Thursday, October 25, 2012

10/25/12 RD Bulletin: Bayonets and Cavalry: "The ’80s called, they want their foreign policy back"

The PDA Winning Metaphor: PDA was approached this past January by Louis Jacobson of the Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact about Gov. Romney’s complaint in a Florida primary debate that the Obama Navy is “the smallest since 1917.”  The resulting PolitiFact “pants on fire” analysis of Romney’s remarks included a PDA-provided metaphor involving horses. We heard that metaphor again this week.
News: DARPA is providing $20 to $30 million to jumpstart an initial conceptualization of replacements for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. These “brainstorming” funds are intended to help prepare for industry development of sixth-generation replacements.
Reports: The Bipartisan Policy Center has released a white paper detailing how the forthcoming lame-duck Congress should address both the pending sequester as well as long-term deficit reduction.  The recommendations center on developing a new type of sequester that would result in revenue increases as well as cuts to earned-benefit programs.
State of Play
President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney faced off in their final debate on Monday where the two candidates discussed their foreign policy visions and contested the future of the United States’ role in the world.  One of the more dramatic moments of the debate came when Governor Romney proclaimed that the U.S. Navy is the smallest it’s been since 1917, a line he has often used on the campaign trail.  Obama shot back with perhaps the most memorable line of the debate, “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed.  We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.  The question is not a game of Battleship.”  Later on, the President quipped, “The ’80s called, they want their foreign policy back.” 
Republicans were quick to hammer the President on what they believe were flippant remarks, asserting that Obama is out of touch with current military needs.  Virginia Republicans, led by Governor Bob McDonnell and Representative J. Randy Forbes, told several news outlets that the Obama administration is indeed proposing reducing the Navy’s fleet to 250 ships, with McDonnell proclaiming, “We have 284 ships now, and are on the way to 250.”  However, both the Navy’s most recent long-term shipbuilding plan as well as a report by the Congressional Research Service’s naval wiz, Ron O’Rourke, show that the fleet will not drop below 276 vessels within the next thirty years, and in fact, will rise to 300 ships by Fiscal Year 2019.
The Republicans’ assertions seem to be based on testimony that the Congressional Budget Office’s Eric Labs provided in 2011, in which he discussed how the Navy could cope with a $15 billion annual shipbuilding budget.  Labs speculated that if the Navy and/or Congress choses to cut cheap ships from its fleet in order to find savings, then the total fleet size could range anywhere from 200 to 250 ships, but if it chose to cut more epxensive ships, then it could retain its current size.  While Labs indicated that this could happen, Romney national security advisor John Lehman penned an op-ed in April in which he asserted that a 250-ship fleet would happen.  That notion has now been picked up by a number of politicians on the campaign trail. 
In the debate’s aftermath, the Romney campaign has tried to spin the President’s critique as an insult to the Navy and to America’s shipbuilders.  But in having misjudged America’s fighting capacity, the Governor did neither the Navy nor the nation a service.  As former-Defense Secretary Gates pointed out in May 2010: America’s Navy has no peer or even near-peer in the world.  The USN can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined, and these can deliver far more precision munitions today than they could 10 years ago.  The more than 8,000 missile-launchers on our surface fleet give it missile firepower greater than the next 20 navies combined, and the USN operates 11 large nuclear carriers, 10 large-deck amphibious ships, and 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines – in all cases exceeding or greatly exceeding the rest of the world’s fleets combined.  Our navy’s special operations capabilities and capacity for delivering troops overseas have also significantly improved over the past ten years.  So it's hard to see the Governor's proposal to boost shipbuilding as anything more than a bid for votes in Navy districts.  The one missing piece is clarity about where he intends to find the money to pay for a much larger navy. 
During the debate, Obama also hit back on Romney’s assertion that the military faces hundreds of billions of dollars in additional spending reductions via the forthcoming sequester – with the President proclaiming flatly that sequestration “will not happen.” Democrats, led most notably by Majority Leader Harry Reid, have held the line for most of this year that sequestration will only be nullified if Republicans agree to increased federal revenues.  In fact, the President has vowed to veto any legislation that nullifies the defense sequester without some increase in revenues.  Some regarded the President’s comment as a tacit admission that the White House cannot politically stomach the automatic spending cuts, and will likely cave to Republican demands to nullify sequestration without receiving increased revenues in return. 
White House spokesperson Jay Carney attempted to walk back the President’s comments, repeating a common administration refrain that “the sequester, which was designed and passed by congress, was never meant to become policy, it was never meant to be implemented.”  Nora Bensahel, of the Center for a New American Security, had a more nuanced analysis of the President's comment, telling Politico, “Whether sequestration happens or not is more a matter for Congress than the president at this point. Congress passed the legislation containing the sequestration mechanism, and Congress will have to pass legislation undoing that provision in order to avoid it.”
And in an interview with the Des Moines Register conducted earlier this week, but only released yesterday, the President expressed confidence that, if reelected, he would be able to work with Congress to pass a $4 trillion deficit reduction package within the first six months of his second term – all but closing the door on the potential for a lame-duck grand bargain. 
Despite President Obama’s assertion that sequestration will not occur as scheduled, the Navy and Army both recently announced that they have begun, or will so shortly, planning for sequestration.  The Air Force, for its part, says it will wait for final guidance from the Office of Management and Budget before it begins formally planning for the automatic cuts.  Army Secretary John McHugh says the service is examining what, if any, latitude it may have in applying sequester cuts as it sees fit instead of the across-the-board manner that many government analysts believe the law stipulates.  Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu told Politico that “If it [sequestration] is at the program-element level, it’s going to have significant devastation to us.” 
According to a memo obtained by Bloomberg, the Pentagon acquisition department, in conjunction with DARPA, is launching an 18-month industry initiative to begin planning for the replacement of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the latter of which is still under development.  Tony Carpacio notes that DARPA “is in the early stages of working with the Navy and Air Force to develop an implementation plan, including the timing of the competition among contractors.”  The research agency is providing $20-30 million to jumpstart the new initiative. 
The Bipartisan Policy Center, some of whose members have been working with the so-called Gang of Eight to develop a long-term deficit reduction package, has released a new working paper which proposes a legislative framework for how the forthcoming lame-duck session of Congress should address the “fiscal cliff” (which refers collectively to sequestration and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts).  In its four-point proposal, the Bipartisan Policy Center recommends that 112th Congress pass legislation this winter requiring the 113th Congress to enact deficit reduction legislation that saves or raises revenue in excess of $4 trillion over the coming decade, and provide for that legislation’s expedited consideration, also known as “accelerated regular order.” 
Furthermore, the white paper recommends that Congress turn off the “fiscal cliff” this winter and instead install a new sequester device that, if triggered, would result in increases in federal tax rates and cuts to mandatory entitlement programs.  Finally, the report recommends that the 112th Congress pass a package of revenue raisers and/or spending cuts as a “down-payment” to turn off the fiscal cliff and avoid sequestration.  There are no reports yet on whether or not the Gang of Eight or Congressional leadership have expressed any interest in the Bipartisan Policy Center’s recommendations.
The PDA Winning Metaphor
Arguably the most memorable moment in this week’s presidential debate was when President Obama said this to his opponent: "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.  And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships.  It's what are our capabilities."
Back in January when Romney first trotted out the complaint that U.S. has the fewest battle ships since the onset of the first World War, PDA was approached by journalist Louis Jacobson of the Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact.  We responded with several points:
1) In 1917 there were a number of great powers in the world that had blue water navies, several of which were close competitors in strength and capability with the U.S.  During the Cold War the Soviet Union had a competitive (but inferior) blue water navy.  Today there is no serious competitor – the U.S. has far more blue water combat ships and by far the best weaponry and trained sailors.  For the last few decades the on-board fire power of U.S. combat ships has been growing by upwards of 50% every decade.
2) The strategic value of increased firepower is limited by the fact that a single hull can only be in one place on the oceans at a time.  Together with the fact that ships must come and go to deployments from home ports, there is some minimum number of ships which are needed to cover a given region of the globe.  However, the U.S. will continue to have (even at a diminished number of ships) plenty to cover key potential conflict zones.
3)  In any case, the number of ships in the Navy in 1917 has almost no relevance to the question of how many ships are needed in 2012.  To drive home this last point we added this comment that PolitiFact ultimately published, “If Mr. Romney wants a truly stark example of diminished military capability, he should compare today’s horse cavalry to that in 1917, or even 1941 when there were still 15 active horse cavalry regiments in the Army. ‘Today there has been total disarmament of horse cavalry,’ he might say, ‘leaving our nation defenseless in this regard.’ His chosen comparisons are almost as absurd.”
News and Commentary
“Many security experts believe that a retrenchment is inevitable and justified… Michael V. Hayden, who led both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, agrees that the time will come for security spending to be scaled back and believes that citizens need to decide when that should happen. Personally, he would wait a while longer.”  (10/24/12)
The American Conservative: Grover Norquist vs. the Pentagon
“Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, famously quipped that he didn’t want to do away with government, merely ‘shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.’ He is best known as the architect of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise from lawmakers to their constituents to oppose any and all tax increases. Since its inception in 1986, the pledge has become a virtual litmus test for Republican office-seekers, and today all but a handful of GOP congressmen have signed it.  Though the GOP often professes a desire to reduce spending, the party has been notably reluctant to go after the largest item in the discretionary budget—the Pentagon. Michael Ostrolenk recently spoke to Norquist about this curious exception.”  (10/24/12)
“While the politicization of four American deaths in Libya has some of the media distracted, those of us who care about defense need to look past the hype. The 'he-said, she-said' accusations on the Libyan tragedy are obscuring major differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on defense spending and strategy.”  (10/24/12)
“During a period of a historic opportunity for a peace dividend in the absence of an ongoing war or any credible overwhelming threat, it horrifies big defense-spending advocates that the over-pampered object of their political affectations is paired with taxes as issues to be resolved; they fear it for the simple reason that many of their major political allies value the tax issue at the same level, or higher, as defense spending… The future course of defense spending is at stake. The size of the peace dividend will vary from virtually nothing to a historically appropriate level. Which path the nation takes will shift hundreds of billions of dollars between guns and butter.”  (10/24/12)
“In his October 3 debate with Barack Obama, Mitt Romney established a fascinating test for determining whether a spending program is worthwhile. Is the program important enough, Romney asked, to borrow money from China to fund it?  Unfortunately, Romney does not apply his own standard to a crucial part of the federal budget: military spending. That is not a trivial matter, since military spending makes up some 20 percent of federal spending. Indeed, not only does Romney exempt Pentagon programs from the “China borrowing test” that he would apply to other expenditures, he wants to lavish even more money on the Department of Defense.”  (10/19/12)
"Polls show there's a lot of support for cutting back on defense spending. Carl Conetta, with the nonpartisan Project on Defense Alternatives, says you don't need a Cold War-style buildup to counter threats such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation.  ‘The types of threats we face are of a different order,’ Conetta says. ‘They are not based fundamentally in advanced economies, using very expensive equipment and expensive troops.’”  (10/18/12)
“The Navy is designing the ballistic missile submarine that will provide 70 percent of the nation's nuclear deterrent until 2080. Yet even as the service prepares to award research and development contracts this December, the submarine community is deeply worried that the rest of the military is neglecting the program -- which has already had to make some painful trade-offs on schedule, numbers, and capability. And the service has not even started work on whatever nuclear missile the new sub will end up carrying for the latter half of its life.”  (10/18/12)
Defense Acquisition University: The Effects of Competition on Defense Acquisitions (September, 2012)