Institutional Post-War PTSD

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When the phrase PTSD surfaces, it’s always linked to individuals – usually troops returning from a war zone with the anxiety and hyper-awareness found among those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

But there’s a less-seen type of PTSD – post-traumatic system disorder. We also know it as the fighting-the-last-war-syndrome. It’s what happens when the Pentagon itself becomes anxious and hyper-aware.

A couple of examples should suffice:

— This is an example of post-9/11 post-traumatic system disorder: the Pentagon announced Monday that its warplanes will be in the skies over Tampa, protecting the Republican National Convention from uninvited airborne intruders. That’s kind of like a centerfielder planting his back against the outfield wall, right where the other side just hit a grand slam homerun. “Dare ya to try to do it again!” he shouts.

It sends out a signal that the U.S. is a cowering, enfeebled giant, perpetually doomed to play defense. Instead of instilling the quiet confidence that has long been the American way, it suggests an iron monolith spraying itself with RustOleum.

— This is the post-Cold War variant of post-traumatic system disorder: Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, asked the Pentagon policy chief to respond in writing to several questions following a Nov. 2 hearing. The committee has just released the Q&As, one of which says:

Mr. TURNER. The 2010 NPR [Nuclear Posture Review] states that nuclear force reductions are possible because of overwhelming conventional military superiority. Since the NPR was written, $330 billion in weapons systems have been cancelled and $489 billion has been taken out of the defense budget. And now we have the specter of sequester looming ahead with the promise of an additional half trillion in cuts. Is this premise in the 2010 NPR still valid? At what point is it not? Where is the break-point in terms of our conventional military superiority as we see both China’s large buildup in conventional military capability and asymmetric capabilities and China and Russia’s major nuclear modernization programs?

Dr. [James] MILLER [under secretary of defense for policy]. Under the funding levels required by the Budget Control Act, the United States will continue to possess overwhelming conventional capability against any conceivable adversary for the foreseeable future. If sequestration occurs, the scale and arbitrary nature of the required cuts to defense spending would inflict severe damage on the U.S. military. In this case, the United States would need to reconsider all elements of its defense strategy.

Wow. So trimming the current Pentagon budget back to 2006’s level – above the Cold War average – could cripple U.S. conventional firepower so much that the nation would have to rely more on nuclear weapons to…well, no one has ever really explained precisely how nuclear weapons would replace conventional weapons in any real-world kind of way.

Turner’s an uber-hawk, so perhaps Miller was just telling Turner what he felt Turner wanted to hear. But if sequestration happens, you can bet Rep. Turner will be brandishing this Q&A like a precision-guided weapon and use it to keep the nation’s nuclear arsenal as big as possible.