By John Ubaldi,
Days before he relinquished the mantle of power to his successor, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his famous farewell address. One sentence stood out: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
Some historians have hotly debated the true meaning of that sentence, but it remains one of the least understood sentences in that farewell address. This sentence is often thought to be a warning of the growing might of the military, but Eisenhower’s original quote, stricken from the final draft, was to be wary of the Congressional-military-industrial-complex.
Eisenhower fought against those military leaders who consistently wanted the latest weapons. Some political leaders advocated more defense spending for their state or district. Other political leaders decried military spending, but then fought against any defense reductions that affected their own state or district.
Last month in a joint address to Congress, President Donald Trump stated, “Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve.” Trump then commented: “Finally, to keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war and – if they must – to fight and to win. I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”
What Are The Strategic Threats to The US?
Before additional military spending commences, we should consider the strategic threats America faces. We also need to think about threats that will occur five, 10, 15 and more years from now.
In his address to Congress, Trump did not mention the threats posed by Russia, China, North Korea or Iran. He also made no statement on terrorism. The public often hears the same rhetorical optimism often expressed by former president Barack Obama, rather than learn of any specific threat or challenge to the United States.
Trump also did not discuss the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Trump often speaks ambiguously with regard to U.S. alliances and security partnerships, but he never expresses a coherent strategy how all of this is intertwined with U.S. foreign policy.
More Troops Needed in Middle East Regions
Just last month, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General John Nicholson, said he would need several thousand more troops to break the stalemate in Afghanistan. The U.S. is now handing the war in Afghanistan to its third president. Unfortunately, we still do not have a sensible or complete strategy for victory, or even a clear definition of how the U.S. views victory in Afghanistan.
This month, more U.S. troops are heading to the Middle East, with additional Marines now stationed around the Islamic State capital of Raqqa to support military operations. As with Afghanistan, we still do not have a complete strategy for determining U.S. goals and objectives following the defeat of ISIS.
It is still too early to judge President Trump on his national security approach. He called for a new national security strategy that includes increased defense spending. Trump also directed the Pentagon to formulate a new approach for attacking and defeating the Islamic State.
US Lacks National Security Assessment
Before the federal government increases defense spending, Washington needs to clearly define the real-world threats to the U.S. All too often, the government allocates defense spending to what the military needs without factoring in threats the U.S. will face in the future.
This is a bipartisan problem. It has been years since a true threat assessment was formulated, as both Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to address strategic defense planning.
Military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies reported that the United States has not had any real long-term force or budget plan since at least FY2002. Every year, there has been an adjustment to defense spending for both the basic structure of U.S. forces or “baseline.” Some new adjustments have been made for the actual wars the United States is fighting, which have been paid for by supplemental funding or from a separate Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
Federal Spending Out of Control
No matter what Trump wants to do about military spending, no administration has ever faced the responsibility of balancing defense spending with the federal budget. Military appropriations have shrunk in relationship to other aspects of the federal budget and spending has increased on mandatory entitlement programs.
Cordesman also says U.S. national security strategies and force plans have not been shaped by the need to perform key missions or to meet key threats. They have not been tied to clear choices among force size, force quality and readiness, and technological innovation and modernization.
Instead, these strategies and force plans have focused conceptually on an undefined future. These strategies have ignored the continuing challenge of ongoing wars. The government has done nothing to develop effective future year defense programs (FYDP) for actual future spending.
Pentagon Spending Needs An Overhaul
What Cordesman doesn’t mention – and what other national security analysts, the Trump administration and Congress fail to understand in regard to the federal budget – is how spending is allocated within the Pentagon budget.
Congress often forces the Pentagon to accept weapons systems it does not want or need. Even in 2015, then-Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said the Army did not need any more upgrades to its tank force. Congress appropriated the money anyway.
“We still have to procure systems we don’t need,” Odierno said. He added that the Army spends “hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”
This practice of allocating money on non-essential items is replicated across the federal budget. Does anyone wonder why we have a $20 trillion national debt, which both Democrats and Republicans have failed to address?
Failure to Overhaul Entitlement Spending
As the debate shifts to additional increases for the Pentagon, the Trump administration must come to grips regarding the funds for this new spending. Common sense dictates that there should be an overhaul of entitlement spending.
In the past, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that entitlement spending accounts for close to 70% of the entire federal budget. Obama failed to address this issue. He appointed his own commission on how to gain control of the federal deficit, but never accepted one recommendation.
So far, Trump has refused to address entitlement spending. Without any action, the federal budget will experience more problems in the coming years, leaving little money for defense spending and other domestic programs.
The true debate needs to focus on how the federal government allocates its spending resources. The problem isn’t that there is not enough revenue coming into the treasury; the true problem is how the U.S. government determines its spending priorities.
Families adjust to this reality all the time. The government needs to follow the American family’s example and get its fiscal house in order.
Failure to do so is the real national security threat.