Thursday, September 11, 2008

Political Issues Part 1: National Defense

As advertised, here's the first in a (short) series of explorations on political issues. I'm hoping this will help me figure out who to vote for... but I realize it might end up just confusing things even more.

I think Teddy Roosevelt got it right when he appropriated the old saying "Speak softly and carry a big stick." I believe a strong military is a good deterrent against aggressors. I also think the best weapon is one that never has to be used (and I think Sun Tzu would agree). Roosevelt was criticized in his day for being overly bellicose - but it turns out, not only were there no American military guns fired in anger during his presidency, but he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I miss Teddy. I'd totally vote for him.

Having said all that, I also think the DoD spends way too much money on technology development. In fact, that's one of the central points behind my current Master's Degree thesis. So I don't equate big budgets with military capabilities. We can be very strong - overwhelmingly strong - without spending so much money. Which party will be more open to the idea of spending less money on building weapons? 

I also think a strong military is only a deterrent against a certain type of aggressor. The past 7 years have shown our main opponents these days aren't particularly impressed or deterred by our tanks, bombers and battleships. So, there's that. Which candidate best understands the immediate & near-term threats? Who has a good guess on the mid-term threats? I contend nobody knows anything at all about long-term threats (and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise).

Ultimately, I suspect there are two ways to prevent hostilities (and that is the point, right?). One is to be so doggone strong that nobody dare attack. The other is to be so well loved and respected that nobody wants to. Of course, both situations are impossible, but we should probably get as close to both as possible. Which candidate will make America both strong and loved?

I wonder what the world will think if we elect a guy with a military background to be our president. What message does that send? Would that demonstrate a deterrent strength? Or a provocative aggression? Both? Similarly, if we elect Obama, will the world love us more? Or will they perceive a softening of our armor and resolve? And would that be good or bad?

Hmmm... this isn't really helping me yet, is it?


Mark said...

A lot to cover, so I'll just put out my initial thoughts here...

"Which party will be more open to the idea of spending less money on building weapons?"

I think the *amount* of money is less important (though still important) than spending the money *in the right places*, as you pointed out. This reminds me of Sarah Palin's celebrated cancelling of a "Bridge to Nowhere" as Governor of Alaska. If I understand the facts correctly, she cancelled this wasteful project which was going to receive some substantial federal funding, because it wasn't really needed. But she did it in such a way that the federal funds were still received by Alaska, and she diverted them to other more important infrastructure projects (i.e. bridges to Somewhere).

In general, I think the government spends way too much of our money (yours and mine). But I think it would be a good start to just freeze the overall budget while seriously redistributing away from waste and pork-barrel into meaningful spending.

I would be concerned that the Democrats would cut defense overall, just to be able to say they are cutting it and make us look "friendlier" to the world. I would expect McCain and Palin, on the other hand, to make some cuts but in a more targeted way - reducing waste, but not compromising our abilities.

Dick Field said...

Gen Eisenhower's famous reference to the "military-industrial complex" has withstood the test of time and still presents a problem in rationalizing the Defense program today. Way too many entrenched interests - on both sides of the complex. Many factory-based weapons platforms that were around in Eisenhower's day are still here, only they are way more expensive and way slower to get to the warfighter. These are largely directed to the wars of the past. In addition, there are lab-based "Future Combat Systems" adding to the expensive and lengthy mix. These are directed to the presumed wars of the future. In the middle, are retrofitted Humvees - our best attempt at wars of the present and mid-term. Defense today is anything but lean and mean. It has not stopped reeling since Vietnam in terms of what it should be and what it should cost. Starting with a clean slate, and with experienced but enlightened advisers, Obama might actually present the best chance for a rationalized Defense program. The risk is high, however, since he knows nothing about the subject and there is no reason to believe his advisers would rather rationalize than cut in the face of higher perceived social priorities. McCain sure has the experience alright and what I believe to be a hardened disdain for war - but would he and his advisers be "rationalizing" or just fostering the current high-cost, slow to market model? Perhaps the "maverick" (def: a cultivated rogue) factor would be beneficial in shaking up the status quo.

By the way, the "rational" model should include a shrewd mix of conventional systems (the Russian imperialists are still around), asymmetric warfighting, and a HEAVY dose of black operations (usually not addressed to the public because they are ugly).

As far as strength vs. lovability, America has always been respected when it exhibits strength, consistency, democratic ideals, and charity - in that order. On this one, I believe McCain is more likely to get the mix right.

Overall pick on National Defense: McCain.

The Dan Ward said...

Insightful and helpful - thanks, guys!

dad said...

Hi Dan: I don't know whether this will be helpful or not, but I'm going to take a 'different' approach... (and as a proud retired military person of 25 years, I would not hesitate to 'do it all over again in a heart beat') but I want to switch to a 'philosophical' one in the style of good ol' Socrates, since the good Lord gave me a brain that I have an obligation to use: I believe if Socrates (or anyone like him) was around today, he would ask questions and especially ask leaders and politicians alike (notice I separated them) questions like: How do you define your terms? how do you define your values & 'conflicts'? how do you define 'war' and 'which one' and which 'kind' do you support and not support and why or why not do you do what you do? Is our 'military' war and conflict our biggest worry in Iraq (or potentially anywhere else?) Is our 'political' war and conflict our biggest worry in Iraq (or anywhere else)? Is our 'spiritual' (and I don't mean religious at all but that can get added in here too somewhere) war and conflict in Iraq (or anywhere else) our biggest worry? Are we trying to fight a 'political and spirtitual' war & conflict with our military using military weapons? Are we using our 'proud and wonderful military to fight the 'right war'? Are we trying to fight a 'military' war & conflict 'politically and spiritually' with 'political and spiritual weapons? and if so, should we? and if not, should we? I have no hesitation whatsoever in believing that our military is doing their job 'right' to the best of their ability in Iraq...but is it the 'right job'?... love, Dad