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Volume XI, No. 2,741 • January 17, 2012

UNITED STATES | More About: Barack Obama, Israel-US Relations, US Military


Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2012

President Obama [on January 8] put in a rare appearance at the Pentagon, flanked by the four service chiefs and his Secretary of Defense. Saying that now is the time to cash in a peace dividend, he unveiled plans for a significantly slimmed-down military. This dance was choreographed to convey strength. Everything else about it showed how domestic entitlements are beginning to squeeze the U.S. military.

This self-inflicted attack on defense comes at a strange time. True, the U.S. cut deeply after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War—and in each case came to regret it soon enough when new threats emerged. But peace doesn’t characterize our time. Mr. Obama wielded his familiar line that “the tide of war is receding,” which will please his antiwar base but will come as news to the Marines in Afghanistan or the Navy ships patrolling the tense Strait of Hormuz.

The Pentagon shouldn’t be immune to fiscal scrutiny, yet this Administration has targeted defense from its earliest days and has kept on squeezing. The White House last year settled with Congress on $450 billion in military budget cuts through 2021, on top of the $350 billion in weapons programs killed earlier. Defense spending next year will fall 1% in nominal terms. The Pentagon also faces another $500 billion in possible cuts starting next January under “sequestration,” unless Congress steps in first.

Taken altogether, the budget could shrink by over 30% in the next decade. The Administration projects outlays at 2.7% of GDP in 2021, down from 4.5% last year (which included the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan).… As recently as 1986…the U.S. spent 6.2% of GDP on defense with no detrimental economic impact.

What’s different now? The growing entitlement state. The Administration is making a political choice and sparing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are set to hit nearly 11% of GDP by 2020. And that’s before $2.6 trillion for ObamaCare, which will surely cost more. These entitlements are already crowding out spending on defense and thus reducing America’s global standing, following the tragic path that Europe has taken. The difference is that Europe had the U.S. military in reserve. Who will backstop America?…

The real message to the world is that the Administration wants to scale back U.S. leadership. This was part of the rationale behind the White House’s reluctance to take the initiative in the Middle East last year, as well as the attempts to mollify Iran’s mullahs and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Now the Administration plans to draw down troops and America’s profile in Africa, Latin America and Europe. The Navy can easily match Iran’s threats in the Persian Gulf now, but what about in 10 years?

President Obama ended his remarks by quoting Dwight Eisenhower on “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.” The line comes from his 1961 Farewell Address, better known as the “military-industrial complex” speech. Mr. Obama’s new defense posture brings to mind another Eisenhower line, offered two years earlier: “Weakness in arms often invites aggression.”

Jim Lacey

National Review, January 11, 2012

In 2010, Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, waded into a domestic political debate he would have been well advised to avoid. By declaring that “Our national debt is our biggest national-security threat,” Admiral Mullen painted a bull’s-eye on the Pentagon for every shortsighted budget-cutter in Washington to aim at.… After all, if the organization responsible for securing America is declaring our national debt to be the number-one security threat, then it must, of course, lead the way in taking the cuts that will help reduce that threat.

[On January 8], we saw the outcome of Admiral Mullen’s misjudgment, when the president crossed the Potomac to announce his administration’s new strategic guidance to the Department of Defense.… There are some things about it that all Americans must be made aware of. The most important is that this is not a strategy aimed at securing the country. Rather, it is designed for one purpose only: to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of the defense budget—consequences be damned.

The new guidance declares that “preventing Afghanistan from ever being a safe haven” for terrorists is one of its “central” goals. Then, in the very next paragraph, it discusses our impending withdrawal from Afghanistan. As part of “deterring and defeating aggression,” the new guidance says the military must be able to “secure territory and populations,” but then goes on to state that it only has to do this “on a small scale and for a limited period.” The administration forgets that the enemy gets a vote on the scale and length of any conflict.… In another insult to clear thinking, the guidance sets one of the military’s “primary missions” as conducting “stability and counterinsurgency operations.” In keeping with its established pattern, however, it then goes on to state: “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” After our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, how is it possible that the administration appears not to be aware that such operations are always and everywhere prolonged and troop-intensive?…

Despite this, the Army and Marine Corps are planning for mandated cuts of approximately 150,000 troops from their strength, much of that cutting to come from the combat forces. Such cuts would be an unmitigated disaster for the security of our nation. Only through the most drastic means were the Marines and Army just able to scrape together enough forces for Iraq and Afghanistan.…

One of the great fallacies believed by those with only a limited knowledge of the military is that we have a large number of combat troops. In truth, what the military calls the “point of the spear” is rather thinly manned. If you put all of the Army’s and Marine Corps’s combat troops (infantry, armor, and artillery) inside the Rose Bowl, you would still have over 30,000 empty seats. If the Army ever again took losses that were typical of a single day’s hard fighting in many of our past wars, our current force would be decimated beyond its ability to recover.

This is the force the strategic guidance is setting up for a gutting. Given the host of challenges and the growing power of our potential enemies, this appears a particularly bad time to consider a unilateral disarming of the force that has underpinned the Pax Americana for almost 70 years. Unfortunately, Vegetius’s words “If you want peace, prepare for war” remain as true today as when he wrote them 1,600 years ago.…

Remarkably, even the administration does not believe its guidance is a good idea. How do I know? Its own guidance document says so. At one point, the document instructs the military to reduce the force in such a way that it can be rapidly “regenerated” in the event of an emergency. At another point it says “reversibility…is a key part of our decision calculus.” When before has a nation ever announced a new defense strategy in which a major part of the plan involves reversing everything the plan sets out to do?…

As a percentage of GDP, however, the military budget is set to fall to its lowest point since before World War II, and well under half of what we maintained throughout the Cold War. It is not the military budget that is bankrupting the nation. Rather, it is runaway entitlement spending that is set to wreck the nation’s economic future.…

It is only a matter of time before a potential enemy calculates that we have weakened ourselves to the point that it can roll the dice. If you think staying prepared for war is expensive, try getting caught up in one when unprepared.

(Jim Lacey is the professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College.)

Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2012

It’s never entirely easy to distinguish between retrenchment and retreat.

For three years, the Obama administration has followed what it believes is a strategy of retrenchment—withdrawing from Iraq, setting a deadline for Afghanistan, calling off further expansion of NATO, signing arms-control treaties, asking the Europeans to take the lead in Libya, preferring sanctions to military strikes, and now slicing into the Pentagon’s budget—all on the commendable theory that America must learn once again to pick its spots, match its ambitions to its means, and pursue a “sustainable” foreign policy.

The only problem is, the theory is wrong. What the administration would like to have you believe is a matter of vision is seen by others as a function of weakness.

Consider the Strait of Hormuz, 2012 edition. The administration kicks the year off by imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil trade and persuading the Europeans to follow suit. The Iranians conduct military drills and warn the U.S. not to send an aircraft carrier back to the Persian Gulf. Then a potential diplomatic deus ex machina appears in the form of the USS Kidd’s high-profile rescue of some Iranian sailors from their pirate captors. Iran repays the gesture by sentencing to death 28-year-old Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an American citizen of Iranian descent.

The lesson of this parable is that you don’t get more by doing less. The administration’s policy toward Iran amounts to avoiding direct confrontation at all costs on the view that the last thing the U.S. needs is another war in the Middle East. But the result is that Iran is more truculent than ever (and much closer to a bomb), while our allies are more skittish than ever about the strength of U.S. commitments. Sooner or later, the U.S. will have to prove the worth of those commitments in the face of an adversary that’s more likely to test them. How sustainable is that?

This scenario has been playing itself out with depressing regularity since Mr. Obama came to office. About Iraq, Hillary Clinton said in October that the U.S. would not tolerate Iranian meddling. Yet the likelihood that the promise will be tested is far greater now than when we had a residual force in the country, even as the prospective cost of honoring the promise has become almost unaffordable. About Afghanistan, we surged our forces but attached a deadline. The upshot is the U.S. expending itself on temporary triumphs over the Taliban as Pakistan waits and plans a pro-Taliban end game.

Or consider Mr. Obama’s favorite subject, nuclear proliferation. In April 2009, he gave a speech in Prague dreaming of a nuclear-free world. Almost immediately, North Korea tested a weapon, Pakistan expanded its arsenal, Iran moved ahead with its illicit programs, and China and Russia undertook extensive nuclear modernization schemes.

Now the president wants a retrenched military.… Unfortunately for the president, the tide of war does not ebb or flow according to his wishes—unless he refuses to meet any provocation with force as a matter of principle. Our financial disorders are not the result of excess military spending but of entitlement programs Mr. Obama refuses to touch and has done much to expand.… Today’s military has half as many ships and nearly 600,000 fewer active duty troops than it did at the end of the Cold War. Whatever else he’s doing, Mr. Obama is not taking his budget knife to a bloated force.

In the history of any great power, there is always a point when the downward trend becomes unmistakable and irreversible. For France it was 1940; for Britain 1947; for the Soviet Union 1989. A case may soon be made that for the European Union the year was 2011. It would be silly to suggest that the U.S. is anywhere near that type of inflection point. It has suffered no comparable military or economic disaster; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a sneeze compared to World War II.

The current vogue in declinism confuses the failures of (and disappointments in) an administration with the health of the country as a whole.… We will not husband our resources by spending less on defense: We’ll just squander the money elsewhere, probably less productively. We will not lessen tensions overseas by diminishing our military footprint: We’ll just create vacuums into which others rush and to which we’ll eventually return, at a cost.

That’s the Obama administration’s foreign policy legacy in a nutshell. Its failures…are becoming clearer by the day to U.S. allies and adversaries alike. Eventually Americans will get the picture, too.

P. David Hornik

Frontpage, January 17, 2012

Are Israel and the U.S. fighting again? Is the cancellation of a major joint U.S.-Israeli military drill part of the frictions? The news from the last several days gives that general impression.

Last Wednesday Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, director of uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, was assassinated in Tehran. Iran quickly blamed Israel and the U.S.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, hastened to “categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that the “United States strongly condemns this act of violence and categorically denies any involvement in the killing.…” For Israel it was a disconcerting message. If getting rid of someone helping a fanatic regime obtain weapons capable of annihilating millions of people is a “violent act” to be condemned, is the Obama administration really serious about the threat? Or still dreaming of dialogue and “understanding” with that regime?…

On Sunday Israeli deputy prime minister Moshe Yaalon complained publicly about U.S. policy. He compared it to Britain and France, who “are taking a very firm stand [on Iran] and understand sanctions must be imposed immediately”—whereas “In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-none, to impose…sanctions [against Iran’s Central Bank], yet the U.S. administration is hesitat[ing] for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations. In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now.”

Not many hours after that, it was reported that the U.S.-Israeli military drill—which was to be the largest joint exercise ever between the two countries—had been postponed at least to sometime later this year. Originally planned for April, “Austere Challenge 12” was aimed at improving antimissile defense systems, as well as cooperation between U.S. and Israeli forces.

Whatever the impact of this development on the Israeli leadership, on Monday it was Netanyahu himself who continued in his deputy Yaalon’s vein, telling a Knesset committee that “The sanctions employed thus far are ineffective, they have no impact on [Iran’s] nuclear program. We need tough sanctions against [its] central bank and oil industry. These things are not happening yet and that is why it has no effect on the nuclear program.” He also said Iran had been quickly penetrating Iraq since the U.S. withdrew its forces, and that Israel, as a result, had to strengthen its defenses against possible attacks from the air and the ground.

In an atmosphere, then, of implicit and open accusations and counteraccusations, it is tempting to see the cancellation of “Austere Challenge 12” as a U.S. slap at Israel.…

[US] Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is on the way to Israel this week to hold talks with the Israeli chief of staff and other top brass. It comes as no surprise, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the U.S. is increasingly worried about an Israeli strike on Iran.…


Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

Prof. Harold Waller Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)

Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)

Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

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