Tea Partiers rightly fear national ruin unless government spending is reduced. The numbers quickly show such reductions must include the defense budget. The national-security state devours about half of all “discretionary” federal spending. Years ago, Sen. Charles Grassley said to President Ronald Reagan, “It’s great that you are going after the welfare queens, Mr. President. But when are you going to go after the welfare queens in the Pentagon?” The Tea Party, to achieve its goals, must answer, “Now.”
Bean-counting won’t do the job. For meaningful savings, we must begin by changing our grand strategy, which presently defines virtually everything that happens in the world as an American interest. Against the Founders’ advice, we are not only playing the great power game, we are attempting to be the globe’s dominant power.
In consequence, America does not today have a defense budget. It has an empire budget—perhaps the Tea Party should call it that. Derailing the neocons’ (and neolibs’) imperial ambitions and returning to the defensive grand strategy America followed through most of her history would save not tens but hundreds of billions of dollars.
We would no longer need a 3:1 “rotation base” for forward-deployed forces because we would no longer have forward-deployed forces. More important, we would have fewer enemies because we would not be inserting our nose into everyone else’s quarrels. That is true national security: reducing the threat by not posing a threat.
A second large tranche of savings would come from designing and equipping our forces for tomorrow’s wars—those that are forced upon us—not yesterday’s. Almost all the ships, planes, and weapons we are buying are designed for conflicts against other states. They are useless or worse for Fourth Generation wars against non-state opponents. Why do we need the F-22 and F-35 fighter aircraft? To shoot down Taliban flying carpets.
Canceling the programs—not just reducing the buys—would save tens of billions now and later. (The more complex the system, the higher its maintenance costs.)
The Pentagon will howl, “How can you be certain we won’t fight other states?” It will furiously puff the dragon—the “Chinese threat.”
The answer, again, is strategic. We refuse to plan for wars against other states, including China, because the real winners are likely to be the 21st century’s main danger, nonstate elements. The defeated state in a war between nations is likely to collapse, like Iraq, creating a Petri dish for nonstate entities. If the price of victory is too high, the winner may go the same route. Our strategic preference, in a time when the main division will be between centers of order and centers of disorder, should be for strong, orderly states, including China.
A third source of savings arises from the fact that we have far too many support elements for our relatively few combat units. Called the “tooth-to-tail ratio,” Congress has investigated it for years, with small results. The reason is that Congress sees it as an efficiency issue, when it is actually a doctrinal one. Our armed forces remain structured for Second Generation wars—think World War I on the Western Front—where the guiding assumption is that almost all combat units are engaged most of the time. Each therefore requires a large, dedicated “tail.” If we shift to Third Generation doctrine, maneuver warfare, the new assumption is that most of the time most combat units are in reserve, waiting to maneuver. Dedicated tails are small; logistical support is given mainly to the few units in contact. The tooth-to-tail ratio rises dramatically.
As the defense budget is cut, it will be important to insist that all reductions come from the tail. Combat units, especially ground combat, are few enough already. The Pentagon will want to do the opposite, mothballing front-line units while preserving the bureaucracy. The Tea Party must say “No.”
What would all this add up to? An achievable target would be a defense budget of around $100 billion. That would still be the largest in the world. But the Pentagon’s welfare queens would have to look for real jobs—not just the vast surplus of field grade and senior officers, but the DOD civilians, hordes of contractors, and best of all the lobbyists of Gucci gulf. Fear not, boys, there are lots of houses that need cleaning. Starting with yours.