With a debt deal going to a vote, the conversation has shifted to what this agreement will mean for the Pentagon. Experts from both sides of the aisle have long argued that defense spending has to be part of any serious proposal aimed at reducing the deficit. The current proposal splits defense reductions into two phases, the second of which will ideally be based off of recommendations from a joint bipartisan committee. As additional details emerge, NSN has asked several experts to explain the implications for defense spending and American strategy.
In this time of fiscal austerity, the American public is looking to its government for smart investments and wise use of a limited treasury. With this as a backdrop, it is ironic that conservatives in the House of Representatives are taking an axe to the international affairs budget. Security experts, military leaders, business executives and bipartisan leaders agree that an investment in diplomacy and development is not only an essential part of maintaining our national security and economic security, it also has an extremely high rate of return. John Kerry’s Senate plan to match President Obama’s request for 21st century investments in global power and economic reach are more important than ever.
Trials are starting in Egypt for its deposed leader; Tunisia faces the economic consequences of a transition from a dictatorship; the international community recognizes the opposition in Libya; Syria faces concerns over civil strife; and conditions for the Yemeni people worsen as President Saleh clings to power. These are just some of the complexities facing the region, emphasizing the need for a careful, nimble and calculated approach toward the region from American policy makers and the international community.
Spending is the watchword in Washington today. Last night President Obama addressed the nation on his plans for reducing the deficit, and today incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he explained the effects of budgetary constraints on the military. This involves facing the reality that defense spending, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has contributed to the deficit and should play a role in fixing the shortfall. It is also the case that there are right and wrong ways to reform defense spending. Reductions must be tied to a larger strategic vision that chooses what missions and capabilities are necessary to ensure American security. A “hollow” force is a danger if reductions come thoughtlessly or without matching capabilities to foreign policy appetites. In fact, changes in defense spending under President Obama have only slowed the rate of growth in the defense budgets, but have not yet produced any actual cuts. The military does face readiness issues, which can be traced back to wars fought with inadequate support under the Bush administration.
As Norwegians struggle to make sense of last Friday’s tragic terrorist attack, a debate has broken out in the U.S. about speculating before the facts are in, about connections among different kinds of extremists, and even about what terrorism is. Experts with decades of experience in journalism, counterterrorism and trauma management have a common message: terrorists’ goal is to instill fear. Responses that heighten fear, choose scapegoats and re-traumatize the public do more to achieve the terrorists’ ends than to keep Americans safe. We can choose alternatives – and we can support Norwegian leaders as they respond to this tragedy with determination not to let extremist violence change who they are.
This week several House committee chairmen wrote to President Obama criticizing the decision to bring accused Somali terrorist Ahmed Warsame to New York to be tried in a federal court. Legal and military experts dispute the core claims of the letter. Its complaints come as Congress debates radical provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act which would give this and future presidents fewer options, not more, to use against terrorism suspects. They represent an odd choice for politicking, as the administration’s approach to the Warsame case and counterterrorism more broadly have drawn strong support from editorial boards and public opinion.
The uprisings in the Middle East, now in their seventh month, continue to produce major news: U.S. recognition of the Libyan opposition; Egyptian steps toward elections and civilian-military disagreements; heightened violence in Syria; and a wobbly opposition coalition facing an absent leader in Yemen who refuses to depart.
For the last week, targeted violence aimed at derailing the transition to Afghan control has plagued Afghanistan. In the wake of the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council in Kandahar province and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as another high-level assassination, the U.S. and the broader International Security Assistance Force should focus on the need to improve governance so that it relies on institutions, not individuals. Such a shift can assist the transition that began this week, symbolized by the promotion of Marine General John Allen to the commander of forces in Afghanistan and initial transfers of provincial control to Afghans. If the Afghan government is going to keep control of the country, the focus should shift to finding a political solution, both among the parties in Afghanistan – including the Taliban – and regionally. As NSN Senior Adviser Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Eaton notes, “Rebalancing American and ISAF efforts from an almost-exclusively military focus to a more balanced approach that values diplomacy and political solutions is long overdue.”
While public ire with government on economic issues stays in the headlines, less-noticed is strong public support for the Obama administration’s competent handling of national security. Competence, pragmatism and real progress – from counterterrorism, to moving to end wars, to leveraging the strength of partners – have proven effective counters to the decades-old cliché of progressives’ political disadvantage on national security. Recent polls – from pollsters across the political spectrum –confirm the trend which began at the beginning of the administration – suggesting that extreme and personalized attacks on security issues are failing to reach a public focused on economic security and pragmatic results.
The debt default showdown in the U.S. is reaching new heights as the latest negotiating session yesterday evening ended in heightened tension. Meanwhile Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned yesterday of a “huge financial calamity” if the debt ceiling is not increased. And the Moody’s rating agency’s threat of a credit downgrade highlights the real consequences of failing to pay America’s bills. This is not only an economic issue. Republicans and Democrats, Bernanke, and America's credit rating agencies have all warned about the dire consequences of defaulting on our nation's debt. America’s power and role in the world is based off of its economic strength. Further, these dangerous games hardly serve as a good advertisement for the American model of democracy and effective governance as many countries around the world reconsider their models. We should not be playing games with American power.