Friday, February 27, 2009

A Questionable Defense Cut by President Obama

Currently, conservatives in the United States express critical concerns with President Obama’s economic bailout. While expanding governmental expenditure, the Obama administration is cutting defense budget. As United States and its free allies face upheavals of challenges, Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warns that defense cut proposed by the President will undermine vital national interests of the United States (“No Time to Cut Defense”; Washington Post; February 3, 2009). In addition, quoting an article by Professor Martin Feldstein of Harvard University, Kagan criticizes that currently proposed defense spending cut is contradictory to Keynesian economic philosophy of the stimulus package. We have to question what President Obama thinks of the imperial role of the United States in global security. Defense budget is not the only problem. Despite a warning by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as I mentioned in a previous post, President Obama is not willing to renew America’s old stockpile of nuclear warheads. Let me review some articles to explore problematical points on this issue.

Robert Kagan warns that defense cut will unnerve American allies and undermine efforts to gain security cooperation. As I quoted a comment by Lieutenant General David Barno in the previous post, America should say “don’t worry, we are staying” instead of “don’t worry, we are leaving”. In addition, an adversary like Iran interprets that defense cut implies America has lost the supremacy. As Retired Captain Pete Hegseth, an Iraq veteran of the US Army, comments, “America’s enemy will see Obama as weak.”

Quite interestingly, some Republicans argue foreign aid and development spending must be cut further than defense, because they think unnecessary expenditure will simply increase budget deficit. This is another challenge for the President to persuade his defense spending cut plan.

As to Obama’s defense cut to save the economy, Martin Feldstein points out logical fraud as the following.

If rapid spending on things that need to be done is a criterion of choice, the plan should include higher defense outlays …. The military can increase its level of procurement very rapidly…. Infrastructure spending on domestic military bases can also proceed more rapidly than infrastructure spending in the civilian economy. And military procurement overwhelmingly involves American-made products…. In addition, a temporary increase in military recruiting and training would reduce unemployment directly, create a more skilled civilian workforce and expand the military reserves. (“An $800 Billion Mistake”; Washington Post; January 29, 2009)

I wonder whether President Obama is strengthening or weakening America.

Spending cut is not the only issue to be questioned in Obama’s defense policy. Obama proposes a rapid mutual cut of nuclear arsenals to Russia. On the other hand, Secretary Gates stresses that the United States build the Reliable Replacement Warheads in order to maintain current level of deterrence. Also, Gates expresses concerns with Obama’s push for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (“Nuclear agenda draws scrutiny: Obama to seek large cuts in US, Russian warheads”; Boston Globe; February 22, 2009).

Secretary Gates says "Currently, the United States is the only declared nuclear power that is neither modernizing its nuclear arsenal nor has the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead," and "To be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program."

President Obama did not talk much about his defense plan at the joint congressional session on February 24. The President said “And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al-Qaida and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.” This is right, but he has not told how America can stop terrorists’ plot with shrunk defense spending. More importantly, Obama did not mention growing threats of Iran and North Korea, and dangerous challenges by Russia and China (“Obama's Address to Congress”; NPR; February 24, 2009).

It seems to me that President Obama is not interested in the special role of the United States, that is, the provider of global public goods to maintain world security and the leader of the League of Democracies. It is quite odd that President Obama does not respect opinions by an eminent expert like Secretary Gates whom he cordially invited to join his administration. Also, the President does not care logical inconsistency pointed out by Professor Feldstein who assumes the President Emeritus of the National Economic Research Council.

Whether right or wrong, President Barack Obama tries to do his best in the economy. I have no doubt about it. However, his dedication to national and global security is extremely questionable. Robert Kagan is right to express a critical concern.