Defense & National Security

Obama Promises to Dismantle Our Armed Forces

YouTube has an undated 52-second clip of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barrack Obama outlining his plans for America’s national defense. Obama’s presentation demonstrates either total naivete about important national security programs or he is just pandering for votes among the extreme left.

Watch Obama’s message and consider some inconvenient facts about his national security promises.

“I’m the only major candidate to oppose this war from the beginning and as president I will end it.” No one likes war: especially those who have to do the fighting and dying. Yet, our military leaders make clear that the consequences of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq as Obama seeks would be disastrous not only for American interests in the region but for Iraq itself. It would provide a propaganda victory for al Qaeda and Iran because they will be able to claim they defeated America. Further, it could worsen the Iraqi civil war, create an unstable Mideast and further spike oil prices. 

“Second, I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending.” Anyone who has worked with the military for any length of time knows there is waste, often in weapons systems. Recently, the Government Accountability Office found that 95 major weapons systems – including the Joint Strike Fighter and the Littoral Combat Ship – have exceeded their original budgets. These cost overruns could be the result of waste or mismanagement or, perhaps, the development and fielding of sophisticated new weapons with constantly changing requirements is difficult and inefficient.

The senator should understand there is a difference between waste and defense spending.  But does he? There is no reason to think so in any of his speeches or position papers. Obama’s employer, the US Congress, indulges in pork barrel earmarks contributing to wasteful Pentagon spending. Earmarks circumvent merit-based systems to create jobs in favored congressional districts and saddle the military with unwanted – wasteful – programs. 

“I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.” Recently, both our sea-based and ground-based missile systems proved to be successful. On Feb 20, the USS Lake Erie armed with an SM-3 missile destroyed a wayward satellite traveling at more than 17,000 MPH more than 100 miles high. In September, 2007, our ground-based midcourse defense system killed a dummy missile over the Pacific using an interceptor stationed in Alaska. The US Bureau of Arms Control warns, “The ballistic missile danger to the US, its forces deployed abroad, and allies and friends is real and growing.”

“I will not weaponize space.” America’s current policy is not to weaponize space. However, it’s important for policy makers to recognize the US’s dependence on space. Our banking, communications and navigation systems almost entirely depend on satellites. Space lines of communication are as essential for commerce today as sea lines of communication were two centuries ago. Does Obama mean he wouldn’t provide defensive systems for our satellites? Apparently so.

Surrendering space to rogue nations and pirates places our economy and military at risk. Anti-satellite weaponry will proliferate and must be countered.

“I will slow our development of future combat systems.” Our combat systems are becoming ancient. Our air force is flying aircraft which are based on 1940s and 1950s technology and our army is driving 1960s and 1970s vintage vehicles. Older equipment is expensive, time consuming to maintain and potentially dangerous.

The Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) is the first full-spectrum modernization effort in nearly 40 years. It will replace Cold War-era relics with “full-spectrum” operations capable modular systems designed to operate in complex terrain. It can also be adapted to civil support, such as disaster relief.

Failing to develop future combat systems puts American warriors at risk and unnecessarily jeopardizes our security. 

“… and I will institute an independent defense priorities board to ensure that the Quadrennial Defense Review is not used to justify unnecessary spending.” Congress created the QDR as an every four-year analysis intended to balance defense strategy and programs with resources. 

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office, an “independent defense priorities board” in its own right, published its analysis of the most recent QDR. It lauded the Bush administration for sustained involvement of senior officials, extensive collaboration with interagency partners and creating a database to track implementation of initiatives. The GAO faulted Congress for failing to clarify its expectations regarding what budget information the Pentagon should provide.  

To make matters worse, Congress’ 2008 Defense Authorization Act created two new and redundant every four year analyses. One is an independent military assessment of roles and missions and the other identifies core mission areas, competenceis and capabilities. 

Obama is right to criticize the QDR because it has become an exercise in fantasy but his Congressional colleagues keep piling on new requirements. The senator can help the Pentagon by scaling back on the analyses requirements. Just tell the military what the country can afford and then have the services explain what they will buy and how much risk we will have to accept. 

“To seek that goal I will not develop new nuclear weapons.” That’s dangerous. Our present nuclear arsenal will atrophy if it isn’t modernized. According to the head of the military’s Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, our warheads are aging and weren’t designed to last forever, making him nervous. “I liken it to approaching a cliff – and I don’t know how far away from that cliff I am,” Chilton said.

Ambassador Linton F. Brooks, administrator of the US’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said we have a new program that will potentially reduce the number of warheads and make them safer. It’s called the Reliable Replacement Warhead program and “contemplates designing new components for previously tested nuclear packages.” The RRW would create, Brooks said, a "reduced chance we will ever need to resort to nuclear testing" again.

“I will seek a global ban on the production of fissile material…” Nations capable of producing nuclear weapons produce fissile material for their atomic arsenals. Many of these same nations produce fissile material to fuel their nuclear power plants which light millions of homes and are a cheap, clean energy source in a world concerned about hydrocarbon pollution.

Efforts to control the production of fissile material date back to the 1946 Baruch Plan but that attempt was abandoned during the Cold War. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush announced that the US no longer produced fissile material for nuclear weapons and in 1993 President Bill Clinton called for Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations. While this is a worthy goal it is not achievable in an energy hungry world.

“… and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBMs off hair trigger alert…”

The US nuclear forces are not on “hair trigger” alert. Only a portion of America’s deployed nuclear forces maintain a ready alert status.

Besides, our policy does not rely on a “launch on warning” strategy. Rather, our forces are postured to provide flexibility by raising the readiness status of the force and by putting weapons systems on alert when necessary. 

“… and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenals.” Our nuclear arsenal is a deterrent against enemies with similar systems. Deep cuts without verifiable reciprocal cuts would be dangerous. However, we are making progress via the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which proposes a reduction of the overall threathold of up to 1,500 warheads. Russia has approximately 4,162 and the US has 5,866 strategic warheads and both nations possess thousands of tactical weapons and reserve stocks as well. 

Senator Obama’s national security views expressed in his 52-second video reflect that of a knee-jerk liberal academic who thinks that the US is the primary threat to world peace.  His views are dangerously naive and his statements suggest a shallow understanding of national security issues and in some cases his facts are wrong.

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