Posts Tagged ‘Military’

Real Fiscal Responsibility & Deficit Politics: Republicans

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]See Part 1: An Introduction here. Parts 3 and 4 discussing the Democratic approach and then lessons from this moment of “welfare scleroris/imperial overstretch” coming tomorrow and Friday.

Republicans have called themselves, and are once again trying to position themselves, as the party of fiscal responsibility. This is the pendulum swing of deficit politics in its second repetition – as Republicans run up massive deficits during their time in power and then attempt to pass off the blame for raising taxes or cutting programs onto the Democrats who succeed them in office.

The political challenge the Republicans face is intriguing. Their ideology holds the solution to the deficit is to shrink the size of the government. Yet the Republican base consists of corporate America, the military, and the elderly – the largest beneficiaries of current government spending. Given this, it’s not surprising that while in power Republicans have expanded rather than shrinking government. Bush expanded Medicare further than anyone since LBJ created it all while cutting taxes and engaging in two wars and allowing Congress to engorge itself with discretionary spending increases never before allowed. Bush was not an isolated example. Like his apparent role model, Ronald Reagan, he saw deficit spending as a way to win politically in the short term as you gave everyone what they wanted – and protected those interest groups who supported you – while in the long term the incredible irresponsibility would force government to shrink, and perhaps even discredit the idea of a competent or sustainable government program. In other words, deficits were the way to “starve the beast.”

Republicans did not jettison this approach along with Bush when they began to repudiate his legacy. John McCain – for all his talk of fiscal rectitude – offered more of the same in his campaign agenda. He proposed dramatic tax cuts without commensurate spending cuts (while masking this by proposing the elimination of pork barrel spending which represents a minuscule portion of the federal budget.) As an alternative to the stimulus, McCain and the Republicans attempted the same trick – attacking the plan for adding to the deficit with spending while proposing a plan that would add even more to the deficit through tax cuts (which the Congressional Budget Office determined was a less effective way to stimulate the economy.) For Republicans, increasing the deficit by cutting taxes is “fiscally responsible” – while increasing the deficit with spending is “generational theft.”

What’s tricky is how Republicans position themselves with regards to the looming fiscal crisis. The business conservatives who make up an influential portion of the Republican base tend to propose pragmatic but politically impossible solutions like cutting spending to the other core Republican constituencies – the elderly and the military, and sometimes, even the tax and other subsidies to big corporations. The other groups seem primarily concerned with ensuring that their own government dollars continuing to grow. The past two times a liberal has taken office following several terms of extreme fiscal irresponsibility by a Republican though, a semi-independent movement has sprung up, thus changing the political dynamics in the Republican party. This movement of citizens concerned about the size of government, of government debt, and especially of liberals being in charge of this government (which suddenly seems more intrusive now that it is in the control of those they don’t sympathize with) was incarnated in Ross Perot’s two presidential campaigns, the 1994 Republican Revolution, and today, the Tea Parties. In each instance, this movement has coalesced around an inchoate frustration with the way things are coupled with the remarkably fixed position of opposing everything the Democrats do, opposing tax increases, and supporting the reduction of the deficit. Though this logically must lead to cutting government programs, which programs will be cut always remains vague which works well enough until a Republican gets in power.

To balance and rally these constituencies while out of power – the anti-tax fiscal hawks, the elderly relying on government programs, the military reliant on government spending, and the corporations who profit from government favors – Republicans have adopted a framework whereby they condemn any new spending as “generational theft” while protecting the status quo. Within this framework, Republicans claim their protection of the status quo which is screwing over my generation is actually about protecting my generation. This language also comforts the elderly who don’t wish to see any reduction in their benefits. Under the Republican approach, the only elderly who will see a reduction in benefits under the Republican plan are the eventual elderly of the younger generations – as the government programs they are now paying for cease.

The challenge Obama has given to the Republicans though is to propose a solution to the looming fiscal crisis through health care reform. Republicans have responded by claiming that the plans will add to the deficit (contrary to the Congressional Budget Office) while at the same time they have been attacking any measures in the plan which might actually cut costs. For example, Senator Coburn has said, “If you’re a senior and you’re on Medicare, you better be afraid of this bill” – which is a difficult position to maintain while at the same time holding that any deficit spending today is “generational theft.” But it is of course, the only political answer they have.

The Republicans – for short term political expediency – are creating an interesting political dynamic (and an impossible situation for the country.) They are telling the elderly that any spending that adds to the deficit is stealing from their grandchildren and children – while telling them to be afraid of any cuts to the programs they like. Meanwhile, as they filibuster any attempts to alleviate the situation, they inculcate the belief among the younger generation that the government cannot do anything right – pointing to the approaching fiscal disaster as proof. The hope must be that if they are correct that this disaster cannot be averted, their obstruction of any attempt to avoid it will be forgiven, especially if the disaster itself discredits the government, thus bringing the younger generation ideologically closer to the Republican position.

Thus is the logic of deficit politics and starve-the-beast governance.

Military Envy

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Under the Obama administration, the nonmilitary parts of America’s national security team have begun to increasingly imitate the Pentagon’s bureaucratic strategies and organization.

David Kilcullen, an Australian military officer embedded at various times in the State Department and in the Department of Defense during the Bush administration, one of the architects of the Surge, and a consultant to the Obama administration spoke at the Carneige Council about a number of problems with America’s approach to terrorism and its power – including what he saw as a serious mismatch between the “military and nonmilitary elements of national power.” He explained:

There’s 1.68 million people in the U.S. armed services, 2.1 million if you count all the civilians in the Department of Defense. I served in the State Department but this isn’t a State/Defense thing because I also served in the Defense Department, but between State and AID combined there are about 8,000 diplomats/foreign service officers in the U.S. So that’s 360 to 1 in terms of budget and 210 to 1 in terms of military guys to diplomats.

Contrast that to most other countries in the world, which have a ratio between 8 and 10 to 1. So we are dramatically out of proportion. We have this huge, well developed, highly expensive, well-coordinated military arm of national power and this tiny, shriveled, little puny diplomatic arm of national power. Not surprisingly we tend to see most problems as military problems and we tend to approach them with military solutions, because that’s the asset set that we have available.

By comparison there are five times as many accountants in the Department of Defense as there are diplomats in the U.S. diplomatic service. There’s as many lawyers in the Department of Defense as there are in the diplomatic service. There are actually more people playing as musicians in defense bands than there are diplomats. [Here the crowd titters.] So there’s a pretty substantial mismatch.

And of course that leads us to militarize our foreign policy.

He’s obviously right about this. But the military is not just seen to be bigger and better funded, but to be more effective than these other elements of national power. Its interesting to note that in the opening months of the Obama administration, the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Treasury have all sought to adopt elements of the Pentagon’s framework and seem to be using the Pentagon itself as a model.

Most recently, Noam Scheiber reported that the Treasury Department wanted to “put Treasury on a Pentagon-style footing.” He explained that in this new world of sudden financial movements, the Treasury needed to have greater capabilities to react to threats, as the military does:

Inevitably, it’s Treasury that must lead in this terrifying new order. Which is why its limitations have become so glaring. “The Pentagon is geared up to fight two wars at once, that’s the mission. The White House is a crisis management operation, it runs twenty-four hours a day,” says one Treasury official. “We want that capability.” And so, once the dust settles, how to purchase priligy Geithner is determined to put Treasury on a Pentagon-style footing. “One of things I hope to be able to do is leave a stronger institutional architecture in domestic finance with more depth in the career staff, more weight, more full-scale expertise in markets, regulatory policy, economics, the legal financial area,” he told me. When that day comes, you probably still won’t see much of Lee Sachs. But you can bet he’ll be manning the situation room. [my emphasis]

At the very start of this administration, Obama’s National Security Advisor, retired General Jim Jones pushed for the State Department and National Security Council to “reorganize their regional bureaus to conform with the military model,” according to Foreign Policy‘s Laura Rozen. So far, he has been unsuccessful.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself has sought to adapt at least one Pentagon practice to her new fiefdom – as she announced with great fanfare several weeks ago:

To deliver concrete results, we have to maximize our effectiveness. That’s why I’m excited to be here today to discuss a new enterprise, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which I announced at the State Department on Friday.

buy cheap modafinil australia We are adopting this idea from the Pentagon. The Pentagon has successfully used this quadrennial review process to improve effectiveness and to establish a long-term vision. And I know from my time – about six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee – that the defense review helped convey the Department’s mission to all stakeholders, from members of Congress, to the members of the armed forces and their civilian colleagues, and to the rest of government, as well as to the American public. [my emphasis]

There has been a great deal of commentary in the past decade about the “creeping militarization” of America’s foreign policy. These changes seem more akin to powerful players in the Obama administration adopting the best practices of the Pentagon and adapting them across the government. In general, this is a good thing – but like the focus on technocratic, independent institutions solving intractable problems, this could also become problematic over time.

[Image by army.mil.]

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