Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Leon Panetta is Full of Shit

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants you to be scared.

In a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Panetta warned that after possible cuts in the military budget, "we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history."

Which would be pretty damn bad… if we wound up having to go to war with America's 1940 army, 1915 navy, or some historical version of America's Air Force. If we're lucky, though, and don't have to go to war with past incarnations of our military, Panetta's comparison is logically nearly irrelevant. In fact, even the most massive cuts currently under consideration would return American military spending only to 2007 levels. So as long as we don't have to go to war with our 2007 military, we should be okay.

If Panetta had been interested in logical relevance, though, he wouldn't have referred to the past at all. He would have focused on the present, and in the present, we spend more on our military than the rest of the world spends combined. And we spend more than five times more on our military than the second biggest military spender, which is China (numbers 3 and 4 are France and the UK, American allies).

But Panetta doesn't want you to know these numbers. If you did, you might laugh at him when he describes military cuts as meaning "doomsday" for America.

That's right. According to Panetta, returning to 2007 military spending levels, and still spending about as much as the rest of the world combined -- means doomsday for America. Shit, I'm laughing at him right now.

The rest of Panetta's Very Scary Letter is equally misleading. "You cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building," he warns. Well, true, three quarters of a ship wouldn't be very useful. I mean, it would be like three quarters of a bullet, or something! But you could settle for, I don't know, say, nine out of the twelve new ships you wanted -- three quarters overall. Either Panetta is too stupid to know this, or he's hoping the public is too stupid to notice it for him.

The closest Panetta comes to anything specific about America's defense needs is to note that cuts would be bad for contractors. At which point, you start to get a feel for what really drives him and who he really represents.

When a spokesperson for a cause invents arguments as irrelevant and scaremongering as Panetta's, while ignoring relevant data and reasoned argument, you can safely conclude you are being bullshitted. It's long past time that Americans understood the military is, among other things, a special interest, and reacted to its lobbyists' Be Afraid! screeching accordingly.

UPDATE: Here's a tweet in response, from George Little, Secretary Panetta's spokesperson at the Pentagon:

@barryeisler Calling the US mil a special interest is insulting to those who risk their lives to protect your freedom to call them that.

Well, I could be wrong in suspecting an organization -- any organization -- with a trillion-dollar budget might have a few interests not necessarily consonant with those of the nation at large, but maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe the Pentagon is in fact composed of and run by men so selfless that they defy all rules of human nature and bureaucratic dynamics. Maybe criticizing the trillion-dollar military bureaucracy is the same as insulting individual soldiers. If so, criticizing the Pentagon would be bad form, and maybe even unpatriotic!

Or maybe Mr. Little came up with his clever little "how dare you insult the troops" dodge because he doesn't have the wherewithal to respond to any of my substantive arguments. In which case, Mr. Little, I must regretfully conclude that you're just as full of shit as your boss. I'm sure being the Pentagon Press Secretary and SecDef Spokesman has its perks, but wouldn't you rather have some integrity?


LnBen said...

to Quote de Tocqueville:
"on the true concept of modern warfare..."It is driven by the profit motive; it must be profitable.
We, the US forced the emergence of counterinsurgency by making legalized terrorism a government policy.Using a title dubbed by Colonel L Fletcher Prouty: The Capitalist In Action has made sure that we are involved in some profitable action somewhere in the world since Korea. Why would Panetta go against the monetary flow?

Jesse Aizenstat said...

From the Ignatius op-ed today:

There’s a consensus in the country that the big expeditionary ground wars of the past decade should end, and Panetta has his budget priorities right. But it would be wrong to repeat the mistake that followed the Vietnam War, when hard-learned counterinsurgency tactics were jettisoned in favor of conventional weapons for fighting quick “winnable” wars.

During the COIN years, the Army and Marines learned how to adapt and fight in the most difficult environments. What a waste if those skills, acquired at such cost, were discarded and lost.

What do you say in response to that?

(Note that I read the quote from a blog post over at Abu Muqawama: http://bit.ly/rsPh4n)

Barry Eisler said...

I'd say the details of the CIA's favorite spokesman -- sorry, journalist -- are inscrutable, but I gather he wants the US to continue to wage lots of wars.

Michael Kingswood said...

I agree with you on this one, Barry. When I checked in for duty in the Pentagon in early 2008, I got one of those neat tours they give. I remember the history part of it pretty well. In the 80s at the height of the Cold War, something like 30,000 people worked in the Pentagon. Now? Something like 50,000. When we have less than half the ships, planes, and troops we had then. Why? How?

You know the Navy has more Admirals than we have ships? That is so cocked up it defies belief. Well, maybe it doesn't completely defy belief, but you know what I mean. We REALLY don't need all those high level REMFs, any more than we need entire divisions stationed in Germany. We could cut the Defense budget by a third, maybe even half, and (assuming we did it right, which is a big assumption) we would probably see an increase in combat effectiveness as we removed bullshit inefficiencies, excessive command structure, stupid inspections and administrative requirements, and general douchebaggery.

And don't even get me started on the Byzantine procurement process we use. HOLY GOD!

But then, I'm a fairly crappy Naval Officer, so what do I know?


Michael Kingswood

Coach CJ said...

I served four years active, 10 years Reserves as a Marine officer. I wasn't offended by Barry's comments. George Little does not speak for me.

To Aizenstat (whoever he is): I don't worry too much about the Marines being able to do whatever is needed. Barry seems to have it right again when he comments that you have to worry about losing war-fighting skills if you plan to wage never-ending wars.

Big D said...

Well said,Barry. The military is absolutely a special interest. As Pres. Eisenhower warned us decades ago, "beware the military-industrial complex".

PBI said...

"Or maybe Mr. Little came up with his clever little 'how dare you insult the troops' dodge because he doesn't have the wherewithal to respond to any of my substantive arguments."
-- no maybes about it!

Travis said...

"You know the Navy has more Admirals than we have ships? That is so cocked up it defies belief."

Maybe because it isn't true?

Only took about 5 minutes of googling to see that there are around 100 more ships then admirals.

Sure we can still argue that 160 Admirals are too many (I'm sure it is) but we should at least discuss facts rather then repeat inaccuarate information.

Manuel Royal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Manuel Royal said...

Since when is Leon Panetta risking his life? The actual soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, who are risking their lives, don't make policy and have no say in the DoD's lobbying. (And, honestly, the last time a U.S. military combat action was arguably "protecting your freedom" was 1945. They keep using that phrase, though.)

Steffan Piper said...

Interesting post, Barry.

As the military transitions, many will resist and try to keep the public pre-occupied during the interim, especially on budgets.

Panetta clearly has his own agenda, and maintaining status quo spending while switching to the 'new military,' that is so often discussed, is likely the main mission. These people will always operate like accountants first and patriots last.

The tweet back from George Little is equally interesting.

In five years though: what will it all look like? (being the larger question) -- I think that is really their main mission.