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The cost of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq now tops $1 trillion, and the nation’s debt tops thirteen trillion: New pressures to rein in the Pentagon’s budget and implications for national security.
- James Kitfield Senior correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Gordon Adams Professor, School of International Service, American University fellow,the Stimson Center, regular blogger, Capital Gains and Games.
- Kori Schake Research fellow, the Hoover Institution associate professor of international security studies, at the United States Military Academy, West Point
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In the post-9/11 era, politicians of all stripes bristle at the charge of being soft on national security. That vulnerability, at least in part, explains why our Defense Department's budget has more than doubled since 2001. But past is not likely to be prologue. Joining me to talk about what our nation's lopsided balance sheet could mean for defense spending and national security, James Kitfield. He is senior correspondent with the National Journal magazine. In this week's edition he has an article titled "The Indispensable, Unaffordable Nation." Gordon Adams is professor at the School of International Service at American University, and Kori Schake is research fellow at the Hoover Institution, associate professor of international security studies at West Point.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, I encourage you to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook, as several people already have, or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. GORDON ADAMSGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
REHMJames Kitfield, you write in this week's National Journal that historians may well look back at summer of 2010 as a turning point of the post-9/11 military buildup. Tell us what you mean.
KITFIELDWell, I think that, as you point out, after 9/11 there -- all stops were off. All the political currents were for a rather massive buildup in defense spending. And that's even not counting two wars that we got into, which have now topped off at a trillion -- over a trillion dollars in costs. The -- I very much think that's coming to an end, and it's coming to an end for very obvious reasons. We've got -- you know, the major political question in this country right now is what to do about our $13 trillion debt that is mounting every day. Our economy is very weak, and there's a lot of questions about whether it can sustain these really high levels of defense spending. The defense budget has doubled, as you said in your intro, since 9/11, now approaches its higher -- its highest levels of spending on defense since World War II in inflation adjusted dollars. And that's the time when we had more than seven -- 15 million, I think, soldiers on -- in uniform.
KITFIELDSo a reckoning is coming. And you can see the reckoning coming in the fact that Congress is starting to balk at these wartime supplementals. The -- which -- and these wars remain very unpopular with the American people. You can see it coming in the sense that this Deficit Reduction Commission that President Obama has appointed is going to report out in December. And Republicans and Democrats on that commission have already signaled that defense is very much on the table. You can see it in the signals like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates already trying to get ahead of this curve by announcing cuts of his own: 30 percent cut in contractors over the next three years, a number of major weapons programs, headquarters being shuttered -- like, Joint Forces Command in Norfolk -- cutting 50 general spots, 150 senior executive service spots. So there's -- the signs are very clear that we're about to have the biggest debate about not only defense spending, but what it underwrites in terms of America's role in the world since right after post-Cold War, early 1990s.
REHMGiven Secretary Gates' statements about the cuts he intends, how large will those cuts actually be to the overall defense budget?
KITFIELDWell, to the overall defense budget, not -- probably not large enough, is the answer to that. I mean, that's not to sort of underestimate the pain that some of these cuts have costs. He's taken a lot of flak on Capitol Hill, about some of the program terminations that he has announced. He's taken a lot of flak by, you know, the Virginia delegation for talking about closing Joint Forces Command. So none of these is easy to do, but it's probably not going to be enough because it is very much at the margins. What he's talked about, next year, the defense budget is scheduled to be $708 billion. What he has announced would be, like I said, just at the margins of a figure like that.
REHMJames Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine. Gordon Adams, how do you read what's happening now in terms of the buildup that's taken place since 2001?
ADAMSDiane, I think that's a good place to start. We have, in fact, as James said, doubled the defense budget since 2001. And we are now above any level that we have spent in constant dollars since the second World War, well above the post-Cold War average. So we have an enormous investment going on right now in defense. And I think his analysis of what the point in time that we're at now is quite correct. That is to say, we are now looking at, I think, a confluence of two forces that are bearing down on the defense budget and on our defense planning. Force number one is the withdrawal from Iraq, which is now down to 50,000 troops and out by the end of next year. And I think a very high likelihood that the forces will begin to come down in Afghanistan in the middle of next year. When you extract forces from Iraq and you extract them from Afghanistan, the political infrastructure that supported a large defense budget begins to erode as well. People no longer will argue for high levels of spending because men and women are at risk in the field, and that means the political support goes away.
ADAMSAt the same time, I think he's quite right. We have the deficits and the debt bearing down on the defense budget as it's bearing down on everything in federal spending and on federal taxes. The president's commission is at work. Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici have a bi-chair -- bipartisan policy council, co-chaired forces looking at the debt and the deficit reduction. And all of them recognize one very simple truth. You can't economically bring the spending down and bring the deficit down and control the debt without everything being on the table.
ADAMSAnd you can't politically bring it down unless all those things are on the table because that's the only way you get a deal.
REHMGordon Adams. He is professor at the School of International Service at the American University. Kori Schake, how do you see it?
MS. KORI SCHAKEI would bet my money differently than either James or Gordon are on this one. I don't think the pressure to reduce spending in defense is nearly as strong or nearly as near term as either of them suggest for a couple of reasons. First, I don't think the Obama administration's budget outline suggests the kind of downward pressure on federal spending that would respond to this big public upsurge and concern about the debt. The president's budget plans would have us running $1 trillion deficit by 2016. I don't think that's an environment in which people are going to say, money is so tight, we need to reduce defense spending.
MS. KORI SCHAKEI do -- I think it is important that the independent commission that has set -- that Congress set up to assess Secretary Gates' Quadrennial Defense Review in fact argued -- this was a bipartisan commission including former Defense Secretary Perry -- argued for increasing, rather than decreasing, defense spending. Even in the context that Gordon's talking about, about drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, they see concerns about policing the global commons, freedom of the seas, that kind of thing, that argue for increased defense spending. So now, I think the pressure is going to be nearly as strong when finer point, which is that defense spending, while it has doubled since 2001, is not at historically -- an enormous historic height. It's roughly 5 percent of GDP. It was roughly 13 percent of GDP in 1968, 38 percent of GDP in 1944.
REHMKori Schake. She is a research fellow at Hoover Institution, associate professor of international security studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Kori, coming back to you, you talked about -- we have heard about the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you therefore not agree that those drawdowns are going to require that that military spending currently going in that direction may go elsewhere aside from the military budget?
SCHAKEIt's a terrific question, and I think the honest answer is we don't yet know. Secretary Gates, in his efforts to introduce tighter business practices and reduced defense spending -- I agree with James that it's a marginal cut. They're looking at $100 million this year, which in a $708 billion baseline budget, is rounding error. So Secretary Gates is trying to forestall efforts that would take the money away from defense and put it towards deficit reduction or other priorities of the administration. My guess is that it's likely to work in the near term for the simple reason that there's a two-part defense budget.
SCHAKEThere's the baseline budget, and then there is the supplemental spending, which is how Congress funds military operations. The baseline budget is $708 billion that James is talking about. The -- I would defer to Gordon or James on what the level of this year of the supplemental spending will be. It will go down as troops in Iraq go down. Afghanistan -- I would bet my money that we're going to be at close to current levels of troops in Afghanistan for a lot longer than July of 2011.
REHMKori Schake of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. James Kitfield, is Secretary Gates going to forestall efforts to shift money out of the defense budget into other areas?
KITFIELDWell, as we said, that is the big question. I suspect, no. I suspect there will be some cuts in defense in coming years. They -- meaning, they are -- what they would like is 1 percent above inflation, excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's fairly modest increases compared to what we've seen recently. They may get it. I doubt it.
REHMJames Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine. We'll take your calls, your e-mails in a few moments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the past, the current and the future defense budget with James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine, Gordon Adams of the American University and the Stimson Center, Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. We're going to open the phones very shortly. First, I'd like to ask you, Gordon Adams, whether you agree with Kori Schake that it will be a very small, if any, drawdown from Afghanistan in 2011 and therefore no real opportunity to cut back the defense budget.
ADAMSNo, I actually don't agree. I think what's going to drive that build-down is two things. One is this budgetary question, and the other is a rather rapid growth in the unpopularity of this war in the United States. I don't think anybody is going to want to run for office in the year 2012 with a large presence in Afghanistan and an unforeseeable duration of that presence going on. And what, I think, you see happening in Afghanistan right now is a very desperate search for ways to define the situation as sufficiently acceptable for us to get out. But I think the politics that's going to prevail here -- and here I do disagree with Kori -- is the politics about deficit reduction, which are going to be bipartisan.
ADAMSWe've already seen the Republicans and Democrats in the president's commission publicly talking about putting defense on the table, despite what the president's budget projections may show. We've already seen the secretary of defense be quite articulate about saying he is trying to avoid the cuts. He thinks that deficit reduction process is going to start. We've seen the bipartisan policy center's effort talking about everything being on the table. And we're looking at this becoming the kind of tidal wave about debt and deficit reduction that we saw in 1985 when it led to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act, and over '85 to '98, a 36 percent reduction in defense budgets and constant dollars.
REHMSo, James Kitfield, is what's going to drive the reduction of the military budget, as you see it, the unpopularity of war or the push toward deficit reduction?
KITFIELDBoth, it's both. I mean, it's a -- as Gordon said, there's a confluence of events here that, you know, speak to me to forces that are going to make it very difficult for any politician to sustain these high levels of defense spending. And it very much gets to the fact that wars are unpopular. Afghanistan is very unpopular. I take Kori's point. I think the withdrawal of things are not, you know, remarkably better in Afghanistan. By July next year, it could be on a more gradual downslope. But there will be, I believe -- and administration told me. I mean, they have linked themselves -- the White House has linked themselves the idea of deficit reduction and getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, their comments to me in the National Security Council were this is unsustainable. You know this level of spending on these wars and on defense is unsustainable if you want to get serious about your debt. So they obviously have linked that in their own minds.
KITFIELDIt's one of the reasons, I think, that President Obama went on TV and made this announcement to draw attention to the fact that we'd hit a milestone in getting out of Iraq. And it's one reason why, I think, he stuck, rhetorically, to his guns in terms of going to begin a withdrawal next year, next July, from Afghanistan. And I think that -- you know, again, those wars, conditions-based. So as Kori said, it will depend -- the glide path will depend on conditions on the ground at the time. But I think you will start to see a glide path out of Afghanistan because it's so in the fore of their mind, that they can't get their handle on this deficit problem without starting to address the issues of our military spending.
REHMSo the politics playing a role here, Kori?
SCHAKEThe politics certainly are playing a role, and I agree with James' assessment that that's what the White House wants to do, that they have linked the end of the wars to deficit reduction, and defense spending is where they would start cutting the budget. But I don't think circumstances are going to allow them the luxury of doing that because their strategy for drawing down in Afghanistan is Afghan security forces being able to do the work that American troops and allied troops are doing now. I don't see that timeline coming together for them by 2011. So they may want to do that. I don't think the circumstances on the ground are going to permit them to do that.
SCHAKESecond point is that I do think there's enormous pressure for deficit reduction and debt reduction, more writ large. But the major driver of our debt isn't defense spending. It's entitlement programs. And I don't think you can -- well, I don't think the political pressure will be sufficient to say, we need debt reduction and therefore defense spending needs to be cut. It needs -- I agree with Gordon. It needs to be on the table, but I don't think that's where it'd start.
REHMI don't want to get into the area of entitlement programs this morning because that's a whole another area.
ADAMSBut could I say just one thing, Diane?
ADAMSWhich is, if you look, now, at federal spending, defense is at the same level overall as means-tested entitlement spending compared or as Social Security compared or as non-defense discretionary compared, which means you now have the big four. All of them are going to be on the table. Nobody is going to start with defense, not even the administration. All four of those will be on the table.
REHMAll right. Here's an early e-mail from Jeff. He said, "Would you ask your guests about the direct and legacy costs of these two ongoing wars? I've heard estimates of veterans' care from injuries in these wars at between 1 and $3 trillion." James, any data on that?
KITFIELDWell, the legacy costs are going to be huge. And he mentions one that was brought up in the Perry-Hadley report, which is that our personnel costs -- and that includes the caring for wounded soldiers, of which there are more than 40,000 -- and if you count post traumatic stress disorder, you know, in -- probably in the hundreds of thousands of wounded from this -- on these two wars. And you add in the personnel bonuses we've had to use to keep an all-volunteer force fighting for a decade, basically, which it was never intended to do and wasn't created.
KITFIELDAnd you add in the cost of an arsenal that's been worn to a frazzle because of constant use, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. You've got huge legacy costs, which is why that committee, which was unconstrained by -- that commission, I should say, was unconstrained by budget concerns -- said we need to spend more on defense. We need to more rapidly modernize our arsenal, and we need to, you know, change the personnel dynamic because it's getting -- this all-volunteer force is becoming unsustainable. So the legacy costs are huge, and it's part and parcel of why, I think, there's going to be a reckoning here that starts to drive events as opposed to, you know, getting a blind check, which they've had for almost nine years.
REHMGordon, I know you were involved in the national security budget process for President Clinton.
REHMWhat's different now and what's not?
ADAMSWell, the international situation is different, but what's compelling to me is that it's beginning to look like the same kind of confluence that we had to deal with in 1993 in the Clinton administration. That is to say, the end of political support for large budget is at defense. That was the end of the Cold War, in those instances, and the collapse of federal spending into the need for deficit reduction. Those two things came down exactly the same as they're coming down now. They came down in '85 with debts. They came down in '89 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the effect that we had on defense was dramatic. And most of it was actually executed by George Herbert Walker Bush and Dick Cheney, who was the secretary of defense. We went from 2.2 million in the active duty force to 1.4 million in the active duty force. We took 300,000 civilians out of the Pentagon employment roles. We terminated -- and this was Cheney -- 100 weapon systems programs. We cut procurement budgets 100 percent between '85 and '98. In other words, there was a dramatic build-down driven by policy and political change on the one hand and the need to deal with the federal deficit on the other hand. Those two forces are exactly the same two that are coming to a head today.
REHMAnd you also wrote that there was a lack of planning and budgetary discipline on the part of the Pentagon.
ADAMSWell, there is -- that is true in both cases. Frankly, if you go to $708 billion, which do include the costs of the war, you are, in fact, throwing money so generously at a piece of machinery that knows how to spend it, that you haven't created no incentive to save. Secretary Gates -- and I applaud him for it -- is stepping up to saying internally, we've got to have some control here. But as James Kitfield said, what he's really doing -- and he's explicit about it -- is to protect 1 percent real growth in his budget, not provide for budget cuts.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail on that very point addressed to you, Gordon, who -- this -- Susan says, "Every day, I meet people who love their country, honor our soldiers, but who know in their hearts there is money misspent wildly by the Pentagon. What can we, as individuals, do? Can we contact the commission on tax reform, call our members of Congress, what?"
ADAMSWell, I think one thing that can be done is to deal with the Congress here because even the new Congress is going to have to face this issue. And they will face it frontally. Frankly, even if the Republicans were in control of both chambers, as much as they will want arguments with a Democratic White House, they're going to have to confront this problem. And it's worth noting that over time, historically, every time we've done a major defense build down, it's been done under Republican leadership. Eisenhower, Nixon and George Herbert Walker Bush, all three of them built down the Pentagon, two cases after the end of hot wars, one case after the end of a cold war. So Republicans are not uniformly lined up here, saying let's keep $700 billion levels of spending. And a lot of people are worried about excess spending and waste.
REHMAnd Kori, you say that Secretary Gates appears to be setting up a Defense budget for permanent counter-insurgence campaigns.
SCHAKEYeah, that's my basic criticism of the Quadrennial Defense Review, that Secretary Gates is over-optimizing to a type of a war, I think, we are unlikely to fight again anytime soon and undervaluing the importance of a strong maritime strategy and less ground force intensive operations, which are traditionally much more American strategy and are certainly important for managing China's rise and the Asian theater.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, I agree with that. Within the defense budget, there is this tension between fighting the wars we're in today, i.e. counter-insurgency and preparing for the rise of China and a shift towards Asia, which requires a bigger Navy and a bigger Air Force, which is something that the Perry-Hadley commission talk about. What I would point out -- and Gordon touches on it, you know -- the difference between now and the early '90s in the Clinton administration, which I find absolutely profound, is that at that time we were confronting a very benign world environment. We had, by far, the world's -- we're the only superpower left. Soviet Union collapsed. We didn't have that competition anymore. We had this very big military that we could afford to cut, and still by a fact -- by, you know, major factors have the biggest and most powerful military in the world.
KITFIELDWe faced a fairly benign strategic environment around the world because, you know, that was the end of history everyone is talking about. Democracy and -- liberal democracy and capitalism had won the logical struggles of the 20th century. Now, we're talking about having to cut defense and to pay her back at a time when the world is very fractious. And that was, really, to me the message of the Perry-Hadley report was, you know, they looked at it unconstrained by budgets and saw a very, very dangerous world. And in this, I agree with them, you know? You do have a rise in China. You do have this sort of global insurgency that's represented by Islamic extremism. You do have these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to wind down. You do have stability operations all over the world, and you have weak allies. So it's going to be much tougher and a much more dangerous balancing process to wind down on this environment.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And it's time to open the phones and take calls, 800-433-8850. First, to Arlington, Mass. Good morning, Susan. You're on the air. Go right ahead.
SUSANOh, good morning. Thank you for having me on.
SUSANI'm so glad that you're bringing up this subject. And I disagree with Kori about one thing that she said earlier, which is that there's not going to be a groundswell of public opinion on this subject. I work with a couple of organizations that understand and have understood for a long time that this is where the money is -- you know, that we have a need for jobs and health care and all kinds of normal security that people need, and, you know, they're not stupid. They get it that the Pentagon budget is wasting a lot of money. And I hate them using the phrase cutting defense because it's not just cutting defense. It's cutting the waste on big systems that we don't need anymore, that won't fight the wars that we have now. I'm aware because of all the e-mails I get from people that -- there are groups like Common Cause and some of the unions and domestic policy groups, human needs groups that are organizing right now to start talking about this. And I think it is that commission that Gordon was mentioning that is helping people see the light of day and...
REHMAll right. Susan, thanks for calling. Kori.
SCHAKETwo quick points, the first is that one of the difficulties about cutting defense spending is that you can't build a military and build the weapon systems you want when you need them. There's a long lag time to grow sergeants with good judgment and to build airplanes and UAVs. So the fact that you don't want it at this minute, Susan, might not mean, as the QDR panel suggested, that 20 years from now, we need to have this capacity. And that means we need to fund it in the interim. The second point that I would make is that I do believe that there is enormous pressure for reducing spending overall. I don't doubt that. I'm just skeptical that starting with defense spending is going to be a political winner.
KITFIELDTwo points I would make, one of which is, you know, I have covered defense for more than 20 years. And I would just caution to beware to think that you can -- with reforms against waste, fraud and abuse -- can get to where you need to go in cutting defense. Sure, you can cut waste, fraud. I mean, there's always ways to cut in a budget that big, but I've...
REHMWe've heard about $60 or $600 toilet seats.
KITFIELDRight. We've been there and done that, and you can -- and I think that, you know, I commend Secretary Gates for the cost-cutting measures because that will instill a bit of discipline in the system that has not been there. The second point I would make is that wars -- and this is a point I can't emphasize enough -- wars are the most wasteful enterprise I've ever seen. And I've seen two up close and personal recently, and they are money pits. And especially the wars of counter-insurgency would entail a certain amount of nation-building that goes along with it, or you can't succeed with a counter-insurgency strategy. They are just money pits. We're finding that out in Afghanistan now. We have plenty of reports now from the inspector general from Iraq, billions and billions and billions of dollars disappear because the absolute imperative is to get the upper hand. And you don't care. You throw in money around to try to do it, and so -- just so everyone understands. As long as you're in these kinds of wars, you're going to be bleeding money.
REHMAnd we've also heard, as a matter of fact, that billions of dollars have left Afghanistan and Iraq in suitcases. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your questions, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd here is an e-mail from Nick in Dallas, who says, "Why should we be spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined? There are no nations that pose a real risk to the U.S. Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers." James.
KITFIELDYou know, the reason I called that story "The Indispensable, Unaffordable Nation" is because after the Soviet Union collapsed, we were looking at what would the American's role in the world be. This lone superpower with all of this military and economic might. The current administration coined this term, the indispensable nation, and what it really meant was that we underwrite global security. We do it in Asia with our fleet there. We do it in Europe with our ties to NATO. We do it in the Middle East with the (word?) Doctrine and the troop levels we have in Central Command. We do it in Southern Command in Latin America. We do it all over the world. We underwrite a stable global system.
KITFIELDAnd the argument has always been that we benefit most from the free trade and the benefits that accrue from that international system. But what we have found out is that it is extremely -- this is not a benign world. It's a fractious world. And in policing this global columns has required deployments in the last 20 years to Panama, Haiti, Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, those are all fighting deployments. That's not counting the 120 countries that American service members wake up in every single day doing stability operations.
REHMAnd here is a question on that point from Gary in Flint, Mich. "Please ask about, quote, 'Leaving Japan and Germany.' World War II has been over for more than 60 years. This is the ultimate entitlement program." Kori.
SCHAKEIt's a good question and an important question. It does seem to me that it connects to the very good answer James just gave, which is that it's not just in Germany and Japan's interest to be assisted to stable Democratic countries and in ways that facilitate trade and reduce regional conflict. That was in the United States' interests, certainly in 1945, certainly in 1955. In the Bush administration, we re-looked at American military basing around the world and reduced U.S. forces in Korea, intended to reduce U.S. forces in Europe, in order to bring the current security environment into alignment with our current basing structure. I do think the -- this administration begins to look at that as well.
SCHAKEBut I wouldn't underestimate the value, not just to other countries, but very much to the United States, of stabilizing the security environment in different parts of the world. Stationing troops in Germany is only marginally about 8 percent more expensive than stationing them in the United States.
ADAMSOh, I'm listening to this conversation. I'm wondering how we break through the myth. And the myth is this myth that we stabilize the world, that we are the police officer of the world, that our forces are all benign and that all wars are the same. Look, seriously, Iraq and Afghanistan are not the projection of the future. Iraq and Afghanistan were both wars, right or wrong, that America chose to have. In both cases, we chose to invade countries with major forces. And I realize there are distinctions about how they began in Afghanistan from Iraq. We don't have time to go into them. But in both cases, they were wars of choice. And whether you agreed with them or not, that's what they were. We were not required to go into Iraq.
ADAMSAll of those incidents of involvement in insecure situations that James talked about have involved very small amounts of American forces. The argument to that is, of course, it stressed the forces to do all of these things in the 1990s. Well, one of the reasons it stressed the forces, as the Defense Business Board has pointed out, is that we have not deployed about 500,000 American soldiers in the active duty force ever. We do not deploy them ever because they're doing other things. The Defense Business Board points out that 340,000 of them are doing commercial tasks in running the Pentagon infrastructure. All right?
ADAMSThe reality is that we deploy our requirement for force even if we want to play a global role in stabilization, and they're not happening all around the world. It's going to be a much smaller force requirement. And not everybody in the world, after Iraq and Afghanistan, is going to ask us to do it. So the reality is we need a re-look at our engagement in the world, not an assumption that we are the benign police officer going on, doing what we've done for 50 years.
REHMAll right. To Virginia Beach. Good morning, Timothy.
TIMOTHYHey. Hello, good morning. I listen to your show pretty much, and anyway, what I wanted to get about in our current economic times, the administration -- the current administration -- has repeatedly, repeatedly blamed the failed economic policies of the former administration for the situation that we're in currently. I'm willing to guess that there is a lot of resources going to this war that the current administration is not acknowledging. In other words, there's -- they're blaming the failed economic policies of this former administration when it really should be the war. Nobody -- everybody is ignoring the resources that are going to this war. (unintelligible)
KITFIELDWell, you know, it -- I think the Obama administration would answer that we came in saying that we were going to get out of Iraq. And they've kept on that schedule even though, you know, it must be said that the Bush administration allowed for that schedule to be set with the Status of Forces Agreement that they signed with the Iraqis. The Obama administration took a hard look at Afghanistan last year and decided to do just what Bush did in Iraq in 2007, which was to surge 50,000 troops in the last -- since he's taken office into Afghanistan. And that's an expensive undertaking. So that's on Obama's tab. It's his war now, as we say.
REHMHere is a message on Facebook from Susan who says, "On Sept. 10, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech about Pentagon spending abuse and pointed out that the Pentagon could not account for over $2.3 trillion. We never heard anything about that again. The Pentagon needs to be forced to pass on it. The 1,200 or so outdated accounting systems they use must be eliminated." I don't recall that speech. Gordon, do you?
ADAMSI remember the speech, I don't -- I know he talked about Pentagon inefficiency and waste and the difficulty of getting your arm around it.
REHMDo you recall that figure?
ADAMSThe figure, I don't recall at all. But the bottom line here is that Pentagon, at $700 billion, is a very large organization in the government. You know, between the military and the civilians, there's probably 50 percent of all U.S. government employment. It has operations all across the country and all across the world, has a tremendous infrastructure, and getting a hold, getting your arms around that infrastructure, as Secretary Gates says he's trying to do, there's really -- my experience in the '90s, there's only one way to get efficiency in the Department of Defense. And it's like getting a teenager to stop spending. You cut their allowance. The reality is that there's nothing like external pressure on the Pentagon, reasonably applied, that says we have to manage with fewer dollars. We have to manage more effectively.
REHMAnd David in Freemont, N.H. says, "Haven't Ron Paul and Barney Frank been very vocal about this issue? What's the status of their efforts?" James.
KITFIELDWell, they wrote an article on The Huffington Post basically saying that, you know, we need to have significant defense cuts because we're facing this sort of existential debt problem. And my point there is when you start seeing Liberal Democrats and Libertarian Republicans reach across the aisle to co-grab the scalpel of defense cuts, you better pay attention. I'm -- I know Secretary Gates has paid attention because behind them there are Tea Partiers who don't like big government. There are rank-and-file Republicans who want to get their hands around the deficit. There are even progressives who think we spend too much on defense. There is a building coalition of people who I think are going to be aggravating for cuts in the defense spending.
REHMAll right. To Fort Myers, Fla. Good morning, James. Thanks for joining us.
JAMESWell, hello, Diane. Thank you for having me on.
REHMCertainly. Go right ahead, sir.
JAMESThe point I wanted to make, I think Susan and I are somewhat thinking alike. The -- this, you know, the Revolutionary War in our independence from England, this country was a brand-new nation with $13 million in debt. Today, we find ourselves $12 trillion in debt. We are like that irresponsible family that just keeps buying and buying until one day a day of reckoning comes, and there's not going to be any money but all the debt.
REHMWhat do you think, Kori?
SCHAKEI agree with his judgment, that we absolutely have to get our debt under control, and that it's the major national security concern. I would reinforce his point by saying that it's a little bit ironic but true that the American military is the branch of -- the part of our government that's most strongly drawing attention to the dangers of debt. The Joint Forces Command put out its future operating environment document which starts the defense planning process in the spring, and they identified the cost of servicing the debt and the political pressure that will come to reduce debt as a major concern for defense spending. It will crowd out defense spending. We got to fix our debt problem.
KITFIELDTwo points, and Kori is exactly right. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has called the debt the largest national security strategy threat we face. The national security strategy itself said that, you know, our economy is the wellspring of American power and getting our hands around the debt is an imperative. On the point, since the American Revolution, we've done something we've never done since the American Revolution, which is fight two wars and not pay for them, to cut taxes at a time when you're fighting two wars -- which I think is hugely irresponsible, something we've never as a country done. We've put on our credit card for the future generations, the cost of fighting these wars. That is the height of irresponsibility, and it shows you how we got into this problem.
REHMHere's an e-mail from David here in Washington, D.C., who says, "Nearly 60 years after the end of the Korean War, the U.S. has over 20,000 service members in South Korea, twice that number in Japan. Why? Aren't the South Koreans and Japanese capable of maintaining their own security forces after all these years? If not, what real hope is there of ever withdrawing from Afghanistan?" Kori.
SCHAKEThe South Korean military are certainly capable of fighting and winning a war against the North Koreans. Since the end of the Korean War, the South Koreans have put an enormous amount of effort and treasure into it. What American forces in South Korea do, though, is create political stability in a very dangerous, uncertain environment. The one threat that, as James was listing, the important threats in the current security environment, Iran and North Korea crossing the nuclear threshold and what that portents for the unraveling of the nonproliferation regime.
REHMSo in your...
REHMExcuse me. So in your view, these 20,000 troops have to be kept in South Korea, more thousands in Japan, to somehow maintain security you talked earlier about China? Gordon.
ADAMSI don't, frankly, believe the phrase, American forces create political stability in Korea. There is political stability in Korea. And the forces there don't contribute to it very much at all. The risk that we're facing with our forward stationing of forces right now is that while they're seen by us as creating political stability, they are increasingly seen by others as creating political instability, so that our bases in Okinawa have become questionable to the Okinawans and the Japanese. Our bases in Korea had to have been drawn down and will have to be moved, have been moved, because they are also a target for people who want to see America's military footprint a bit smaller in various regions of the world.
REHMGordon Adams, professor in School of International Service at American University. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So the question for all of you considering the political, the security, the monetary considerations, will the defense budget be reduced, and if so, how substantially? Gordon.
ADAMSI think it will be going down. I think external pressures are the primary reason. If the department had its way, it wouldn't. And if history is any judge of how it goes down, it generally goes down in two or three ways. Number one, there's likely to be a reduction in fore-structure. That is going to bring on the argument you begin to hear here about what is the American role in the world and how much force plays in that American role in the world. That's another argument and probably another show.
ADAMSThing two is you do begin to bring down the investment budget. That's procurement and research and development. Historically, every time we've built down, it's the investment budget that goes first. It's the fore-structure that follows. Those two things are going to be critical. Thing three, which is efficiencies, will not bring the budget down. You're not going to be able to get those internally. You will get them as the budget goes down because that will impose pressure on the building to manage the force more effectively. We did that in the '90s. The force that we left behind was the force that basically throttled Saddam Hussein in 2003. So you can do a build down. You can do it responsibly, and you can leave and place a force that plays an important global role.
SCHAKEI expect it to go down only marginally. And I would be surprised if it goes down to a greater degree than replacement and inflation will bring it. Where I do think -- I agree with Gordon that the investment budget will be cut. I disagree that fore-structure will be cut because the wars that we are fighting are so fore-structure intensive that service members, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, their families are bearing an enormous burden. And I don't think you cut fore-structure while you're still doing that.
SCHAKEWhere I would find the money? Rethinking issues of presence, that is just as we have done along the Mexican border. You have a virtual presence of surveillance reinforced by physical presence as need be. I think we should think about that. We need to rework the burden sharing question with our allies. New operational concepts that technological innovation makes possible, we ought to push forward on that again, better business practices. But I agree with Gordon that that's not likely to produce much. The last is accepting greater risk in some areas. We need to open ourselves up to that.
KITFIELDI agree with that assessment. I think that we're going to see -- I do think we're going to see some cuts. I think it's probably not going to be dramatic in the next couple of years. But I think at that point, we get on the glide slope back down. I think that we do start to get out of -- you know, I think we'll be some very small numbers after next year in Iraq. You know, not double digit, thousands probably. I think that in Afghanistan we will start a glide path. And I think that once we can put those two conflicts behind us, we're not going to get involved any more counter-insurgency, nation-building-type wars. I think this -- the memory has been too painful. I think we then start cut fore-structure in ground troops.
REHMAny estimate on percentage of cut?
KITFIELDYou walk me right out in that limb, Diane.
REHMAnd you're not going to break it.
KITFIELDLet's say 15, 20 percent.
REHMJames Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine, Gordon Adams of the American University School of International Service, Kori Schake at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Thank you all so much.
KITFIELDThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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