24 February 2011

Ah the Free Markets... Everywhere but the Defense Industry

Ironic that the largest 'free market' economy in the world spends trillions of dollars in an inherently closed market with a limited number of providers.

There are obvious reasons for that. One is the powerful vested interests who resist making consequential changes. The other is intellectual. It is impossible to think seriously about defense budgets and Pentagon resource allocations without a clear idea of what we expect our military to do -- and why. In other words, the place to begin is with interests, needs and means. We don't do that. The production of strategic statements has become an art form for obfuscating half-baked ideas and flawed logic. Its main reference points, beyond an extrapolation of the status quo, are domestic politics and intra-governmental turf battles. This holds for budgetary plans as well.

To be honest, we're navigating without a strategic gyroscope and only the most primitive of compasses. There is no strategic design -- certainly not an explicit one -- that is coherently articulated. Instead, there is an arithmetic tabulation of threats. There's the Islamic terrorists. There's China. There's defending Latvia from the Russians. Then there's oil from the Persian Gulf. Then there's the Western Hemisphere with Hugo Chavez and drug cartels. Then, then.... Implicit in this iterative approach is the assumption that our tolerance for any magnitude of threat is zero, that we must prepare for threats 'over the horizon,' and that we must be pro-active. There is a logic to this way of thinking, however rudimentary. But only if you can count on infinite resources -- and if you cannot imagine that any of our actions may be counter productive for national security. Alas, neither is correct. Any tacit recognition of the former is unaccompanied by any strategic assessment worthy of the name.

The 9/11 decade has been dominated by the 'war on terror.' Its huge appetite for resources, including time and energy, has been matched by the progression of perceived security needs it has spawned. The commitment to a dominant physical presence in Southwestern and Central Asia is the outstanding example. Let's look at each in turn. Our vast expenditures in Afghanistan and Iraq to little beneficial effect testify to the obsession with Islamic terrorism. They are explicable only in terms of the Twin Towers trauma and the newfound sense of vulnerability it created. Looked at objectively, the losses we suffered -- however dramatic -- do not figure high on a scale of possible attacks against to the United States. Certainly not compared to what a couple of thousand Soviet nuclear warheads could do to us.

By: Brant

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