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PORTSIDE  January 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE January 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Obama's Leaner, Meaner Military

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Sat, 7 Jan 2012 01:21:19 -0500

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Obama's Leaner, Meaner Military

   The president plans to shrink the Pentagon.
   But are we just swapping soldiers for drones,
   contractors, and reserve troops?

By Adam Weinstein
Fri Jan. 6, 2012
http://motherjones.com/politics/2012/01/obama-military-budget-cuts

In an announcement long on ambition and short on
specifics, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta rolled out a new national security strategy
Thursday that aims to drastically downsize the military.
"[W]e have the opportunity and the responsibility to
look ahead to the force we need for the future," the
president said. His plan, "Sustaining US Global
Leadership," aims to slash troops, fighter jets, and
$450 million from the Pentagon bureaucracy. "Whenever
possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and
small-footprint approaches to achieve our security
objectives," the 16-page plan states.

If the strategy takes hold-and that's hardly a given,
considering how heavily the defense industry lobbies
Congress-progressives may like a lot of what they see in
the military's newer, leaner look. Still, the plan
leaves open the possibility that drones, contractors,
and reservists will take over any gaps left in the
mammoth, post-9/11 national security complex.

The strategy continues to focus on some perennial areas,
like combating Al Qaeda, tracking WMDs, and maintaining
a big presence in the Middle East (i.e. around Iran).
But its updates would be significant:

 * Nukes: Cuts to the country's bloated nuclear weapons
   complex could become a reality: "It is possible that
   our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller
   nuclear force, which would reduce the number of
   nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their
   role in U.S. national security strategy."

 * China and North Korea: The US will "of necessity
   rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region." In lay
   terms, that means going back to pre-9/11 basics:
   keeping a robust Navy close to China and North Korea.
   Obama reportedly nixed a Pentagon proposal to reduce
   the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, a sure
   sign the US plans to flex its maritime muscle.

 * Europe: The last remnants of America's Cold War-era
   role in protecting Europe will probably be handed off
   to its regional allies. "Most European countries are
   now producers of security rather than consumers of
   it," the strategy states. That could mean downsizing
   big US bases in Germany and removing old missiles
   from the landmass.

 * Global policing: "U.S. forces will no longer be sized
   to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability
   operations." Even small overseas incursions will be
   rarer, since "with reduced resources, thoughtful
   choices will need to be made regarding the location
   and frequency of these operations."

 * Foreign invasions: On the big-picture level, say
   goodbye to the long-held goal of a unilateral US
   force that can fight two simultaneous major ground
   wars. This strategy will be replaced with a "fight
   and deter" objective: "Even when U.S. forces are
   committed to a large-scale operation in one region,"
   the plan states, "they will be capable of denying the
   objectives of-or imposing unacceptable costs on-an
   opportunistic aggressor in a second region. U.S.
   forces will plan to operate whenever possible with
   allied and coalition forces."

 * Personnel and benefits: While cuts to personnel and
   administration are likely, the president says he'll
   "keep faith with our troops, military families and
   veterans." This could mean the administration is
   backing away from a controversial corporate-friendly
   plan to privatize soldier pensions that gained
   currency in the budget debate last year.

While the Pentagon presentation didn't offer specifics
on what cuts might come, the New York Times reported
that the Army will lose nearly 100,000 troops, and the
Air Force's aircraft fleet will be reduced
significantly-including delays on future orders of the
F-35 fighter jet, one of the most expensive programs in
US military history.

But the new strategy could also augur boom times ahead
for contractors, spies, and drones: "In adjusting our
strategy and attendant force size, the Department will
make every effort to maintain an adequate industrial
base and our investment in science and technology," the
plan states. "We will also encourage innovation in
concepts of operation." Such science could include
unmanned aerial surveillance, which has been a favorite
tool of the Obama administration; such innovations could
include the expansion of contractor-managed military
logistics overseas, a trend that started in the '90s and
was a hallmark of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then there's the issue of reserve and National Guard
soldiers. Since 9/11, many of these part-time
servicemembers were used overseas to take the strain off
America's overstretched active-duty troops in what came
to be known as the "back-door draft." Despite the pain
this imposed on weekend warriors and their families, the
National Guard brass were rewarded recently with a seat
on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Since their newfound
relevance comes directly out of their usefulness in war,
they might become advocates of future interventions. The
new DOD strategy addresses this possibility in a cryptic
line, saying that "the Department will need to examine
the mix of Active Component (AC) and Reserve Component
(RC) elements best suited to the strategy."

So it appears that the plan is to shrink the military
significantly-but as always, the Pentagon is hedging its
bet. "Wholesale divestment of the capability to conduct
any mission would be unwise," the strategy warns, "based
on historical and projected uses of U.S. military forces
and our inability to predict the future." In other
words, a lot will change, unless it doesn't.


Reporter
Adam Weinstein is Mother Jones' national security
reporter.

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