I am no longer an active commenter over at Lex’s place-but I still take the time to peruse his scribblings, if for no other reason than to try to grasp the thinking of the “conservative” class-and help to codify where and how their thinking has gone off the rails. I would love to continue to comment there-however I can no longer abide the close minded thinking that occurs, and the increasingly rude and misguided attacks that seem to immediately rise up if one deviates from what is the “accepted” wisdom. It should also be pointed out that I have no use for people who will not allow trackbacks or links to his articles-just because he believes he resides on some type of higher moral plane than I do. I too am a retired Naval Officer, Naval Flight Officer and a member of the naval aviation community, with just as much right to my opinions and thoughts, as he is. That I have drawn a much different conclusion from the evidence of history and current events does not mean that my thoughts are not worthy of inclusion. It’s hardly a consistent viewpoint from a blog that prides itself on the “quality” of its discussion. Accordingly, it seems best to abide by Thumper’s rule-if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
However, from time to time, I come across something so misguided, that I cannot stifle my urge to comment. Lex’s recent comments regarding the upcoming super-committee fiasco and the inevitable draconian cuts that will occur when they fail to come to a budget agreement-particularly in the defense department. Lex takes exception to Walter Pincus asking a reasonable question in regard to Admiral Clingan’s recent testimony regarding the unsustainability of the current level of naval employment. Lex says its knee jerk-I happen to think its a more than reasonable question to ask. Namely, ‘How much is enough?“-when it comes to the level of Naval deployments. Which ones are essential and which ones could be reduced?
Let’s start with Admiral Clingan’s example of how overextended the United States Navy is today:
“In total, 152 of the Navy’s 288 battle force ships were underway or forward-deployed on March 19,” Clingan said, adding that the service was operating “at an unsustainable level.”
Actually the story is much worse since in addition to the ship’s and their crews, there are somewhere between 10,000-13,000 Sailors engaged in the abominable Individual Augmentation program. Clingan cites 8000-but that only includes Iraq and Afghanistan, and ignores the continuing and growing appetite to have more bodies and more bodies in divergent beautiful spots to be deployed to such as Djioubouti, GTMO, Bahrain, and some closer ones too-like Kosovo. When you say 8000, the real “body tax” of people screwed affected by the program is closer to double that, since replacements have to be identified and put in the training pipeline.
Pincus asks the reasonable question, namely isn’t a great deal of this strain on our fighting fleet self induced?
But wait a minute. Does Clingan really want to call March 19 typical, with the United States fighting two wars, beginning another, and providing assistance to a unique natural disaster in Japan? Or is he suggesting that more than two heavy military engagements at one time, plus a major foreign natural disaster will be the norm? And what about those other 136 ships?
Now I will concede to Lex that Pincus’ questions about the remaining 136 ships is steeped in real ignorance of the mechanics of how trained and ready combat vessels to be deployed become that way. However both Lex and Pincus are not asking the deeper question, one directly related to the budget / debt “crisis”: Does “Pax Americana” really provide our nation the benefit we think it does? And more importantly, in light of our refusal to provide and maintain sufficient revenue streams to pay for both guns and butter-can we really afford to continue to be world’s policeman in all the world’s oceans?
It would seem Lex comes down wholeheartedly on the side of guns-by way of this slightly snarky comment:
The cuts would amount to about $1.2 trillion over ten years starting in 2013, and would have devastating effects on the military’s modernization, operations, manpower and maintenance accounts, which have already slashed $400 billion from their spending projections for the next decade. Enough to fund a few dozen more Solyndras, at least. (So-called “mandatory” spending accounts would not be affected. This is where the lion’s share of the unsustainable federal spending increases threatening to bankrupt the country will occur. Unlike discretionary accounts, mandatory spending automatically indexes for inflation each year, and does not require congressional re-authorization.)
Butter it would seem, in the form of providing a society worthy of defending and providing a reasonable set of services designed to improve the quality of our national life, seems to be not that important an expenditure at all. Or at least he implies that in a rather backhanded way. Because if you are going to be jumping wholeheartedly on the bandwagon of “its the spending stupid”, then by implication-if you accept the premise that Pax Americana is worth spending money on, and needs to continue; but you don’t want to raise tax revenues to pay for it-then cuts have to come from the side of “butter”.
Pincus actually is closer than Lex is to getting to the deeper question both our government and our populace need to come to grips with:
1) Can we, or should we, continue this level of employment around the world? If so, what is the real benefit to the only people who really matter in this budget equation? ( American Citizens).
2) If it is a decision that we decide to continue, then we need to come to the second question-what kind of society do we want at home for the citizens who must pay for “Pax Americana”. And do we really want to give up the things we will have to in order to pay for that “Pax” ?
Truth in advertising, I have rejected for the better part of a decade, Lex’s notion that Pax Americana keeps “an inherently unstable world in a state of trembling balance”. I believe that fully 50% of our actions in the last 15 years have contributed to that instability rather than contained it. Certainly the War in Iraq and the last 7 years in Afghanistan have done nothing to make the world safer for American citizens. And other actions such as Libya would have come to a conclusion one way or another without our “help”-certainly in the manner we actually provided it, the costs were drug out for longer than should have been necessary.
And if in fact the United States cannot afford all of its domestic budgetary commitments-then it becomes evident to me, that Pax Americana is a luxury we also can no longer afford. Even if we choose to return to the world of 1896 with no social safety net, no food or drug standards, and no premise that the government has a responsibility to provide a foundation of an acceptable quality of life for its citizens.
“But what will happen to us from those who wish to harm our nation?”, you ask. A good question-and one that probably begs the notion that a robust and deployable defense is very much a necessity. But if it is a necessity-which it clearly is, you need to find the resources to pay for it, and more importantly it has to serve a purpose. That purpose to be to defend a nation worthy of that effort. In particular if we wish to maintain a nation centered on a capitalist ideal. I firmly believe a social safety net goes part and parcel with the a well functioning and properly regulated capitalist economy. The safety net was a reaction to the lack of living wages given to the American worker throughout the 1800s. The capitalist and wealthy leaders of today do not like the safety net because it takes from their profits and earnings and gives it to the average person. In the past their predecessors knew they at least had to play the game and act like they supported it. Thanks to the naked selfishness of today’s brand of conservatives-it is become no longer unfashionable to voice publicly the desire to destroy the benefits gained through over 50 years of effort. So now-granting those benefits is something our moneyed class are obviously and historically unlikely to do on their own.
The wars of the last decade have come at a tremendous cost, a cost much greater than what the cost of a “war tax” ( bemoaned by Lex) which would have not only kept the wars on a cash and carry basis-but would have shown the average American the real costs, economic and human of a policy of war without end, amen. That alone might have forced the requisite outcry to bring those efforts to a much speedier conclusion.
And the fact that those wars are on distant shores, contrary to Lex’s assertion, are really not of any real benefit to us. Its not a feature as he suggests, its an anachronism, a vestige of the peculiarly American post WW-II trait of having all of the burdens of Empire with none of the perks. At least our British cousins got land to claim and native vestal virgins to take advantage of. Thanks to our throwing our European allies under that bus some 54 years ago, we don’t get that luxury. The multi-polar world that is now unfolding is one we are powerless to stop from developing, no matter how much we think we are able to. We set off on this path in the 50′s and now are too far down the path to change it. Also-contrary to his assertion, great nations vested in deep entrenchments overseas, tend not say no to wars of choice, they tend to find reasons to make them a necessity.
Like it or not-if you want to keep a forward deployed presence in the world oceans, then you have to pay for it. And that will require, like it or not, tax increases as well as targeted budget cuts in the right areas. I personally believe there is a middle path when it comes to national security, just as I believe there is a middle path that will preserve Social Security and Medicare-and perhaps also move the nation down the path to the level already achieved by all of the other major industrial nations, universal access to health care for all Americans. It will require a certain amount of overseas retrenchment-but it need not look or feel like isolationism. We have commitments we have to keep-but we need not seek to expand them. And there are commitments that never should have been made or have long ago out lived any usefulness-and are worthy of abandonment. Leaving Iraq is something long overdue, so too is leaving Afghanistan. Both nations-in different ways- are useless to us now. Our work there was done when we toppled their previous governments, now they have to find their own path,and we should leave them to their own devices. There are other ways to work influence events in both the Gulf and Africa, than having literally boatloads of people trapped in encampments in Kuwait and Djiobuti. Certainly the size of Ft Apache in Bahrain could be sizeably reduced. And I will continue to question the need for the increased number of domestic staffs we have created. ( This comes back to the baggage of having more flags than ships).
Certainly the money is out there to accomplish that middle path. When one lives in or comes from a country where there top 1% controls an astronomical percentage of the nations wealth-and that wealth increasingly fails to be finding it’s way to trickle down to its average citizens, something is clearly wrong with that country. I’ll come back to my point-for the United States to be a “shining beacon on a hill” it actually has to shine. It tends to tarnish the light beam when other nations are able to well accomplish the societal goals that we should be able to. However we choose not to.
The world has changed, and changed dramatically. The knee jerk reaction is to tenaciously cling to a status quo that no longer serves the national interest, not to question those who have expressed the proper questions. Its not Pincus who has jerked his knee-it is those who somehow think March 19, 2011 is any rational way to run a Navy.