Thursday, May 2, 2013

5/2/13 RD Bulletin: Polls: U.S. Public Against Military Action in Syria, N. Korea

News: The Pentagon is conducting a “BRAC-like” review of U.S. military assets stationed in Europe. 
News: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has directed senior Pentagon officials to begin examining ways to cut department bureaucracy by 33 percent. 
PDA Perspective: Charles Knight discusses the implications of recent polling data, which show that a strong majority of Americans oppose U.S. military intervention in Syria.

State of Play
Ever since it became clear last December that Congress did not have the political will or courage to enact a ‘grand bargain’ deficit reduction package that could replace sequestration in its entirety, President Barack Obama has held out hope that public outcry over cuts to domestic programs would pressure lawmakers to bridge their political differences and compromise.  Public concern has been mounting for several weeks over Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs that could have the potential to cause long delays at airports.  Congress responded by passing legislation that would allow the FAA to bolster its personnel funding – causing consternation amongst some in Washington who believe the President has given up any leverage he may have had to enact a grand bargain and protect the Pentagon from sequestration cuts. 
Concern over losing political leverage in the sequester debate was one of the reasons Democrats refrained from providing expanded transfer or reprogramming authority to the Pentagon in the most recently enacted omnibus spending measure.  With domestic program advocates now lining up to request their own individual sequester patches, it remains to be seen how proponents of Pentagon spending will react to the latest political developments. 
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently met with senior officials who are conducting the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which Hagel commissioned earlier this year to examine whether the Pentagon’s earlier Strategic Guidance can be implemented given the onset of sequestration.  According to Inside Defense, the group is developing options for enacting roughly $500 billion in reductions to previously planned spending levels over the next decade.  Furthermore, deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter, who is leading the strategic review, has directed officials to outline ways to cut the Pentagon and its agencies’ bureaucracies by 33 percent
The Government Accountability Office has repeatedly chastised the Pentagon and Congress for utilizing concurrency development in the acquisition of big ticket weapons systems.  Concurrency development refers to an acquisition practice in which the Pentagon begins procuring a system before it is mature or has been tested and evaluated by a third party.  As a result, concurrency development often leads to serious cost-overruns, technology creep, and delays. 
Most recently, GAO released a report highlighting problems in the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) use of concurrency development in several high-profile programs missile defense programs.  GAO notes that “MDA’s Aegis BMD, GMD, and THAAD interceptor production have been significantly disrupted during the past few years due to this concurrency, delaying planned deliveries to the warfighter, raising costs, and disrupting the industrial base. Program plans for the Aegis Ashore and PTSS also include high acquisition risks due to planned premature commitments to production.”
In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, Congress instructed the Pentagon to examine reducing personnel and infrastructure in Europe before advocating any additional base closures in the United States.  At a series of recent hearings, senior military officials told lawmakers that they are conducting a “BRAC-like” review of military assets in Europe to determine where downsizing can occur.  The head of U.S. forces in Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, recently noted that the Pentagon has reduced force structure in Europe by some eighty percent since the end of the Cold War.  The United States currently has 64,000 personnel under European Command and has committed to withdrawing two combat brigade teams from Europe by Fiscal Year 2014. 
Military leaders continue to press Congress to approve a new round of base closures domestically.  Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee last week, Army Secretary and former committee member John McHugh lamented the fact that the service is wasting millions of dollars annually maintaining outdated domestic infrastructure that is “unusable.”  He further pointed out that the last time the Army evaluated its domestic inventory was in 2005, and since then, Congress has statutorily prohibited the Army from reevaluating its excess domestic infrastructure. 
The Army has set a timeline for development and procurement of its next-generation helicopter platform.  The service plans on awarding four design contracts by the end of Fiscal Year 2014 and hopes to have two different demonstration aircraft finished by 2017 in order to fully field the new helicopter by 2030.  “The configurations currently being examined include a tilt-rotor possibility, like today’s Marine Corps and Air Force V-22 Osprey as well as various compound configurations such as air vehicles with a rear-thrusting mechanism and co-axial rotorblades,” reports Defense Tech
Speaking at a symposium on Capitol Hill, Vice Admiral William Burke warned attendees that if the Navy is required to fund the Ohio-class replacement submarine out of its shipbuilding budget, then it will have to lower its fleet goal from 300 ships down “closer” to 250.  If sequestration holds, Burke cautioned that the Navy’s total fleet would likely drop down to 200 vessels.   Meanwhile, the Navy has requested that Congress increase the price cap on the U.S.S. Gerald Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier by nine percent, from $11.7 billion to $12.8 billion. 
Representative Mike Turner (R-OH), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, along with fifteen other members, has written to the head of the defense spending subcommittee, Representative C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), urging him to include $250 million for the planning, construction, and implementation of an East Coast-based missile defense shield.  The members asserted that, “in light of the recent cancellation of the SM-3 Block IIB program, it is incumbent upon the Congress, in the absence of aggressive action by the President, to deploy an East Coast site to defend the United States from the rising threat of ballistic missile development from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  The Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Pentagon to begin developing plans to locate a missile defense shield on the East Coast. 
The Navy still has yet to provide its annual long-term shipbuilding plan to Congress, though the document’s delay has not prevented Senator John McCain (R-AZ) from slamming the service’s plan.  Last month, McCain wrote Navy Secretary Ray Mabus expressing serious concerns about the service’s shipbuilding plan and demanding answers about its viability “given the steep drop in defense spending” necessitated under sequestration.  McCain also wants to know if the Navy is developing a “back-up” plan in light of fiscal constraints.  The Congressional Budget Office has for years scolded the Pentagon for seriously under-estimating the projected costs of its long-term shipbuilding plans. 
Separately, McCain was joined by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) in writing Secretary Hagel inquiring as to the Pentagon’s recent efforts at eliminating waste and duplication.  The two cited a recent GAO annual report that itemizes duplicative programs in the federal government. 
House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) has announced that his committee will begin a full markup of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on June 5.  Subcommittee markups will be held in the weeks prior to that date.  Unlike its Senate counterpart, the HASC typically conducts its NDAA committee markups in open hearings.  The Senate is expected to conduct its full committee markup one week after the House.
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective
Advocates for U.S. military intervention in Syria are presently confounded by wide and deep opposition from the American public to additional military interventions abroad.  A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News finds that by better than two to one Americans think the U.S. doesn’t have a responsibility to “do something about the fighting in Syria.”  In addition, only 15 percent believe that “North Korea is a threat to the United States that requires military action now,” while 77 percent believe that either “North Korea is a threat that can be contained for now,” or is “not a threat to the United States at this time.”
Such public opinion is profoundly worrisome to many of Washington’s foreign policy elites who since the triumphalist days following the Cold War have been fond of using America’s powerful military instrument to re-shape the world.  John Bolton, a leading conservative diplomat in the Bush administration recently wrote an article in which he raises alarm about “the specter of isolationism… stalking the Republican Party.”  In 2011, centrist diplomat Nicolas Burns wrote about “an insidious turning inward by congressional budget leaders whose Draconian cuts will deny us the ability to lead globally.”  Stephen Walt hits back at the isolationism charge here.
In the New York Times article reporting on the new polling data, Megan Thee-Brenan notes that “Americans are exhibiting an isolationist streak.”  There is indeed a minority of Americans who are isolationist in the sense of opposing foreign entanglements and engagements be they military or otherwise.  But when strong majorities hold opinions opposing military intervention in Syria there is something else going on.
It seems a majority of Americans are far ahead of Washington in learning the hard lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Getting militarily involved in a civil war is almost always a bad idea.  Military power is a blunt instrument and its use has many adverse effects.  Using that instrument in someone else’s war will as easily make things worse as it will make things better.  Alliance commitments are one thing, but voluntarily taking sides in a civil war is generally a fool’s errand and majorities of Americans understand that.
What about the responsibility to protect (R2P)?  Nowhere is it written that this is primarily an American responsibility.  Rather, it is an international responsibility.  No recent U.S. administration has done much of anything to increase the international capacity to protect endangered non-combatants through the United Nations or any other institution.   Secretary of State John Kerry should be busy organizing broad international commitments to help protect non-combatants, in places like Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a minimum use of force. 
At any rate, joining a civil war as a contestant and feeding its flames actually contravenes the spirit of R2P.  Establishing and underwriting well-protected and fully-demilitarized civilian zones on non-contested territory would be more to the point -- if the aim was actually "protection" and not regime change.  Washington elites should restrain their reflexive urges to intervene militarily on one side of the civil conflict in Syria.  Fortunately, majorities of Americans find that stance sensible, moral, and pragmatic.

News and Commentary
TIME Battleland: Who Knew the Pentagon Had Bad Habits - Mackenzie Eaglen
“Time’s up for Pentagon officials to talk more and think harder. The time has come for definitive action and real change. Congress must insist that the Defense Department floor the accelerator into this new budget reality where detailed sequestration planning is complete and public. This would speed up the requirement for defense leaders to offer specific reforms and tangible solutions to the government’s biggest bureaucracy. By continuing to let the Pentagon ignore sequestration, Congress is letting defense leaders postpone and push off the need for comprehensive change.”  (5/2/13)
"After five years and an estimated $1 billion spent trying to build a single integrated electronic health record system with the Department of Veterans Affairs, defense health officials have been taken off the project, sources confirm. Wielding the hook was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who signaled disappointment with his management team to a House panel this month, saying he halted a solicitation for bids from commercial electronic record designers because ‘I didn’t think we knew what the hell we were doing.’”  (5/2/13)
“On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are increasingly doubting the Army’s buying strategy for the GCV. Budget analysts have challenged the Army’s decision to pursue a new GCV design instead of opting for existing, less costly, alternatives. And military experts are raising more fundamental questions about the GCV’s raison d’être. They wonder why the Army is spending billions of dollars on heavy armor for an era that presumably will be dominated by cyberwarfare, surgical-strikes and low-intensity conflicts.”  (5/1/13)
The Nation: Barney Frank Talks Common Sense - Katrina vanden Heuvel
“When it comes to confronting military bloat, are we finally reaching a turning point? ‘We are on the verge, I think, of some major progress,’ says Barney Frank… Frank sees greater grounds for bipartisan bridge-building than we’ve had in years: liberals increasingly recognize that tackling defense spending is a necessary condition for preserving social progress, and some principled conservatives are applying their cost-cutting philosophy to the military-industrial complex.”  (5/1/13)
“Throughout the Cold War, the United States relied on the theory of deterrence for protection against nuclear attack… In retrospect, this arms race was incredibly costly, wasteful and dangerous. If war had started, the two superpowers would have destroyed each other and probably all of humanity. But deterrence did work. And the U.S. never attacked the Soviet Union or any other nation to stop them from becoming nuclear powers. So, why does it seem that the U.S. has a different strategy toward North Korea and Iran?”  (4/30/13)
Huffington Post: Is War Good for the Economy?Michael Lofgren
“Military spending may at one time have been a genuine job creator when weapons were compatible with converted civilian production lines, but the days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone. Most weapons projects now require relatively little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned into high-cost R&D (from which the civilian economy benefits little), exorbitant management expenditures, high overhead, and out-and-out padding, including money that flows back into political campaigns. A dollar appropriated for highway construction, health care, or education will likely create more jobs than a dollar for Pentagon weapons procurement. A University of Massachusetts study claims that several alternative projects would produce anywhere from 35 percent to 138 percent more jobs than spending the same amount on DOD.”   (4/30/13)
Associated Press: Army says no to more tanks, but Congress insistsRichard Lardner
“Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams. But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, ‘No thanks.’ It's the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether.”  (4/29/13)
Washington Post: Defense cuts pose an economic quandary for liberalsZachary Goldfarb
“Liberals are increasingly facing a conundrum as the Pentagon experiences the deepest cuts in a generation: The significant reductions in military spending that they have long sought are also taking a huge bite out of economic growth. Liberal lawmakers and others on the left have argued for years that the military budget is bloated and should be dramatically scaled back. At the same time, they have been major advocates of government spending to help drive economic growth and create jobs.” (4/28/13)
TIME Battleland: Repeating Hi$toryChuck Spinney
“How can we reduce the defense budget to free up the funds needed by both the private and public sectors to reinvigorate our economy? Clearly, President Obama’s most recent budget provides no answer — he has placed defense off limits.  Moreover, the President and Congress are clearly maneuvering to neuter the effects of the budget sequester on the Pentagon’s weapons boondoggles by focusing on furloughing people, cutting back on training, reducing spare parts purchases, etc. Over the years, my colleagues and I have written extensive diagnoses of the Pentagon’s institutional problems, together with many recommendations about how to correct its dysfunctional behavior. Over time, our central conclusion has remained the same: it is not only possible to reduce the defense budget, but budget reductions are a necessary step in reforming the Defense Department’s wasteful management practices to produce a more effective military.”  (4/26/13)
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: War Spending as Sequester Replacement? Just Don't Do It
“With news yesterday that the Senate might consider a bill to replace the sequester for 2013 with a drawdown of war spending, CRFB reacted in a press release, decrying the gimmick for what it is. The bill would specifically put caps on war spending for FY 2014 through 2016 at the levels called for the President's budget -- drawing down war funding from $97 billion this year to $37 billion in FY 2016. Since these caps would only codify existing plans to draw down the wars, they would not represent new deficit reduction. Claiming that they would generate new savings would be incorrect.”             (4/25/13)
Center for Public Integrity: Pentagon claims $757 million overbilling by contractor in AfghanistanRichard Sia
“The Pentagon allowed a private firm providing food and water to U.S. troops in Afghanistan to overbill taxpayers $757 million and awarded the company no-bid contract extensions worth more than $4 billion over three years, according to the Pentagon’s chief internal watchdog and congressional investigators. The deal represented one of the largest U.S. military contracts in Afghanistan. But the Defense Logistics Agency, which was overseeing the contract, failed repeatedly to verify that the contractor’s invoices were accurate, an official in the Defense Department inspector general’s office said.”  (4/24/13)
Department of Defense: DoD Counterfeit Prevention Policy (4/26/13)
Department of Defense: Use of Excess Ballistic Missiles for Space Launch (4/25/13)
Department of Defense: DoD Nuclear Weapons Surety Program (4/24/13)
Congressional Research Service: The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Terrorism Investigations (4/24/13)
Congressional Research Service: Intelligence Issues for Congress (4/23/13)
Congressional Research Service: Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (4/4/13)