of these problems. This will work out swell.

Or not.