It is one of Mitt Romney’s most striking anecdotes. The US Navy, he says, has fewer ships today than in 1917, and the US Air Force is smaller than it was in 1947. Notwithstanding that today’s fleets are far beyond the capability of those from yesteryear, Romney says it is evidence that America’s military dominance is at risk.
Romney’s solution is one of the most far-ranging, expensive, and perhaps least understood of his campaign. He has vowed to commit at least 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product - $4 out of every $100 in the nation’s economy - to “core’’ defense spending, not including many war expenses.
The cost appears to be far greater than when Romney first broached the idea several years ago, when the nation was spending closer to 4 percent of GDP on defense. Under next year’s budget, defense spending is projected to be about 3.2 percent - yet Romney has stuck by his 4 percent vow. Put another way, that means Romney proposes spending 61 percent more than Obama at the end of a decade-long cycle, according to the libertarian Cato Institute.
Enacting such an increase at the same time that Romney wants to slash taxes and balance the budget could cost trillions of dollars and require huge cuts in domestic programs. As Romney’s website puts it matter-of-factly, “This will not be a cost-free process.’’
In the interest of national security, the military is pursuing advanced batteries and novel biofuels for the battlefield and energy-efficient buildings and energy-independent bases for the home front. The Armed Forces are investing and enabling green technologies independently, through its own research (e.g., DARPA) and procurement (e.g., the Army’s new Energy Initiatives Office) processes, as well is in cooperation with the Department of Energy.
“We in Defense must innovate to protect the country. Our technology is second only to the quality of the people we have in uniform in what makes our military the best in the world,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. “We’re all in with the Department of Energy (DOE). It makes sense and it is good for the taxpayer. We’re all in with ARPA-E. We look forward to working with [the DOE] well into the future. Just like DARPA has been around for 50 years, I dare say ARPA-E will be around for decades as well.”
The DOD is committed to greentech for the long term. Unlike venture capitalists, the military doesn’t invest from 10-year funds. Unlike the DOE, the Armed Forces are relatively insulated from changing political winds.
“We, unlike many in the economy, take the long view,” said Carter. “National defense is going to be around for a long time. We are prepared to make investments that are sure to pay off, but won’t pay off for 10 years, whereas [investors] in the economy with high discount rates can’t afford to place those kinds of bets. But we’re prepared [to do so because] it is in the national interest, the taxpayers’ interest and the interest of national defense.”
But what if Republicans take control of the White House or both houses of Congress? Might the military’s interest in green technology be politicized, much as the Obama administration’s investments and loan guarantees have come under fire?
“The military has bought in to alternative energy. It is their idea now. That makes a big difference,” said Perry. “It was my experience when I was Secretary [of Defense] that whenever you get military buy-in, you have a much greater chance to [accomplish] whatever it was you were trying to do. That has happened now in the case of alternative energy and the military. I don’t think it is dependent on an administration. I think it is going to be there for a long-time to come.”
According to the Darpa’s 2013 budget: ‘The Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate.’
The report, released this week and seen by wired.com, says the remote controlled androids will be capable of doing everything that a human soldier can.
They should be able to perform all the duties expected of a human soldier, including ‘room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery,’ all via remote control.
The means in which this man-machine mind-meld are to be achieved are unclear, but Darpa’s description of the project notes ‘key advancements in telepresence and remote operation of a ground system’.
The agency has reportedly already funded successful attempts to control robots with thought - albeit using monkeys - raising the terrifying prospect that wars may in the future be fought by machine proxy.
The initiative seems like the next logical step in the U.S. military’s robotics and remote warfare research.
And yet—by issuing rules on how and when it would allow military arrests, the administration sure is leaving the impression that it believes the authority exists.
I don’t know if the president’s rules are airtight, but they are good enough to have outraged Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. They have accused the White House of undermining the new law–making clear, if it wasn’t already, that they think the NDAA broadened military power on American soil. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Senator Graham even said “The homeland is part of the battlefield. I want to make sure we have a legal system that understands the difference between fighting a crime and fighting a war.”
It’s easy to believe that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Panetta and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon will prevent the military from operating as a police force (something the founders of this nation abhorred).
But I shudder to think what might have happened if President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had been handed that power. The rules the White House issued the other day can be revised or revoked by any future president. All of the Republican candidates, except Ron Paul, have made clear that they consider civil liberties secondary to security.
The liberal/libertarian uproar over the signing of the NDAA was completely justified, and critics of the President such as Glenn Greenwald on the issue of the continuation of Bush era “War on Terror” erosion of civil liberties are legitimate and fair. However the prospect of another neocon administration with these powers to wage endless war against an amorphous tactic instead of a nation state, including on domestic soil against American citizens, is a terrifying Orwellian vision. Obama has paid lip service to ending the war on terror preferring to focus his rhetoric on Al Qaeda, but ideally in a second term he would no longer feel the need to protect his flank on reelection with such a robust militaristic stance. Certainly Romney will have a difficult time making a case against Obama on foreign policy. His charges of apology and leading from behind carry little weight with Osama bin Laden’s corpse at the bottom of the ocean.
Few things so embitter a nation as squandered valor; hence Americans, with much valor spent there, want Iraq to master its fissures. But with America in the second decade of its longest war, the probable Republican nominee is promising to extend it indefinitely.
Mitt Romney opposes negotiations with the Taliban while they “are killing our soldiers.” Which means: No negotiations until the war ends, when there will be nothing about which to negotiate. “We don’t,” he says, “negotiate from a position of weakness as we are pulling our troops out.” That would mean stopping the drawdown of U.S. forces — except Romney would not negotiate even from a position of strength: “We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban.” How could that be achieved in a second decade of war? What metrics would establish “defeat”? Details to come, perhaps.
The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.
Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?
Since 2001, the United States has waged war in three nations, and some Republicans appear ready to bring the total to five, adding Iran and Syria. (The Weekly Standard, of neoconservative bent, regrets that Obama “is reluctant to intervene to oust Iran’s closest ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”) GOP critics say that Obama’s proposed defense cuts will limit America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good.
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