National Security Network

The First Defense Budget for the 21st Century

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Report 28 October 2009

Military Military Barack Obama Defense Budget Robert Gates


This afternoon, President Obama signs into law the first Defense Budget that matches the threats and security imperatives of the 21st century. As Secretary of Defense Gates has said, the military needs to fight today's battles, not yesterday's.  And as President Obama will say today, "wasting these dollars makes us less secure.” By cutting billions of dollars from unnecessary and wasteful programs that either fight the wars of the past or are pointless for the soldiers of today, the President’s first Defense Budget turns the page on a Cold War mentality that doesn’t match the national security priorities of the 21st century.  Today, President Obama follows through on his campaign promise to reform the Pentagon and cut waste with a Defense budget that enhances the ability of the men and women of America’s armed forces to fight the wars we in which we are currently engaged.

But conservatives still cling on to an old fashioned ideology that is more aligned with the strategy of the Cold War than the challenges of today. Opponents of reform wanted an expensive fighter jet made for dogfights that have never been used in either Afghanistan or Iraq; they sought to keep an over-budget and underperforming combat system not ready for the battlefield; and they fought for the American taxpayer to fund an airborne laser system first tested more than 13 years after conception.  They even attempted to kill the entire Defense bill because of a provision to expand Hate Crimes protection. While they claim the mantle of supporting the troops, conservatives have all too often placed their partisan political priorities ahead of America’s national security.  By signing this 21st century Defense Budget into law, President Obama is taking a major step forward in bringing our defense priorities in line with current threats. This is a major victory for the progressive national security agenda.

President Obama signs defense authorization bill that includes that cuts wasteful spending and provides for our troops in the field. AP reports, “US President Barack Obama will Wednesday sign a 680-billion-dollar defense authorization bill, which includes funds to train Afghan security forces and for more mine resistant troop carriers. Obama will host a ceremony before signing the bill, after waging a campaign to purge the mammoth legislation of wasteful and bloated spending.” AFP goes on to say, “The legislation also raises military pay by 3.4 percent and assigns 6.7 billion dollars for mine-resistant armored vehicles known as MRAPs, which is 1.2 billion dollars more than the administration had proposed. Another 7.5 billion dollars was inked for training and equipping the Afghan police and army.” ABC news also reports: “The main thrust of the bill is defense policy, including authorizing $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The DOD Authorization bill also strips money from the Pentagon budget for the controversial F-22 Raptor.” ABC also had remarks from the White House that said,  “This bill also terminates troubled and massively over-budget programs such as the Future Combat Systems; the Airborne Laser; the Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter; and a new presidential helicopter that costs nearly as much as Air Force One.  At the same time, we accelerated or increased weapons programs needed to confront real and growing threats -- the Joint Strike Fighter, the littoral combat ship, and more helicopters and reconnaissance support for our troops at the front.  And this bill also reduces waste and fraud in our contracting system, as well as our reliance on private contractors for jobs that federal employees have the expertise and training to do."

These reforms represent a needed strategic shift that will finally bring the Pentagon into the 21st century, while addressing America’s challenges and protecting our troops.  Earlier this year, 13 retired generals and admirals, representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, called on members of Congress to support the Gates budget, stating,  that “[t]he threats against America have undergone a monumental shift, as dangers emanating from traditional Cold War adversaries have given way to challenges from terrorism and other transnational entities.  While we must always remain vigilant against the many large-scale conventional challenges that still persist to this day, we must also ensure our military strategy reflects the realities of 21st century. And it is essential our defense budget matches this new reality.”  Secretary Gates explained the shift this way: an “underlying theme in the budget recommendations is the need to think about future conflicts in a different way, to recognize that the black-and-white distinction between conventional war and irregular war is an outdated model. In reality, the future is and will be more complex, where all conflict will range along a broad spectrum of operations and lethality, where even near-peer competitors will use irregular or asymmetric tactics, and non-state actors may have weapons of mass destruction or sophisticated missiles.”  And Secretary Gates said this summer at Economic Club of Chicago that “The grim reality is that with regard to the budget we have entered a zero-sum game. Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity – whether for more F-22s or anything else – is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk I cannot accept and I will not take.”  This strategic shift is not only the right course for keeping America secure, it will also help protect American troops already in harm’s way.  The Washington Post wrote earlier this year that Gates’ budget is forcing “the [Defense] department to focus more of its energy on developing arms and equipment that can help troops on the ground as they battle insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq.”  As the President clearly said today "Wasting these dollars makes us less secure.” [AFP, 10/28/09. ABC News, 10/28/09. National Security Network, 6/10/09. Secretary Gates, 4/16/09. Secretary Gates, 4/21/08. Secretary Gates, Parameters, Summer 2008. Secretary Gates, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2009. Secretary Gates, Economic Club of Chicago, 7/16/09.  Washington Post, 5/15/09]

President Obama fulfills campaign pledge to modernize and reform the Defense budget.  While campaigning for president, then-Senator Obama wrote an article in Foreign Affairs arguing for a more secure and responsible defense structure: “We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future. We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests. But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.”  In his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, the president wrote, “It's time we acknowledge that a defense budget and force structure built principally around the prospect of World War III makes little strategic sense.”

Reforming and modernizing the Defense budget has long faced political and institutional opposition. The budget President Obama signs today is a watershed event in ensuring the Defense Budget meets the security challenges of today.   Defense expert Anthony Cordesman of CSIS explains the difficulty in reforming the system saying, “In the last half century I have seen one attempt after another to solve the department’s problems by reorganizing, by changing the way it does business, and by layering yet another new process or level of review over the existing ones...All of our services face a crisis in their force plans and procurement plans. We are killing force structure to try to buy new weapons.”  Secretary Gates puts it in a further historical testifying before the Armed Services Committee: “Since the end of World War II, there have been nearly 130 studies on these problems - to little avail. I mention all this because I do not believe there is a silver bullet, and I do not think the system can be reformed in a short period of time - especially since the kinds of problems we face date all the way back to our first Secretary of War.” However, President Obama and Secretary Gates have made a great deal of progress on this issue.  Time Magazine’s Mark Thompson writes, that the administration “appears, at least in some cases, to have breached the ‘iron triangle’ of the military, the contractors and the lawmakers, whose alliances make changing the defense budget so difficult.” [Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, July/August, 2007. Barack Obama, via CFR 2008.  Anthony Cordesman, 3/11/09. Secretary Gates, 1/27/09. Mark Thompson, Time Magazine, 05/14/09]

Conservatives cling to outdated national security mentality while pursuing legislative obstructionism for ideological reasons. Conservatives’ opposition to progressive efforts to modernize the defense budget has been rooted in a 20th century, cold-war world view and craven political opposition.  The defense budget item that most illustrated this outdated world view was nearly unilateral conservative support for the F-22.  CATO Defense Expert Chris Preble attacked the F-22 as having no uses for the wars of today, saying “The Air Force hasn't even deployed F-22s to Iraq or Afghanistan, since they're not well suited to the battles being fought there. The F-22's armor is too light even for small-arms fire... We shouldn't fritter away precious defense dollars on extraordinarily costly platforms like the F-22, simply to protect the jobs of defense workers when our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are being attacked on the ground every day.” In June, when debate over the defense budget was at its most feverish, Conservatives strove to re-introduce funding for the cold-war fighter plane back into the budget.   Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) proposed a request that would have “provide[d] initial funding for 12 more planes,” according to the Washington Post.  Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) likened the never-used F-22 to a handgun: “We absolutely need 381 of these planes, and not 187… I have a .44 Magnum that I keep under my pillow every night for the last 15 years. Everybody knows I've got and I haven't had to use it. It's the same thing with this F-22 Raptor.”   Fortunately, thanks to a bipartisan effort, strongly supported by the White House, funding for the cold-war relic was successfully stripped from the 2010 defense bill.

Undaunted, conservatives continued this pattern of partisan interference, choosing to obstruct the entire 2010 defense bill, because of an amendment “ that would specify harsh penalties for hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” reported the Hill.  As a result, 34 Senate Republicans sought to block a vote on the defense bill, prioritizing their opposition to the Hate Crimes amendment over support for the authorization of critical funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,  [Chris Preble, 6/05/09. Washington Post, 6/17/09. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R – GA), 6/24/09. NY Times, 7/22/09. The Hill, 10/22/09. Senate Roll Call Vote, 10/22/09]

What We’re Reading

Violence continues in Afghanistan, where several bombs kill 8 US service members, and the Taliban killed 6 UN workers and 3 Afghan staff in Kabul. Back in Washington, President Obama insists on maintaining a traditional chain of command while deliberating on Afghanistan, in a stark change to President Bush’s ad hoc relationship to his military leadership during his discussions on Iraq.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Pakistan in a bid to highlight a strong working relationship on a variety of issues beyond counterterrorism, but her visit is overshadowed by a massive bombing of a marketplace in Peshawar by militants.

Legislators in Iraq’s Parliament are still unable to agree on an election law, even though parliamentary leaders cobbled together a proposal following the massive bombings targeting government buildings. The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni extremist group affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the bombings which killed 160 Iraqis, including children from government day care centers.

The war crimes trial against Serbian General Radovan Karadzic continues in his absence.

Analysts look for a fruitful debate between the US and other members of the United Nations, as the annual ritual of voting to condemn US sanctions against Cuba may be undermined due to Obama’s softening of US-Cuba policy.

Tehran will respond by Thursday to a Western proposal to transfer their nuclear fuel abroad to be reprocessed, but Iranian officials hint at an alternate proposal which may allow them to hold onto more nuclear fuel than the Western proposal stipulates.

Federal prosecutors in Chicago charge two men with seeking terrorist training abroad, in the most recent case of Americans seeking an operational relation with Al Qaeda.

A UN contractor alleges that nepotism is rampant in the hiring process of UN personnel.

A former State Department official is charged with circumventing sanctions against Sudan by being an undeclared lobbyist for them.

The Department of Defense psychologists are discovering perception attributes which make some soldiers and marines better attuned to making threat assessments, including identifying roadside bombs, than others.

Despite the support from the Obama administration for entry into the European Union, Turkey may be rethinking their much attempted outreach to Europeans in favor of closer ties to Middle Eastern nations, including Iran.

Commentary of the Day

Peter W. Galbraith exhorts the United Nations to send a new envoy to oversee the runoff elections in Afghanistan, in order to avoid the same level of massive fraud committed by incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s self-appointed electoral commission. Doyle McManus wonders whether or not Obama’s decision on troop levels following the election will be his final decision on additional troop deployments.

Garrison Keillor offers a defense of Matthew Hoh, the Foreign Service officer who resigned in protest of the US mission in Afghanistan.

The Christian Science Monitor hopes that the United States and other member states of the UN Council on Human Rights modifies a treaty proposal by Islamic-majority countries to ban “blasphemy” against religion, which they see too heavy-handed and, ironically, resulting in the abridgement of the freedom of thought and faith.