Guns, Butter, and Obama

Over the
next several months there will be a battle for hearts and minds, but
not in Iraq or Afghanistan. The war will be here at home, waged mostly
in the halls of Congress, where grim lobbyists for one of the top 15
economies in the world are digging in to preserve their stake in the
massive U.S. military budget. With the country in deep recession and
resources dwindling for the new administration's programs on health
care, education, and the environment, the outcome of this battle may
well end up defining the next four years.

But coming to grips with the issue, as one military analyst noted,
is likely to resemble the worst of World War I trench warfare. "It will
be like the British Army at the Somme," Winslow Wheeler of the Center
for Defense Information (CDI) told the Boston Globe, "you will just get mowed down by the defense industry."

Up Against the Industry

For starters, there are 185,000 corporations behind those
metaphorical machine guns, and a few are formidable indeed: Lockheed
Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Alliant Techsystems, United Technologies,
Textron, Teledyne, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and Texas
Instruments, just to name a few.

The World Policy Institute found
that dozens of high Bush administration officials were former arms
company executives, consultants, or shareholders, and that this network
of influence reaches deep into Congress. The combination of lobbying
and PAC money that pours into election coffers every two years gives
the arms industry enormous influence over the actions of the executive
and legislative branches.

The reason is simple: the money at stake is staggering, although
nailing down exactly what this country spends on the military is
extremely difficult. "Figures on defense spending are notoriously
unreliable," defense expert Chalmers Johnson points out. "All numbers released by the Pentagon should be regarded as suspect."

While the "official" 2009 U.S. military budget is $516 billion, that
figure bears little resemblance to what this country actually spends. According to CDI,
if one pulls together all the various threads that make up the defense
spending tapestry - including Home Security, secret "black budget"
items, military-related programs outside of the Defense Department, the
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and such outlays as veterans' benefits -
the figure is around $862 billion for the current fiscal year. Johnson says spending is closer to $1.1 trillion.

Even these figures are misleading, since it does not project future
costs. According to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, when
the economic and social costs of the Iraq War are finally added up -
including decades of treatment for veterans disabled by traumatic brain
injury and post traumatic stress disorder - the final bill could reach $5 trillion.

Cuts in the Offing?

Given the current economic crisis, even the defense establishment recognizes that some cuts are inevitable. A recent study
by a Pentagon advisory group, the Defense Business Board, says that
current defense spending is "not sustainable" and recommends scaling
back or eliminating some big-ticket weapon systems.

Canceling Lockheed Martin's F-22 stealth fighter and F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter, the Virginia Class submarine, the V-22 Osprey, the
Zumwalt Class destroyer, and Boeing and Raytheon's missile defense
system, combined with some judicious reductions in other budget items, would save $55 billion annually, according to FPIF's Unified Security Budget.

The problem with U.S. military spending isn't just expensive weapons,
but the underlying philosophy that the use of force is a valid policy
tool. And on that question, the incoming Obama administration has yet
to break from the past.

While Obama has pledged
to stress diplomacy over warfare, he has also promised to "maintain the
most powerful military on the planet" and to increase the armed forces
by some 90,000 soldiers. According to the Congressional Budget Office,
that will cost at least $50 billion over five years.

The most disturbing initiative, however, is a recent push to "reshape" the armed forces. A recent Defense Department directive elevates
"IW" (irregular warfare) to a level "as strategically important as
traditional warfare," arguing that for the "foreseeable future, winning
the Long War against violent extremists will the central objective of
U.S. policy."

This concept is no different than the "hearts and minds"
counterinsurgency strategy that failed so disastrously in Southeast
Asia two generations ago. The directive assumes that military disasters
result from impatience and poor tactics. If you're willing to fight a
"Long War," don't kick in too many doors, lunch with the locals, and
hand out lots of candy to the kids, you win.

Occupational Hazards

But the key to understanding why the U.S. and NATO are losing in Afghanistan and Iraq is the word "occupation."

Writing almost a century ago, T.E. Lawrence laid out
what he called the algebra of occupation: "Rebellion must have an
unassailable must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form
of a disciplined army of occupation too small to dominate the whole
area. It must have a friendly population...sympathetic to the point of
not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Granted mobility,
security...time and doctrine...victory will rest with the insurgents, for
the algebraical [sic] factors are in the end decisive."

Lawrence was writing about the British occupation of Iraq, but he
might as well have been channeling the future. His conclusion should
give the Obama administration pause about its plans for a "surge" of
troops into Afghanistan: "Against them [the algebraic factors],
perfections of means and spirit struggle quite in vain."

History is replete with examples of Lawrence's formula too numerous
to list. Indeed, the few examples of successful counterinsurgency - the
Americans in the Philippines and the British in Malaya - were the
result of unique historical factors that that have never transferred

The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has been a financial and
diplomatic disaster for the United States, devastated the countries we
invaded, and is spreading the war to Pakistan and India. The recent
terrorist assault on Mumbai was very similar to the September bombing
of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, both of them almost certainly
"blowback" from the growing involvement of Indian forces in southern
and eastern Afghanistan, and the Pakistani Army in the northwest
frontier and tribal territories.

Won't adding 90,000 troops trained in counterinsurgency warfare
create pressure to use those troops in places like the Sudan, Somalia,
the Gulf of Guinea, Colombia, or any number of regions where U.S.
interests collide with local aspirations?

In an article in the most recent Foreign Affairs,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates lays out his roadmap for a new U.S.
military: "What is dubbed the war on terror is...a prolonged, worldwide
irregular campaign - a struggle between the forces of violent extremism
and those of moderation. Direct military force will continue to play a
role in the long-term effort against the terrorists and other
extremists. But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or
capture its way to victory."

Gates' strategy embodies the possibility of both hope and disaster.
If the United States chooses to keep the military on its current
footing - including adding more troops and focusing on the use of
"direct military force" - then future wars and occupations will almost
certainly torpedo Obama's plans to deliver a more equal and humane

If, however, diplomacy and negotiations takes the place of F-16s and
Special Forces, then there is yet hope that the world can take a step
back and look for alternatives that avoid Lawrence's grim calculations.

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