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By The Wall St. Journal
Posted March 2, 2009
For all of his lavish new spending plans, President Obama is making one major exception: defense. His fiscal 2010 budget telegraphs that Pentagon spending is going to be under pressure in the years going forward.
The White House proposes to spend $533.7 billion on the Pentagon, a 4% increase over 2009. Include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, which would be another $130 billion (or a total of $664 billion), and overall defense spending would be around 4.2% of GDP, the same as 2007.
However, that 4% funding increase for the Pentagon trails the 6.7% overall rise in the 2010 budget -- and defense received almost nothing extra in the recent stimulus bill. The Joint Chiefs requested $584 billion for 2010 and have suggested a spending floor of 4% of GDP. Both pleas fell on deaf ears. The White House budget puts baseline defense spending at 3.7% of GDP, not including Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget summary pleads "scarce resources" for the defense shortfall, which is preposterous given the domestic spending blowout.
More ominously, Mr. Obama's budget has overall defense spending falling sharply starting in future years -- to $614 billion in 2011, and staying more or less flat for a half decade. This means that relative both to the economy and especially to domestic priorities, defense spending is earmarked to decline. Some of this assumes less spending on Iraq, which is realistic, but it also has to take account of Mr. Obama's surge in Afghanistan. That war won't be cheap either.
The danger is that Mr. Obama may be signaling a return to the defense mistakes of the 1990s. Bill Clinton slashed defense spending to 3% of GDP in 2000, from 4.8% in 1992. We learned on 9/11 that 3% isn't nearly enough to maintain our commitments and fight a war on terror -- and President Bush spent his two terms getting back to more realistic outlays for a global superpower.
American defense needs are, if anything, even more daunting today. Given challenges in the Mideast and new dangers from Iran, an erratic Russia, a rising China, and potential threats in outer space and cyberspace, the U.S. should be in the midst of a concerted military modernization. Mr. Obama's budget isn't adequate to meet those challenges.
That means Secretary of Defense Robert Gates faces some hard choices when he finishes his strategic review this spring. An early glimpse will come soon when the Pentagon must decide whether to continue to purchase more Lockheed F-22 Raptors. The Air Force is set to buy 183 of the next generation fighters, though it wanted 750, which would be enough to give the U.S. air supremacy over battlefields over the next three decades. Now the fighter may be prematurely mothballed.
Weapons programs, such as missile defense or the Army's Future Combat Systems, are also in danger. Others have been ridiculously delayed. The Air Force flies refueling tankers from the Eisenhower era. Mr. Obama's own 30-something Marine One helicopter is prone to break down and technologically out of date.
The Pentagon shouldn't get a blank check, though much of its procurement waste results from the demands made by Congress. Mr. Gates has also rightly focused on the immediate priority of irregular warfare and counterinsurgency. But history also teaches that a nation that downplays potential threats -- such as from China in outer space -- is likely to find itself ill-prepared when they arrive.
The U.S. ability to project power abroad has been crucial to maintaining a relatively peaceful world, but we have been living off the fruits of our Cold War investments for too long. We can't afford another lost defense decade.
By Charles Krauthammer
Posted February 20, 2009
The Biden prophecy has come to pass. Our wacky veep, momentarily inspired, predicted in October that "it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama." Biden probably had in mind an eve-of-the-apocalypse drama like the Cuban missile crisis. Instead, Obama's challenges have come in smaller bites. Some are deliberate threats to U.S. interests, others mere probes to ascertain whether the new president has any spine.
Preliminary X-rays are not very encouraging.
Consider the long list of brazen Russian provocations:
President Bush's response to the Kaliningrad deployment -- the threat was issued the day after Obama's election -- was firm. He refused to back down because giving in to Russian threats would leave Poles and Czechs exposed and show the world that, contrary to post-Cold War assumptions, the United States could not be trusted to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying.
- Pressuring Kyrgyzstan to shut down the U.S. air base in Manas, an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.
- Announcing the formation of a "rapid reaction force" with six former Soviet republics, a regional Russian-led strike force meant to reassert Russian hegemony in the Muslim belt north of Afghanistan.
- Planning to establish a Black Sea naval base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, conquered by Moscow last summer.
- Declaring its intention to deploy offensive Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Poland and the Czech Republic go ahead with plans to station an American (anti-Iranian) missile defense system.
The Obama response? "Biden Signals U.S. Is Open to Russia Missile Deal," as the New York Times headlined Biden's Feb. 7 Munich speech to a major international gathering. This followed strong messages from the Obama transition team even before the inauguration that Obama was not committed to the missile shield. And just to make sure everyone understood that the Bush policy no longer held, Biden said in Munich that the United States wanted to "press the reset button" on NATO-Russian relations.
Not surprisingly, the Obama wobble elicited a favorable reaction from Russia. (There are conflicting reports that Russia might suspend the Kaliningrad blackmail deployment.) The Kremlin must have been equally impressed that the other provocations -- Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan, the rapid-reaction force -- elicited barely a peep from Washington.
Iran has been similarly charmed by Obama's overtures. A week after the new president went about sending sweet peace signals via al-Arabiya, Iran launched its first homemade Earth satellite. The message is clear. If you can put a satellite into orbit, you can hit any continent with a missile, North America included.
And for emphasis, after the roundhouse hook, came the poke in the eye. A U.S. women's badminton team had been invited to Iran. Here was a chance for "ping-pong diplomacy" with the accommodating new president, a sporting venture meant to suggest the possibility of warmer relations.
On Feb. 4, Tehran denied the team entry into Iran.
Then, just in case Obama failed to get the message, Iran's parliament speaker rose in Munich to offer his response to Obama's olive branch. Executive summary: Thank you very much. After you acknowledge 60 years of crimes against us, change not just your tone but your policies, and abandon the Zionist criminal entity, we might deign to talk to you.
With a grinning Goliath staggering about sporting a "kick me" sign on his back, even reputed allies joined the fun. Pakistan freed from house arrest A.Q. Khan, the notorious proliferator who sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Ten days later, Islamabad capitulated to the Taliban, turning over to its tender mercies the Swat Valley, 100 miles from the capital. Not only will sharia law now reign there, but members of the democratically elected secular party will be hunted as the Pakistani army stands down.
These Pakistani capitulations may account for Obama's hastily announced 17,000-troop increase in Afghanistan even before his various heralded reviews of the mission have been completed. Hasty, unexplained, but at least something. Other than that, a month of pummeling has been met with utter passivity.
I would like to think the supine posture is attributable to a rookie leader otherwise preoccupied (i.e., domestically), leading a foreign policy team as yet unorganized if not disoriented. But when the State Department says that Hugo Chávez's president-for-life referendum, which was preceded by a sham government-controlled campaign featuring the tear-gassing of the opposition, was "for the most part . . . a process that was fully consistent with democratic process," you have to wonder if Month One is not a harbinger of things to come.
By JOHN R. BOLTON
Posted MARCH 2, 2009
President Bush's speech to Israel's Knesset, where he equated "negotiat[ing] with the terrorists and radicals" to "the false comfort of appeasement," drew harsh criticism from Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders. They apparently thought the president was talking about them, and perhaps he was.
As Iran prepares to fire up its Bushehr nuclear reactor -- and as the International Atomic Energy Agency governing board meets this week, again confronted with further progress by Tehran's nuclear program -- it is worth asking how the Obama administration is responding.
Well, the State Department recently named Dennis Ross, a seasoned Middle East negotiator, as a "special adviser" to the Gulf region -- a bureaucratic but important prerequisite for direct talks with Iran. Unfortunately, a new envoy and a new diplomatic tone cannot disguise the ongoing substantive collapse of U.S. policy and resolve in the teeth of the Islamic Republic's growing challenge.
Tehran welcomes direct negotiations with Washington. Why not, given the enormous benefits its nuclear programs have accrued during five and a half years of negotiations with Europe? Why not, with America at the table, buy even more time to marry its impending nuclear weapons with its satellite-launching ballistic missile capability?
We have yet to see any evidence that Barack Obama (any more than George W. Bush) knows how to stop Iran. Consider these four blunt threats to our interests that direct talks may only facilitate, not reduce.
First, diplomacy has not and will not reduce Iran's nuclear program. Ironically, European leaders are belatedly feeling hollow in the pits of their diplomatic stomachs, now that their failed diplomacy has left us with almost no alternatives to a nuclear Iran. Imagine their dismay that President Obama is now "opening" to Iran, thus eviscerating their tentative efforts to "close" the diplomatic cover under which Iran has almost achieved the worst-case outcome, deliverable nuclear weapons.
The West's collective failure to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions has persuaded Iran that it faces minimal risks in greater adventurism on other fronts as well. Mr. Obama's discovery of "carrots and sticks," after a half decade of European failure to make that mantra a successful policy, will lead Tehran's mullahs to one inescapable conclusion: They have won the nuclear race, absent imminent regime change or military action.
Second, dealing with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria as though they are unrelated to Iran's broader threat is exactly backwards. Mr. Obama is again following Europe's mistaken view that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict will help to resolve other regional problems. But concentrating on Gaza only increases Hamas's leverage, just as negotiating with Syria only enhances its (and thereby Iran's) bargaining power.
We should deal instead with diseases, not symptoms. Changing Tehran's Holocaust-denying regime could end its nuclear program, as well as eliminate its continuing financing of and weapons supplies for Hamas and Hezbollah, reduce its malign hold over Syria, and strengthen Lebanon's fragile democracy. Taming Iran is not a magical cure-all, but surely addressing the central threat is more sensible than haphazardly dealing with the symptoms separately.
Third, Iran opposes a freer, more stable Iraq, and U.S. diplomacy will not change that. Given the recent political and military progress in stabilizing Iraq, Tehran holds a weak hand. Accordingly, legitimizing Iran as a factor in Iraqi affairs via diplomacy is patently illogical and would only strengthen Iran at the very moment Mr. Obama has announced the reduction of America's presence and clout in Iraq.
Iran's theocracy knows God's law without the help of mere voters, and it has no taste for the democracy to which Iraqis are growing increasingly accustomed. It is telling that Iran's Baghdad ambassador is a commander of the Revolutionary Army's elite Quds force.
Lastly, Iran has no incentive to "help" in Afghanistan, especially on narcotics, despite a domestic narcotics problem. Tehran's approach to Afghanistan is more subtle and complex. Whatever the desire to reduce its own drug problem, why should Iran not welcome increased sales to the decadent West and a weaker Kabul government? Moreover, if Iran cannot have its own puppets in control, it will welcome a corrupt, divided and incompetent Afghan government, rather than help us achieve the opposite result. As with Iraq, weak and divided neighbors on its borders are assets not liabilities for Tehran -- and ample reason not to assist us in changing these realities.
Hordes of U.S. officials with vague and overlapping mandates -- special envoys, ambassadors, cabinet officials, and, of course, the vice president -- are racing to be in the first photo-op with Iran. But what should focus our attention is the substantive risk that Tehran will use its opportunity to employ diplomacy to undermine U.S. interests.
Iran has already made clear how it will proceed. By recently withholding visas for the U.S. women's badminton team, Iran symbolically dashed administration hopes to update "ping pong" diplomacy. Perhaps in Iran they still play badminton with a clenched fist rather than an open hand.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).