Battleland

What the Wisconsin Recall Says About the Future of the U.S. Military

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REUTERS / Darren Hauck

Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker celebrates his victory in the recall election against Democratic challenger and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in Waukesha, Wisconsin June 5.

Governor Scott Walker survives his nasty recall vote earlier this month, a dynamic triggered by his brutal reshaping of Wisconsin’s public sector unions.  Pundits are interpreting all this in terms of November and what it means for President Obama’s chances in that crucial swing state, but I see a bellwether for the future of U.S. national security.

Walker’s assault  on the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector unions spared the cops and firefighters, ostensibly in return for their support to his original candidacy in 2010.  But the deal he made was telling.  Without it, he very easily could have fallen in the recall vote.

Now, let’s look elsewhere around the country where similar tactics were employed from positions of greater political strength:

 — Indiana’s Mitch Daniels took away state workers’ right for collective bargaining by executive order, and included the state police in his edict

– New Jersey’s Chris Christie has taken on the powerful state police union over retirement requirements.

– When Ohio governor John Kasich pushed his own Walker-like reforms, he included the police and firefighters, only to have his effort thwarted by a state-wide referendum vote.

Now, many experts predict that Walker’s survival will embolden governors throughout the rest of the nation to push anti-union agendas with heightened vigor.

My sense?  It starts with the low-hanging fruit, like that dastardly Madison, Wis., bus driver making more than $100,000 in a year.  But once that’s done, they go after the cops and firefighters.  And when they go after the cops and firefighters, the U.S. military can’t be all that far behind.

As one D.C. friend told me over lunch recently, “The recession has finally reached Washington, and it ain’t leaving anytime soon.”

Think about the two biggest budgetary pressures within Defense:  healthcare and pensions.

No, it won’t be a matter of stripping benefits from those who serve, but it will inevitably segue into cutting the numbers of those who serve – big time.

President Obama’s “symmetricization” of warfare points the way:  more cyber, more SOF, more assassinations, more “leading from behind” (i.e., enforced hub-and-spokes collaboration with more incentivized local military powers), and fewer boots on the ground – or anywhere.  U.S. Africa Command — AFRICOM — is the future: tiny facilities networked across the continent and a heavy reliance on contractors; a certain amount of do-good boots-on-the-ground presence but a preference for drone attacks.

The pressure to reduce the size of that public-sector-union-without-peer known as the U.S military is just beginning.  Technology will be the excuse, but pensions and healthcare will be the reason.

In the end, this is why America must swap out old allies (demographically-moribund Europe) for new (relatively cheap-labor-military China and India) when it comes to managing this global security order.  It’s got nothing to do with historical alliances or civilizational comity.

It’s all about how much people cost in this world.

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