Connecting the Dots…

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Last week a top Pentagon soothsayer peered into the future and found the Defense Department running out of money. Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said the problem is deeper, and likely to last longer, than the sequester, which is crudely chopping military spending by about 10% this year.

That returns Pentagon spending to 2007’s level, and it could continue for several more years if Congress and the White House can’t agree on a deficit-reduction package. But Prabhakar senses something more profound at work.

“We believe we may be at the beginning of a fundamental shift in how our society allocates resources to the business of national security,” she said. “What I’m really talking about here are the fiscal pressures that could shape a different future over the coming years and decades. And if it turns out to be the case that we don’t allocate this continuing level of support for national security as a society, it actually won’t change the fact that our job will still be to keep the country as safe and secure as is humanly possible despite that.”

Fair enough. What she is saying is that there’s a sense that the nation is paying too much for its national security. Battleland was thinking of her words Sunday morning after coming upon three disparate items in the Washington Post. Each touches on U.S. national security, and not in a good way.

The first article details the response of the government to the Mississippi martial-arts instructor who allegedly mailed ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and two other officials and allegedly tried to frame an Elvis impersonator with whom he has been feuding for the crime:

Though the ricin case seems to have emerged from a small-time feud between a couple of eccentrics, the government response has been robust. Among the government agencies that joined the FBI in the investigation were the Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Capitol Police, the counterterrorism section of the Justice Department’s national security division, the Mississippi National Guard, the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and multiple county and city law enforcement units.

The second article is a letter to the editor from John Michael Loh, a retired Air Force general who headed Air Combat Command from 1992 to 1995. He complained of the growing overlap and duplication among the nation’s military services:

There is…huge redundancy in all airpower missions, in special operations forces and, now, in the fast-growing domain of cyberwarfare. Each service seeks to be the `king of cyber,’ launching cybercommands with similar, if not identical, capabilities.
The major goal of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was to force the services to work together in joint operations, each supporting the others by providing forces and expertise without duplication — interdependent, not independent. But, over the years, service parochialism and a shortage of trust have trumped interdependence, leaving large, duplicative forces. Even a rich and profligate nation cannot afford such an overlap in capabilities. Interdependence is a long-overdue solution

Finally, the third article is an op-ed column by Marine Sergeant Thomas Gibbons-Neff, who ties his combat tours in Afghanistan to the recent marathon bombing in his hometown of Boston:

This past week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly told investigators that he and his brother set off bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in part because of their opposition to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a Marine who fought in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2010, the news made me wonder: Had my war brought the horrors of battle home?…
I deployed to Afghanistan believing my presence in that country would help stop attacks such as Boston’s from happening. But instead, my war has spilled over, striking the city where my 22-year-old brother goes to school and where my mom, until recently, felt perfectly safe eating lunch outdoors.
The Tsarnaev brothers aren’t the first alleged terrorists to cite U.S. military intervention in other countries as a reason for targeting civilians, and they won’t be the last. Despite our best efforts and valor, I wonder, have America’s wars made the homeland less safe? Sure, we’ve killed and captured thousands of radicals who wanted to harm Americans. But in doing so, have we created more?

Taken individually, each article is an interesting tidbit in the national-security debate. Together, they read like counts in an indictment.


"Is the nation paying too much for its national security?"

This is a rhetorical question, right...? 

Which part of "we pay multiples more for defense than the rest of the world combined" doesn't yield a hint...?


I like the 400 mill that the army didn't want to invest in M1A1 tanks (didn't feel they needed) but congress made them spend anyways. I mean, politics and special interest - always know better then our current military. It's not always our military - our critters know how to blow good tax monies too.


After serving for years I really have come to the conclusion that the best way to protect America is to simply get the heck out of the middle east and let the middle easterners learn how to sort out their own problems.

As far as military spending goes. I fear we may fall into a modern French trap. During the 20's the French spent tons of money prepping for another invasion instead of investing in there nation. The late 30's roll along and the French found themselves stuck with an obsolete military strapped with expensive 1929 era "wonder weapons" and they had no where near the level of infrastructural or expertise they needed to rapidly rearm. 

I fear that America is doing the same thing. We're wasting money on obsolescent super carriers and flying white elephants like the F-22 not to mention the stupidly stupendous amount of treasure we waste on maintaining a presence in the middle east.

We need to be spending DoD money on programs that steer bright kids into engineering and partner with educators to raise a physically healthy, mentally agile and civicly active Americans We need to developing critical infrastructure create jobs that can be duel use for civil markets and military systems. We are literary in a position where we have lost the ability to forge the systems needed to build industrial transformers. We design the most powerful microprocessors in the world but we could not produce them on an industrial scale if we had to.


The real question here should be...Can we afford the level of security that we demand for our citizens?  I don't know a single person who has a zero-deductible auto insurance policy, or a zero-copay medical policy.  Why?  Because they are ridiculously expensive.  We choose instead to balance costs vs. the amount of acceptable risk.  The same needs to be true for national security.  We should be evaluating whether we should have the capability of stomping-out every conceivable risk (however remote).  Do we need to have the Joint Strike Fighter to defend against a non-existent threat (China and Russia are too closely tied to the US economically to risk war)?

I have 3 daughters, and I do my best to teach them to avoid unreasonable risks, but I know that there are dangers out there that I cannot anticipate.  As a country, we should do conduct ourselves similarly:  anticipate risks and prepare for those that are both likely and severe enough to warrant the cost to mitigate. 


You triple down on a fighter that's constantly blown its budget and is shaping up to be double or triple the cost it was supposed to be.  You have two agencies maintaining drone warfare, three agencies that maintain aerial combat operations, and soldiers positioned in theaters of operation where the enemy they were deployed for gave up two decades ago.  You spend more on national defense than the next ten countries combined.  You have warrantless wiretapping, you read everyone's email, and you check out everyone's junk at the airport.

And yet you're still always terrified of guys with AK-47s and bombs who have successfully penned you into two countries to the point where your mighty military is taxed and strained almost to breaking.  The disconnect between how much security you provide for yourselves compared to how terrified you still are even afterwards is astronomical.

I don't know whether you spend too much, but you clearly aren't spending it effectively and your methodology is highly flawed.


@forgottenlord The problem isn't so much that we're spending too much (though we probably are) so much as we're spending stupidly, reacting rather than acting, and trying to find solutions to the problems that we've created for ourselves (coughIraqcough)


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