Does the 54 billion already exist?

The $54 billion defense spending increase the White House has proposed is a sign that President Trump intends to keep his promise to rebuild the military. Yet simply increasing the defense budget will not be enough. The president must fundamentally reshape the way Washington approaches defense spending if he hopes to be successful.

 

Our defense budget is a sieve for congressional pet projects, special interest contracts, and social engineering programs. Pumping more fuel into the tank is little use if you don’t patch the holes in the bottom first.

There is more than enough money already allocated to make American “safer.” The US military, just like any large institution, is grossly inefficient and rent seeking is rampant.

You can read the rest here. The author is James Hasson.

Some of the best fear mongering of 2017…

“Chemical safety isn’t the only failure. The Transportation Security Administration, our most direct answer to the 9/11 hijackings, missed 95 percent of weapons and mock explosives smuggled through in a 2015 test, and it now faces $80 million in cuts under President Trump’s proposed budget (flight security fees would increase, but the money would go to the border wall). The biodefense sensors DHS deployed after the 2001 anthrax attacks don’t work reliably, and as Steven Brill reported in the Atlantic, nearly half of the thousands of hospitals that hold radioactive materials suitable for a dirty bomb have inadequate security.”

Maybe the threat of terrorism isn’t as grave as we make it out to be? Maybe it is all threat inflation?

You can read the article here.

The title is “I write thrillers. My research showed me how easily terrorists can strike us.”

What Trump Calls Strength, China Calls Stupidity

That is the title of James Palmer’s recent FP piece.

Here is one bit

Trump might have thought he was signaling a bold willingness to use force to his visitor, but China regards U.S. military might as early U.S. statesman Elbridge Gerry once did the prospect of standing army: “Like a standing member; an excellent assurance of domestic tranquillity, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.” China’s happy to gradually extend power elsewhere, especially in its own neighborhood. But it hasn’t gone to war for 38 years, since the last spasms of the Maoist era produced a blundering invasion of Vietnam in 1979. (In that time frame, the United States has gone to war in well over a dozen countries, and Russia in close to a dozen.) Beijing views Washington’s scatter-shot, flip-flop approach to foreign policy — especially in the post-Cold War era — as destabilizing, foolish … and useful.

 

As with all of American blundering in the Middle East, China is the biggest beneficiary of the recent airstrikes in Syria. Not only does it divert attention away from the “region of the future,” it also heightens the suspicions of potential regional rivals, Russia and China. If you want to know why geopolitics has returned, the American use of force in nonstrategic areas is a start.

You can read the rest here.

 

 

Ignoring Diplomacy’s Past and Its Future Promise

That is the title of a NYT editorial.

It writes,

Diplomacy doesn’t always prevent war, Syria being one example, but war becomes far more likely if there are not enough diplomats to work with other countries to resolve disagreements. Compelling examples of diplomacy working include the 2015 deal that is preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnia War; and the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Other examples include several treaties that committed America and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals significantly. American diplomats have strengthened alliances, built new partnerships with countries like Cuba and Myanmar, promoted democracy so that countries are less likely to go to war with one another and created jobs by helping to open overseas markets to American business.

America should think long and hard about escalating the war on ISIS

Here is a snippet from Quitting ISIS: Why Syrians are Abandoning the Group. 

Tarek, a former ISIS fighter from Deir Ezzor, estimated that when he deserted his unit in Deir Ezzor, 60 percent of his fellow combatants were under the age of 18. One former ISIS child soldier from al-Hasakah, Sami, was 14 years old when he first joined in 2014. He initially kept his enlistment a secret from his family and abruptly disappeared for three months. His mother became alarmed when he returned home one day with new clothes and a Kalashnikov. Realizing that her son had been brainwashed, she asked Sami’s older brother to take him to Turkey. They have been there for a few months, working in a factory; they’re among the lucky few who have been able to find civilian jobs after leaving ISIS. Sami cried as he recounted the deaths of several of his oldest childhood friends who had joined ISIS with him and were recently killed in a battle against the regime in Deir Ezzor. ISIS had been using these children as cannon fodder on the frontlines because they lacked the training and experience to be useful in other roles.

America needs to ask itself if this is the sort of fight we want to be involved in. Do we seriously want to drop bombs on battalions made up of children?

I honestly can’t think of any better propaganda for ISIS than being able to point to dead Muslim children resulting from American airstrikes.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

The authors are  and .

Background on Chile’s Pension System

Alas, benefits have not measured up to people’s unrealistic expectations. The scheme’s founders told workers that if they contributed continuously throughout their careers they would receive a generous 70% of their final salaries upon retirement. And indeed, men who chipped in for 30 years or more earned an average pension of 77% of their final salary. But most workers contributed far less. Women took time off to raise children (and retire earlier than men). Many Chileans spent time in informal jobs or unemployed. On average, they contribute for only 40% of their prime working years.

 

For most people the 10% contribution rate, just half the average in the OECD, a club of mainly rich countries, is too low. As a result, the typical benefit, including a supplement paid to poor people, is 45% of a pensioner’s final salary, well below the OECD average of 61%. Women are worst off. They take home pensions worth 31% of their final salaries, compared with 60% for men. In 2008 the government decided to reward mothers for each child they raised by topping up their pensions, but that does not fully compensate for the shortfall.

You can read more at the Economist here.

A Less Than Splendid Little War.

That is the title of a 2014 Wilson Quarterly piece by Andrew J. Bacevich in which he discusses the impact of the Gulf War on the public views towards the military and the role the military should play in the world.

Here is one instructive section.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the legacy is the war’s powerful influence on how Americans now view both the immediate past and the immediate future. When it occurred near the tail end of the 20th century, just as the Cold War’s final chapter was unfolding, the victory in the desert seemed to confirm that the years since the United States bounded on to the world stage in 1898 had been the “American Century” after all. Operation Desert Storm was interpreted as an indisputable demonstration of American superiority and made it plausible to believe once again that the rise of the United States to global dominance and the triumph of American values were the central themes of the century then at its close.

 

In the collective public consciousness, the Persian Gulf War and the favorable conclusion of the Cold War were evidence that, despite two world wars, multiple episodes of genocide, and the mind-boggling criminality of totalitarianism, the 20th century had turned out basically all right. The war let Americans see contemporary history not as a chronicle of hubris, miscalculation, and tragedy, but as a march of progress, its arc ever upward. And that perspective — however much at odds with the postmodernism that pervades fashionable intellectual circles — fuels the grand expectations that Americans have carried into the new millennium.

Bill Clinton has declared the United States “the indispensable nation.” According to Madeleine Albright, America has become the “organizing principal” of the global order. “If we have to use force,” said Albright, “it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further than other countries into the future.” Such sentiments invite derision in sophisticated precincts. But they play well in Peoria, and accord precisely with what most Americans want to believe.

You can read the ungated version here.

 

Still the best piece on Islamic/Arab terrorism.

Fareed Zakaria’s classic Newsweek essay, “The Politics of Rage: Why do they hate us?” is still the best discussion of the roots of Arab terrorism.

Here is one bit of this work.

America thinks of modernity as all good–and it has been almost all good for America. But for the Arab world, modernity has been one failure after another. Each path followed–socialism, secularism, nationalism–has turned into a dead end. While other countries adjusted to their failures, Arab regimes got stuck in their ways. And those that reformed economically could not bring themselves to ease up politically. The Shah of Iran, the Middle Eastern ruler who tried to move his country into the modern era fastest, reaped the most violent reaction in the Iranian revolution of 1979. But even the shah’s modernization–compared, for example, with the East Asian approach of hard work, investment and thrift–was an attempt to buy modernization with oil wealth.

 

It turns out that modernization takes more than strongmen and oil money. Importing foreign stuff–Cadillacs, Gulfstreams and McDonald’s–is easy. Importing the inner stuffings of modern society–a free market, political parties, accountability and the rule of law–is difficult and dangerous. The gulf states, for example, have gotten modernization lite, with the goods and even the workers imported from abroad. Nothing was homegrown; nothing is even now. As for politics, the gulf governments offered their people a bargain: we will bribe you with wealth, but in return let us stay in power. It was the inverse slogan of the American revolution–no taxation, but no representation either.

 

The new age of globalization has hit the Arab world in a very strange way. Its societies are open enough to be disrupted by modernity, but not so open that they can ride the wave. They see the television shows, the fast foods and the fizzy drinks. But they don’t see genuine liberalization in the society, with increased opportunities and greater openness. Globalization in the Arab world is the critic’s caricature of globalization–a slew of Western products and billboards with little else. For some in their societies it means more things to buy. For the regimes it is an unsettling, dangerous phenomenon. As a result, the people they rule can look at globalization but for the most part not touch it.

For the most part still current and instructive. Do read the entire thing here.

Obama The Restrainer?

There is a discussion over at War On The Rocks regarding Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Paul Miller of the Clements Center for National Security at The University of Texas at Austin argues

…In his [Obama] eagerness to avoid making Bush’s mistakes, he made a whole new set of mistakes. He over-interpreted the recent past, fabricating the myth about a hyper-interventionist establishment. As a result, he overreacted to the situation he inherited in 2009 and, crucially, never adjusted during his eight years in office. In this sense and others, he contrasts starkly with Bush, who made major changes in his second term. The result is that Obama retrenched when he should have engaged. He oversaw the collapse of order across the Middle East and the resurgence of great power rivalry in Europe while mismanaging two wars and reducing America’s military posture abroad to its smallest footprint since World War II. Despite the paeans of Obama’s admirers, this is not a foreign policy legacy future presidents will want to emulate.

Trevor Thrall and John Glaser, both of the CATO institute counter this interpretation, writing

There were many things to dislike about American foreign policy during the Obama years, but too much restraint simply was not one of them. Miller is right to argue that Obama bucked the conventional wisdom in Washington far less often than he himself claimed, but Miller fails to mention that the worst flaws of Obama’s foreign policy — an overreliance on military intervention and overconfidence in the ability of the United States to control political outcomes abroad — were simply carryovers from the Bush administration.

To be sure, Obama was not the one who invaded Afghanistan or Iraq, but he embraced and expanded the global war on terrorism in every other dimension. On his watch, Obama participated in regime change in Libya, ordered a massive increase in a global drone campaign, provided material support to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, and escalated (and later maintained) open-ended nation building and internal defense efforts in Afghanistan. Obama was many things, but a restrainer he was not.

My interpretation of this sort of discussion, which has been ongoing for at least the past 5 years, is that those who argue that Obama was a restrainer are confusing a lack of leadership with a foreign policy ideology. All Presidents must work within the system but no one who subscribes to the restraint outlook on foreign policy would have gotten involved in places like Libya, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, or Yemen.

Here is Paul’s original essay.

Trevor and John’s response can be found here.

Long reads but highly recommended.

The Leaky Leviathan.

Not all leaking is done by whistleblowers. Sometimes leaks are strategic…such as releasing one good year of tax returns after you have accused the former president of wiretapping your office despite zero evidence.

David E. Pozen has a fascinating read on just this, titled “The Leaky Leviathan: Why the government condemns and condones unlawful disclosures of information.”

Here is the abstract.

The United States government leaks like a sieve. Presidents denounce the constant flow of classified information to the media from unauthorized, anonymous sources. National security professionals decry the consequences. And yet the laws against leaking are almost never enforced. Throughout U.S. history, roughly a dozen criminal cases have been brought against suspected leakers. There is a dramatic disconnect between the way our laws and our leaders condemn leaking in the abstract and the way they condone it in practice.

 

This Article challenges the standard account of that disconnect, which emphasizes the difficulties of apprehending and prosecuting offenders, and advances an alternative theory of leaking. The executive branch’s “leakiness” is often taken to be a sign of organizational failure. The Article argues it is better understood as an adaptive response to external liabilities (such as the mistrust generated by presidential secret keeping and media manipulation) and internal pathologies (such as overclassification and bureaucratic fragmentation) of the modern administrative state. The leak laws are so rarely enforced not only because it is hard to punish violators, but also because key institutional actors share overlapping interests in maintaining a permissive culture of classified information disclosures. Permissiveness does not entail anarchy, however, as a nuanced system of informal social controls has come to supplement, and all but supplant, the formal disciplinary scheme. In detailing these claims, the Article maps the rich sociology of governmental leak regulation and explores a range of implications for executive power, national security, democracy, and the rule of law.

 

It is a long read, but well written.

You can read the entire thing for free here.