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 , 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.