A couple of months ago, I took a pause from writing about my fears of economic collapse, to put forth some ideas about the role of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) in the roots of our crisis. I cited two speeches by Dwight Eisenhower that warned the country of what would happen if the MIC came to dominate the budget of our country. On Monday, Defense Secretary Gates gave a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, that on any other day should have been front page news, but in the face of a 777 point drop in the Dow, it was hardly covered. It is a starkly critical review of bureaucratic failure and even though he continues to pay lip-service to some canards (like a bigger Navy) it’s clear he knows a boondoggle when he sees one.
Support for conventional modernization programs is deeply embedded in our budget, in our bureaucracy, in the defense industry, and in Congress. My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support – including in the Pentagon – for the capabilities needed to win the wars we are in, and of the kinds of missions we are most likely to undertake in the future…
Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish. The advances in precision, sensor, information and satellite technology have led to extraordinary gains in what the U.S. military can do. The Taliban dispatched within three months, Saddam’s regime toppled in three weeks. Where a button is pushed in Nevada and seconds later a pickup truck explodes in Mosul. Where a bomb destroys the targeted house on the right, leaving intact the one on the left. But also never neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare, which is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain. Be skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. Look askance at idealized, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to upend the immutable principles of war: where the enemy is killed, but our troops and innocent civilians are spared. Where adversaries can be cowed, shocked, or awed into submission, instead of being tracked down, hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block. As General Sherman said, “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.” Or, as General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell said, “No matter how a war starts, it ends in mud. It has to be slugged out – there are no trick solutions or cheap shortcuts.”
In the wake of the American Economic Crisis, a much greater percentage of our discretionary budget will be needed to help rebuild our country. Inevitably budget cuts at the Pentagon will face fierce opposition from the MIC. Whoever is President, might consider keeping Bob Gates in place to bring this clear eyed thinking to the reform of a broken institution.