In some ways, the first four years of the Obama Administration were not that bad for U.S. national security. Defense budgets for the past three years have remained higher than anyone would have imagined. The President ended the U.S. involvement in Iraq, albeit without gaining an agreement with Baghdad that would allow a residual presence. He managed the surge in Afghanistan, although seemingly without long-lasting results. He ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Drone strikes based on a “hit list” held in the Oval Office has killed many Al Qaeda senior leaders. The first elements of a capable missile defense system are being deployed in Europe. The intervention in Libya was successfully managed from behind.
Unfortunately, a second Obama Administration is unlikely to be as kind to U.S. national security or as supportive of a strong military. Freed from the need to campaign for another term, and hence to defend his administration from charges of being soft on defense, President Obama can indeed be more “flexible.” One need only look at the role the White House played in creating the threat of sequestration to recognize how dangerous another four years of President Obama would be for national defense.
There are many reasons to be concerned that a second Obama Administration will be bad for national security, the military and the defense industry. Here are my top five.
1. The strategy-resources mismatch. In January, the administration proposed a new defense strategy. The key facet of the new strategy was a pivot to Asia. What has become clear over the past year is that the administration’s proposed defense budgets and military modernization plans will not support the new strategy. The President may know about aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines but he is woefully ignorant when it comes to shipbuilding plans. On the current trajectory, the U.S. Navy will continue to shrink in size even as it pivots towards the world’s largest ocean. The President’s defense plan does not invest sufficiently in long-range aircraft, advanced munitions, mobile air and missile defenses or forward bases, all capabilities that will be required by the new strategy.
2. A premature victory lap vis-a-vis Al Qaeda. The administration’s focus on having killed Osama bin Laden has become the equivalent of George Bush’s Mission Accomplished misstep. The real lesson from the debacle in Benghazi is that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are resurgent, particularly in North Africa. Half of Mali is under extremist control. At the same time, the administration is planning to cut more than 100,000 people from the Army and Marine Corps, asserting that we will not need to do more large scale stability operations in the future. In its rush to declare victory, the administration risks being unprepared in a second term for what looks like an intensifying counter terror war.
3. Hostility to the defense industry. Almost from the start, the Obama Administration has displayed a hostile attitude towards the private sector, in general, and the defense industry, in particular. Under the guise of acquisition reform, the Pentagon has implemented a series of policies that have done little to reduce costs but a lot to poison the atmosphere between government and private industry. Private sector jobs were insourced to government workers, often on the basis of careless, incomplete or even impossible business case analyses. DoD has sponsored legislation to expand its rights to private sector intellectual property and increase its control over commercial items employed in weapons systems. The use of fixed price development contracts has put all the risk on the back of industry even as the Pentagon has shown little capacity to rein in requirements. So bad has the situation become that the Pentagon is working to put out a new version of its Better Buying Power Directive. Just imagine what a second term would mean for government-defense industry relations.
4. An undermining of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The President promised the Russian government he would be more flexible after November. There are reports circulating of government studies that have looked at shrinking the nuclear deterrent to as few as 300 warheads. The question is, why bother? The United States is the only nuclear power not modernizing its arsenal. In addition, the administration has reneged on its commitment to upgrade and modernize the nuclear weapons complex. Pretty soon, the United States will not be able to build a new warhead even if it had an urgent requirement. A second Obama term could see virtual U.S. unilateral nuclear disarmament.
5. The new normal. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, once opined that the rising national debt was the greatest threat to U.S. national security. By this standard, a second Obama term would be a disaster. The President’s long-term budget projections show deficits of a half trillion dollars or more for decades to come. In addition, the administration’s lack of skills in economics has led many observers to talk about a “new normal” of 2 percent or less for GDP growth far into the future. Such a figure cannot bring down unemployment. It also cannot generate enough revenue to support a strong defense.
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