VSP Fun

Best quote of the morning read:

Here’s an analogy: think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; [Paul] Ryan doesn’t do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream. And the Post declares that he deserves credit for pointing out that the bridge is falling down, and proposing a solution. Um, we knew that the bridge was in bad shape — and his solution is a fraud.

via Paul Krugman.

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In Review: How Wars End

If, like myself and many others, you find the questions surrounding the beginning of conflict very confusing and opaque, than I recommend picking up How Wars End authored by former Clinton National Security Council member, and current editor of Foreign Affairs, Gideon Rose. The book focuses on the key events, personalities, and decisions which took place during the end phase of the last century’s major conflicts. The main argument is that decisions in the end phase of a conflict often set the stage for the months and years afterward, including in some cases, the seeds of future war. For example, the first section discusses how the failures of President Woodrow Wilson in the end of World War I set the stage, in many ways, for the rise of Nazi Germany.

The most admirable part about this book is that it chooses to tackle international relations theory not from a rigid ideological perspective, but instead chooses to incorporate facets of both idealism and realism to reflect the attitudes, realities, and personalities which shaped the twentieth century’s conflicts. It is all encompassing, rather than focusing solely on cold relative power calculations or lofty ideological rhetoric and belief systems.

The unfortunate conclusion drawn throughout this book is that ultimately we continue to repeat very fundamental mistakes when it comes to ending conflict. Now, admittedly, hindsight is always 20/20, but Rose offers some lessons which we can take to the bargaining table at the end of future struggles which are worth review. Anyway, it is a good read, and not too wonkish.

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Commodities Bust

Source: CNN Money

This might finally dispel the inflation-hawks argument, which I really believe just to be a continuation of the interest-rate-hawks all of whom are just arguing for fiscal austerity for its own sake. Unfortunately none of the evidence- for years at this point- supports their arguments.

Good to see oil coming down, although it will be several weeks until we see changes at the pump. The spike in commodities had a large effect on the wider economic picture this past month. People were driving less, dining out less, buying less widgets.

US Labor Department will release its jobs numbers today, which are expected to show slower growth than last period. One analyst even called for a slight rise in the unemployment number, which would not be good, but it’s understandable. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the pace of job growth needs to be huge considering the average rate of new individuals joining the job market. A slight rise in the unemployment rate is nothing to lose your mind about, but its certainly suggests that businesses are waiting to hire.

Update

Well here they are. Much stronger growth then I expected.

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The West Wing

Source: White House

One of the coolest photographs I have ever seen.

From the White House: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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3,520 days

Lest we forget the reasons.

I wondered, walking to the white house last night, what the celebration was really about. It was not about the death of bin-Laden, for in the end he was just a symbol. And it wasn’t about celebrating America, although there were plenty of flags. No, I tend to believe it was the release of a pressure that has been pushing on the American psyche for nearly ten years in the background of everyday life. It is incredible when you think about the totality of our lives which were changed by bin-Laden. And not solely the Americans who lost loved ones on 9/11, or the US service men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. But almost everyone in this country, and the larger world, felt the impact of that day.

For one, my whole adult life has bent around that day. 9/11 is the reason I got interested in domestic and international politics. It is why I chose to study what I did in college, and it is why I am currently employed. I will always remember where I was on 9/11, and I will remember 3,520 days later celebrating in the streets.

However, it is of the utmost importance that people realize this fight is unending. In 1998 only a handful of Clinton administration officials even knew who bin-Laden was and the next leader of a terrorist cell is probably walking among us somewhere.

We must take care to remain both vigilant, and as the President said, “relentless,” in the pursuit of peace.

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Secretary Shuffle

Source: NYT

Interesting news this morning. My immediate thoughts are threefold: First, no one ever guesses Washington power shuffles correctly (so, ha!). Second, Panetta is a wise choice for Defense Secretary. As chief of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton White House, Panetta oversaw drastic budget cuts in the 1990s, which is exactly what he will be tasked with doing at the Pentagon (to the tune of $40 billion a year). Three, I disagree with Petraeus heading CIA. The CIA is meant to be a civilian agency, headed by a civilian. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for General Petraeus, but I feel like military leadership often undervalues the long-term strategic intelligence efforts and responsibilities of the CIA in favor of tactical or operational level intelligence to support warfighters. A more fitting place for Petraeus would be at the DIA.

Regardless, Obama should be careful and think about the future. Petraeus represents a potential Republican adversary in 2016. George H.W. Bush was also DCI.

At least this will cut down on the dreaded senate confirmation process.

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Keep up, BBC

One thing I would like to note, I wrote about the reasons which make Syria important for U.S. foreign policy almost a month ago.  It is good to see that BBC is finally catching on. Although, I still doubt the U.S. will do more than voice concern.

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Delay

Sorry all. I will be on a short hiatus. Check back once a week.

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“Do you think we’re stupid?”

According to CBS News, President Obama spoke very candidly last night at a closed-door fundraiser at home in Chicago, where no cameras were allowed. The President spoke over a microphone that he may have not known was still on and piping into the White House correspondence room, and CBS caught some of it. Highly recommended listening. I wish he spoke like this all the time.

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Fiscal Austerity and American Power

Source: Acclaim

Although the campaign-like phrase “this next decade will shape the future of America,” is said too often to retain its impact, I think with regards to the U.S. defense and diplomacy initiatives of the twenty-first century, it is an inherent truth for the world in which we live today. The President, in a speech earlier this week, called for a sweeping review of the defense budget as one of four pillars to reduce the deficit. This review will most likely be the first task of the new SECDEF. And it will be critical.

Anyone who takes the budget reform process seriously knows that savings will have to be found in one of the largest consumers of government revenue, Department of Defense authorization funds. Next to only Medicare and Social Security, the money allocated to U.S. defense is the largest government initiative. The U.S. spends, per capita, more on defense than all other countries combined. Since 2000, the DOD operating budget has doubled, from about $400 billion to almost $800 billion, and that is without accounting for the wartime supplemental bills passed throughout the Bush presidency, which would ultimately put us in the trillions.

But, keep in mind, the scope of the missions we carry out and the national security threats we face far out weigh those of any other country. We are embroiled in three ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, we support South Korean and Japanese military efforts, we are essentially the force behind NATO, and we support U.N. peacekeeping missions worldwide. The United States operates 11 aircraft carriers (the U.K. operates one) and of our million person active military, approximately 300,000 troops are stationed across 150 countries. The depth and reach of US power is unmatchable. But it is also unsustainable.

So, how will the United States balance reforming the defense budget and maintaining its globe spanning dominance critical to fighting terrorism and protecting the liberalized world of the Washington consensus?

Well, earlier this week anonymous senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff released a white paper through the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars simply entitled, “A National Strategic Narrative.” In the paper, the authors argue that the Untied States greatly misallocates its funding by underinvesting in future priorities and overinvesting in the reaction to Islamic extremism.  Secretary Gates has already taken the initiative to cut the Pentagon’s core budget and reinvest the savings in higher priority applications.

The President’s plan is not drastic or urgent. Essentially, to meet the 2022 goal of $400 billion in cuts, the Pentagon has to minimize by around $40 billion a year, which is not an impossible goal. Gordon Adams, a former senior White House official for national security budgets during the Clinton-era says the Defense Department “can meet that goal without jeopardizing the U.S. military’s global dominance.” The Pentagon will have to review the roles and missions and see what they can forgo, or pare down, in this age of fiscal constraint.

It is important, also, to keep in mind the lessons of the 1990s. In the wake of a Cold War victory, former President Clinton minimized Defense spending throughout the decade. I think a good argument can be made that inaccurate funds were allocated to the pervasive threat of international terrorism that we faced as soon as 1993. But even if the CIA knew, America did not know the scope of the problem and thus it was not a priority.

The saddest part of all is that our current Congress (especially with the makeup of the House) finds it hard to cut defense while finding it just as easy to slash diplomacy. Joe Nye Jr., the preeminent scholar on American soft power, writes this week on how we continue to move in the wrong direction. Just as Secretary Clinton was making her case in the QDDR for “smart power” – combining diplomatic, economic, and limited military power as the key to engaging the world – the Department of State’s budget of $36 billion (compared to the Defense budget its a drop in the bucket) was cut by $8 billion.

I think the best part of last week was that the President emphasized that the budget is not just a set of numbers, or a math exercise,  but an extension of our values as Americans and a vision of the future. And that future will be shaped over the next year.

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