It is clear that no one in the Obama administration has spent time thinking about what will happen following the conscious decision to do less. What frightened Gates’s Navy League audience wasn’t the loss of a carrier or two or a few weapons programs; that has happened before. Rather, it is the specter of a gradual American military eclipse.Oh, and if you’re wondering, Confucius’s long-held theory is that the optimal minimum peacetime defense expenditure is around 5% of GDP. Where are we today versus, say, the Reagan and Carter administrations? READ THE ARTICLE! Seriously, there’s tons of good stuff in there.
Obama foresees a steadily shrinking role for American military force, and Gates finds himself cast as the man to make it happen.
It is a role he has played before, with questionable results, to put it mildly.
Nearly 20 years ago, when the first George Bush was president, Gates was given the job of CIA director in order to clear the agency’s post–Cold War decks.…
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Gates’s strategy seemed to make sense. At the time, as CIA historian Tim Weiner has noted, “everyone thought the CIA would be smarter if it were smaller.” Under Gates’s aegis, in 1991, the CIA budget went down for the first time in more than a decade. It continued to fall for the next six years. Twenty CIA stations overseas were closed, and some of the larger ones in major capitals shrank by 60 percent. Gates had managed to squeeze out a peace dividend from the CIA.
The result, however, was a growing bureaucratic stagnation at the top and an alarming inability to gather and analyze even basic intelligence (including the existence of a major Russian spy, Aldrich Ames, within the agency itself). The problems multiplied in the Clinton years. The intelligence failures that led to 9/11 were the result.
The dilemma, then, is that no shrinking defense budget will ever be able to modernize our military or maintain force readiness, let alone fight a war—no matter how prudent and careful the number crunchers may be (and Gates is hiring another 30,000 of them, to audit defense contracts).
In the end, there remains only one alternative: to shrink the mission. If you want to see the results of a shrinking CIA budget and mission, visit lower Manhattan. What might follow from Gates’s career-capping years at the Obama Pentagon could make Ground Zero look like a war game.
*For those who came in late: Confucius is the Gormogons’ Œcumenical Volgi.
Poster via China Confidential.