Thursday, November 4, 2010

More mystifying speculation about the Republican congress and the defense budget

You're probably tired of this story already, but the defense media can't stop talking about how much/little things are going to change now that there's a new sherriff in town. Lots of coverage of industry folks saying "God, Mackenzie Eaglen was SO WRONG about Republican willingness and ability to protect topline growth." Lots of coverage of Buck McKeon's comments on how just 1% budget growth over inflation will impoverish modernization accounts (though very suggestion that he's going to do anything about it except bitch, and very little analysis of how the politics would work even if he wanted to).

In today's edition of Politico's "Morning Defense" newsletter, Philip Ewing reports on one industry consultant's takeaway from McKeon's brief remarks.
The message was clear: The new Congress will drive the conversation back to the wars, just as Obama’s planned pullout deadlines approach.

THAT MEANS BIG BUDGET QUESTIONS, said defense consultant Greg Kiley of Potomac Strategic Development, a former top SASC staffer. Even if the top line stays flat or grows, and big acquisition projects stay in the picture – both likely – a new emphasis on Iraq and Afghanistan will force lawmakers and the DoD to face those continued costs as well, he said.

One example: Iraq effectively doesn’t have an air force, and can’t control its own air space, Kiley told Morning Defense. The U.S. won’t just abandon it, so that means even after Obama’s 2011 withdrawal (if it happens), Iraq will still need American air bases, equipment, thousands of airmen, jets – and billions of dollars.

“As long as we’re still staying engaged, which we’re committed to, that’s a budgetary question that is not being addressed now,” Kiley said.

I find this argument curious, to say the least, for a number of reasons.

1. First of all, what does it mean to say there will be "a new emphasis on Iraq and Afghanistan [that] will force lawmakers and the DoD to face those continued costs, as well"? Will this "new emphasis" and its attendant costs (whatever those may be; I'm really not sure what he's trying to suggest) be more or less palatable to this new Congress than the $159.3 billion the White House requested earlier this year for Overseas Contingency Operations (pdf) -- that is, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) -- in fiscal 2011? And let's not forget the $33 billion supplemental to the FY10 budget, the one that was presented to Congress as necessary to the president's own "new emphasis" Afghanistan over the past year.

In short: If presumptive Chairman McKeon does "drive the conversation back to the wars," and does put "new emphasis on Iraq and Afghanistan," is McKeon going to "force lawmakers to consider [some] continued costs" beyond the better part of $200 billion that they were almost certainly already expecting to spend to fund the war?

2. Building on my first point, I find it impossible to believe that a former SASC staffer is unaware of medium- to long-term plans for U.S. security assistance to Iraq. Does Mr. Kiley really imagine that the Defense Department, the HAC-D and SAC-D, and the HASC and SASC have failed to consider ways in which the American contribution to Iraqi security can and must be sustained beyond such time as U.S. troops are withdrawn?

As early as the summer of 2009, GEN Odierno spoke to the press about assessing potential options to build Iraqi air defense capabilities as American operations in the country drew down. At his request, an Air Sovereignty Assessment Team spent time in country doing exactly that.
The team was dispatched by U.S. Air Force Central at the request of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq commanding general to determine how to best bridge the gap between U.S Air Force’s departure and Iraq achieving the organic capability and capacity to monitor, control, and if necessary defend its airspace.
During their visit to Iraq in early September [2009], the Air Sovereignty Assessment Team met with the Iraqi minister of defense, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Air Force, the Iraqi Air Force staff, and U.S. advisors attached to Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission- Air Force.
“The goal is to make sure Iraq maintains sovereignty by bridging the gap after we leave,” said Lt. Col. Daniel E. Rauch, deputy advisor from ITAM-Air Force to the Iraqi air staff for planning. “The accelerated schedule of the Security Agreement creates a period of time when Iraq does not possess the foundational capability to ensure air sovereignty or defend against the perceived threat.”
On top of that, the Iraqis have been talking about buying American F-16s for more than two years, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency formally notified Congress in September of this year of a proposed sale of 18 of the aircraft (pdf) -- a buy that could total as much as $4.2 billion when all is said and done.

3. Acknowledging all of that, I suppose it's possible to look at U.S. statements to the effect that Iraq won't be capable of maintaining sovereignty of its own airspace before the departure of American ground troops and conclude that this means we'll need to retain a costly air defense presence in the region in the meantime. Could this be what Kiley means when Ewing writes that "Iraq will still need American air bases, equipment, thousands of airmen, jets – and billions of dollars" -- that we're not currently accounting for the operating costs of those U.S. personnel, aircraft, radars, and so on that we'll need to maintain in country/in the region? I suppose it's possible. In which case I'd suggest that a good bit of this air defense mission can probably be accomplished by carrier-based aircraft and possibly by planes hangared in Qatar, Kuwait, and elsewhere in the region. (Look, I'm not gonna BS you: I don't know a damn thing about USAF force posture in the CENTCOM AOR or anywhere else.) The big ask is going to be maintaining an air defense radar network, I'd expect, until such time as the Iraqis develop their own capability.

4. When I read Kiley's suggestion that the "billions of dollars" that Iraq will still need for air defense is "a budgetary question that is not being addressed now," it seems more likely to me that he's saying we're going to have to pony up some cash to buy them airplanes. And I'm not going to say that that won't happen, or even that it's unlikely, but I want to present a few facts about the whole thing.

For one thing, the administration requested $2 billion for the Iraq Security Forces Fund in FY11 (pdf), and if the trend holds, about 20% of the money that gets appropriated will go to materiel (that accounts for both MoD and MoI equipment, in case you're wondering). So even after the Senate slashes that ISFF request in half as they did this year -- and the Washington Post editorial board just thinks that sucks, for the record -- we're still talking about $200 million in free cash money for the Iraqis to spend on gear.

Second of all, the Government Accountability Office wants everybody to know that the Iraqis are actually running a freaking budgetary surplus, you guys. And they've got some of that skrilla set aside for U.S. weapon systems, believe it or not.
Iraqi government data show that Iraq's security ministries--the Ministries of Defense and Interior--increased their spending from 2005 through 2009 and set aside about $5.5 billion for purchases through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
One of the things they coughed up real Iraqi cash dinars for is tanks: in August, the GoI took delivery of the first 11 of a total of 140 M1A1s that it purchased from the U.S. (pdf), using its very own money. Another relevant detail here: the U.S. Congress has already passed a defense authorization bill (for FY09, if it matters) that included an expression of the strong legislative preference (and by this I mean "statutory requirement") that "the United States Government shall take actions to ensure that Iraq funds are used to pay the costs of the salaries, training, equipping, and sustainment of Iraqi Security Forces." We can all speculate that a Republican Congress wouldn't pass a bill with a similar provision, and that they'll listen to Odierno and Crocker, but let's just take a moment to reflect on the fact that this and the ISFF reduction are suggestive of a general sentiment that it's time for Iraq to pony up for its own defense.

Now what the hell does this have to do with airplanes?, you're wondering. Well, about that budget surplus... Earlier this year, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces stated that investment priorities in the MoD would be shifting after years of budgetary bias toward the Iraqi army, and in the future, 70% of the defense budget would go to the air force. All of which is pretty good news if you're an air force that's trying to spend a few billion dollars on American F-16s, or if you're the patron that wants them to have those F-16s but doesn't want to drop a planeload of cash to satisfy the GoI's tab with Boeing. I don't actually know how much of the proposed F-16 deal will be financed with country funds versus U.S. assistance, but considering the Abrams buy and the spending shift, I think it's possible that this isn't going to require any additional (or at least any unexpected additional) cash in the U.S. defense budget.

So in the final analysis, is some purported "new emphasis on Iraq and Afghanistan" going to increase defense outlays, or place any unexpected additional strains on the budget? It just seems really unlikely to me, especially when we consider Congress' consistent annual complicity when the SECDEF comes over to the Hill and says "uh, hey dudes, we need some extra flow for this war, because we ran out. Or we just didn't really budget for it, I'm not sure. Or, uh, we want to place 'renewed emphasis' on things over there. Because, duh, obviously, it's really important -- it's a war. So, uh, can you help us out?"

Are there really "BIG BUDGETARY QUESTIONS" on the horizon "that [are] not being addressed now"? Nah.

Oh yeah, and P.S.: Mackenzie Eaglen's wrong.

7 comments:

  1. Gulliver, you have probably seen this discussed in detail between me and some friends.

    To summarize Iraq has a large budget deficit this year and next year, even with $87/barrel oil prices. Iraq's Council of Representatives has authorized $11 billion for this year and $11 billion for next year.

    US Forces Iraq has publicly estimated that the minimum defense budget Iraq needs to be able to defend itself and to allow a draw-down of US forces is $19 billion in 2011. Of this more than $15 billion for 2011 is completely essential. $3.9 billion is necessary but not completely essential.

    The US Congress is populated by complete morons. The reason the Iraq war cost over $1 trillion is because the idiots in the US congress refused to fund the ISF and critically refused to commit the US to long term ISF funding.

    Every Iraqi I know knowledgeable about the ISF agrees that if the US congress had announced in early 2003 that it would give the GoI $100 billion in grants to spend on the ISF, and if the US had publicly pledged to provide the ISF as many advisors and trainers as necessary for the nascent forming GoI and ISF to win decisively, the post 2003 Iraq war would have been mostly avoided.

    If Iraqis and the region believed the US public pledge; then the regional powers and Iraqi factions would have concluded that long term GoI/ISF victory was inevitable and that they were best off negotiating the best terms they could with the strong horse of the middle east, the GoI, sooner rather than later. The neighbors wouldn't have sent tens of thousands of foreign fighters and billions of dollars to back anti GoI militias and the Baa3thists would have negotiated their surrender.

    This is basic common sense.

    But no the US Congress wanted to spend over a trillion dollars, have more than 4 thousand KIA GIs, have more than 30 K wounded GIs, have something like 500 KIA among allied countries; all because most congresspeople don't think strategically and avoid common sense like the plague.

    I opposed the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003. But even worse than the Iraq war was the abysmal performance of 77 pro war senators and close to three hundred pro war congresspeople in failing to employ even basic common sense.

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  2. For just $6 billion a year in grants to the GoI [half economic and half military], the US can buy insurance on a major strategic victory in Iraq. America can make probable a strong and successful Iraq that transforms the middle east by its own example and that deliveries a massive strategic and ideological defeat on the global Takfiri movement.

    Penny wise pound foolish. $6 billion is how much the US was spending on Iraq every two weeks.

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  3. Anand -- It really pains me to be continually impolite, but I think you're completely full of it. I find your simplistic reasoning and reductionism to be just basically completely intolerable.

    The US Congress is populated by complete morons. The reason the Iraq war cost over $1 trillion is because the idiots in the US congress refused to fund the ISF and critically refused to commit the US to long term ISF funding.

    Every Iraqi I know knowledgeable about the ISF agrees that if the US congress had announced in early 2003 that it would give the GoI $100 billion in grants to spend on the ISF, and if the US had publicly pledged to provide the ISF as many advisors and trainers as necessary for the nascent forming GoI and ISF to win decisively, the post 2003 Iraq war would have been mostly avoided.


    I've rarely been accused of being a great fan of Congress, but your argument here is just ludicrously unrealistic. Why in the world would members of Congress perceive it to be in their interest to front up $100B in 2003?

    Why in the world do you feel so confident -- no, certain -- that a financial contribution would have meaningfully impacted the drivers of conflict in Iraq?

    If Iraqis and the region believed the US public pledge; then the regional powers and Iraqi factions would have concluded that long term GoI/ISF victory was inevitable and that they were best off negotiating the best terms they could with the strong horse of the middle east, the GoI, sooner rather than later. The neighbors wouldn't have sent tens of thousands of foreign fighters and billions of dollars to back anti GoI militias and the Baa3thists would have negotiated their surrender.

    This is basic common sense.


    This is just idiotically simplistic. Every time you write something like this, I think you must be joking.

    War is not a math problem. There's no concrete, certain amount of money or troops or effort or firepower that can be plugged into one end of the equation to deliver a certain positive result. When you write this way, you look like a fool.

    But no the US Congress wanted to spend over a trillion dollars, have more than 4 thousand KIA GIs, have more than 30 K wounded GIs, have something like 500 KIA among allied countries; all because most congresspeople don't think strategically and avoid common sense like the plague.

    Sure, you're right -- it was mere stupidity on the part of Congress. Or better yet, indifference. Or no, even better than that, it's probably as you suggest: "Congress wanted to spend over a trillion dollars, have more than 4 thousand KIA GIs," etc. Get fucking serious, would you?

    So now all it takes is $6B, eh? Well shit, six billion dollars for certain victory sounds like a hell of a deal! Sign me up! I'll pay the damn tab myself!

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  4. Gulliver,

    The reason I so strongly opposed the US fighting in Iraq in 2002 is because I thought that if Saddam was overthrown the Saddamists and Takfiris would try to organize a genocide against the Iraqi people and that Pres Bush had no realistic plan to stop them.

    I believed that non Iraqi Arabs saw Shiites and Kurds and subhuman untermench. They hated them and would resist a free democracy by all means necessary, including by sending billions of dollars and tens of thousands of foreign fighters.

    Together the non Iraqi Arabs, Baa3thists, and AQ would be a formidable force. The only way to prevent a genocide of Iraqis was to rapidly build up the ISF and convince the entire region that decisive ISF victory was inevitable and that the GoI would take their revenge on anyone who messed with Iraq over the long run. This was in my opinion the only way to persuade non Iraqis not to back AQ and the Baa3thists.

    I saw no indication that Bush intended to protect the Iraqi people from this dire threat. Therefore, I expected what eventually happened.

    This was my view back in 2002. And I am not that smart. Shouldn't this have been obvious to everyone else as well?

    $100 billion was a small price to pay to ensure the success of the Iraq mission. Admittedly back in 2002, I favored $100 billion in total economic + military grants for Iraq; which was too small in retrospect. Iraq probably needed a pledge of $150 billion in grants in 2002 to avoid the post 2003 conflict. $50 billion economic and $100 billion military.

    My estimates back in 2002 were that the war would cost at least $500 billion in the best case scenario and that $100 billion in Iraqi grants pledged before the war began would save US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in direct costs.

    You cannot understand war unless you combine direct operations with logistics with psyops with finance. War is all of these combined.

    The exact dollar figure that America pledged isn't the most important thing. What matters is that the region think long term ISF victory is inevitable. That very expectation ends the war.

    It isn't just I who thinks this. So does almost every Iraqi I have asked.

    Gulliver here is a challenge for you. Please find an Iraqi who agrees with you. Until then, maybe a little more intellectual humility might not be a bad thing.

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  5. Anand -- I think it's important to address what you've written not because I find the content particularly interesting, but because in my mind you're the representative of a mode of thinking that I find to be naive, profligate, anti-strategic, and fundamentally dangerous.

    Here's what bothers me about the way you talk about these issues: you write in very simple, declarative, qualitative statements about matters that are not at all simple.

    "I think the South Korean Army is the best in the world."

    "I think the XXX ANA Bde is the best in the ANSF."

    "The only way to prevent a genocide of Iraqis was to rapidly build up the ISF and convince the entire region that decisive ISF victory was inevitable."

    "For just $6 billion a year in grants to the GoI, the US... can make probable a strong and successful Iraq that transforms the middle east by its own example and that deliveries a massive strategic and ideological defeat on the global Takfiri movement."

    "Every Iraqi I know knowledgeable about the ISF agrees that if the US congress had announced in early 2003 that it would give the GoI $100 billion in grants to spend on the ISF, and if the US had publicly pledged to provide the ISF as many advisors and trainers as necessary for the nascent forming GoI and ISF to win decisively, the post 2003 Iraq war would have been mostly avoided."

    These are all very simple, declarative statements about complex matters, qualitative evaluations of matters about which you very often only have quantitative data. This makes me extremely uncomfortable for a number of reasons, but here's the number 1 reason: people who think like you start to believe that war is a math problem, and that the correct inputs will invariably produce predictable, correct outcomes. This is a fantastically dangerous way to think, and it can result in massive wastage of resources -- to include lives, materiel, and money, not to mention the less significant political capital, room for maneuver, and moral force.

    And while we're on the subject, that's another burr in my saddle: "for just $6B a year" we can buy insurance on the Iraq "victory." It will take only $11B a year to fill out the force structure you think is essential to ANSF victory. For a mere $100B up front, you feel certain we could've avoided an Iraqi civil war. You do yourself no rhetorical favors by downplaying the enormity of your recommended investments. This is a fuck-ton of money, and when you pretend like it's not, and like it should be so simple to write that check, it makes you seem completely out of touch with reality, not to mention the competing priorities for which various parties feel it's the American government's mandate to provide.

    So when you, king of the declarative statement about should and ought and if only, crusader against the alleged strategic myopia of the "morons" in Congress, suggest to me that a little "intellectual humility" might be in order, I can't help but agree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi,

    There are a number of issues connected with
    Anand's comment and Gulliver's response

    The first is that it is unrelated to the larger problem, which is that the US has committments in most of the world, and not enough money to pay for fulfilling them. We could also maybe accomplish something very useful to the US by paying off Pakistan's IMF debt. This would maybe do a lot to stabilize Pakistan, by reducing discontent caused by IMF imposed economic austerity measures. Or maybe we want to expand operations in Yemen? Or maybe we want to avoid cutbacks in defense spending in the US, which will alienate defense employers from the Congressmen proposing them and when defense industry people are laid off aggravate US unemployment problems. In short, Anand's proposed expenditure has to be considered in comparison to other ways to spend the money, not just what it might accomplish in Iraq.

    Second, although this may sound strange, it's not clear that which army unit is best matters much. In the US civil war, the South started out with most of the trained professional officers, higher morale due to early victories, etc. In the end, the North won. In WWI and WWII, most military historians consider the German army to have been clearly superior to the competition. This did not result in German victory. In the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqis were better equipped and better trained. This did not result in victory for Saddam Hussein. In war, the quality of individual units is often less important than available resoureces, motivation of both soldiers and the population, etc.

    Third, if the US starts spending a ton of additional money on the Government of Iraq, it is not clear what effect, if any, it will have. It might persuade the Iranians that the US is planning on arming Iraq as a satellite state to help it attack Iran, and that Iran's best move is to strike first. It might persuade the Iraqi politicians that their best move is to stop arguing for a little while and focus on grabbing as much as possible of the loot from the US to finance retirements in Switzerland. It might do any of a number of things. At best, after studying the situation, it might be possible to make a reasonably accurate guess as to which outcome is most likely. It's a fact of life that very few intelligence analyses claim certainty for their conclusions, and there is a reason for this.

    Ray,

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi,

    There are a number of issues connected with
    Anand's comment and Gulliver's response

    The first is that it is unrelated to the larger problem, which is that the US has committments in most of the world, and not enough money to pay for fulfilling them. We could also maybe accomplish something very useful to the US by paying off Pakistan's IMF debt. This would maybe do a lot to stabilize Pakistan, by reducing discontent caused by IMF imposed economic austerity measures. Or maybe we want to expand operations in Yemen? Or maybe we want to avoid cutbacks in defense spending in the US, which will alienate defense employers from the Congressmen proposing them and when defense industry people are laid off aggravate US unemployment problems. In short, Anand's proposed expenditure has to be considered in comparison to other ways to spend the money, not just what it might accomplish in Iraq.

    Second, although this may sound strange, it's not clear that which army unit is best matters much. In the US civil war, the South started out with most of the trained professional officers, higher morale due to early victories, etc. In the end, the North won. In WWI and WWII, most military historians consider the German army to have been clearly superior to the competition. This did not result in German victory. In the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqis were better equipped and better trained. This did not result in victory for Saddam Hussein. In war, the quality of individual units is often less important than available resoureces, motivation of both soldiers and the population, etc.

    Third, if the US starts spending a ton of additional money on the Government of Iraq, it is not clear what effect, if any, it will have. It might persuade the Iranians that the US is planning on arming Iraq as a satellite state to help it attack Iran, and that Iran's best move is to strike first. It might persuade the Iraqi politicians that their best move is to stop arguing for a little while and focus on grabbing as much as possible of the loot from the US to finance retirements in Switzerland. It might do any of a number of things. At best, after studying the situation, it might be possible to make a reasonably accurate guess as to which outcome is most likely. It's a fact of life that very few intelligence analyses claim certainty for their conclusions, and there is a reason for this.

    Ray,

    ReplyDelete