“The fatal arithmetic of imperial decline.”
As the guarantor of the international system, the United States cannot afford to substantially scale back its current responsibilities, whether in Europe, where Vladimir Putin’s Russia casts a pall on the general peace; in East Asia, where China is rising and North Korean provocations are almost regularly scheduled events; or, of course, in the greater Middle East.
— Thomas Donnelly, Resident Fellow, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
To say that America cannot afford to scale back its current defense responsibilities is not the same as saying it can afford to maintain them indefinitely. Given the past and present fiscal incontinence of both Republican and Democratic parties over the past decade, such sentiments as Thomas Donnelly’s have been called “fiscal moonshine” by at least one critic in a recent exchange in Foreign Affairs (November/December 2009).
In recent year’s the United States has become a debtor nation to China, demonstrated self-evident impotence in the face of Russian aggression toward neighboring Georgia, been unable to restrain Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, and increasingly embroiled and preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan to the near exclusion of other pressing geopolitical priorities such as the Pacific rim, the international trade regime and even Mexico.
Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said, “One war at a time”?
By historic standards discretionary spending for military spending, as a percentage of GDP, is small. The problem is that mandatory spending, including entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, combined with interest payments on the national debt, is in the neighborhood of 60 percent of the federal budget. Yet, many Americans seem oblivious to this looming threat to national defense and international security, whatever their views on current military campaigns.
In a recent “After Action Report” on his November 2009 tour of Afghanistan and Kuwait, General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (Ret)., clearly states, “We are unlikely to achieve our political and military goals in 18 months.”
“This will inevitably become a three to ten year strategy to build a viable Afghan state with their own security force that can allow us to withdraw,” writes the General. “It may well cost us an additional $300 billion and we are likely to suffer thousands more US casualties.”
“Afghanistan and Iraq are an immensely costly war running in excess of $377 million a day in FY10 Constant dollars (WWII was $622 million per day),” notes McCaffrey. “US Defense outlays for 2009 are $657 billion (or 4.6% of GDP…the highest since 1992).”
Noting that “in FY 2009 the war in Afghanistan cost $55.9 billion in regular appropriations with an additional supplemental of $80.73 billion,” McCaffrey predicts, “Clearly Afghanistan will run with a burn rate in excess of $9 billion per month by the summer of 2010” [emphasis added].
You may or may not be impressed by these casualty rates and dollar figures, depending on whether or not you believe the Afghan war implicates existential threats to the United States. Either way, we are talking about real costs, human and monetary, in the midst of a near tripling of the national debt by the Hill Democrats and the Obama administration. Evidently, they felt that their denunciations of previous Republican profligacy justified going two steps further toward fiscal insanity. Didn’t Vice President Cheney say deficits don’t matter? This may be the only issue on which they agree with the former Veep.
The crucial question is: can we continue to have guns and butter, indefinitely, without coming to terms with the fundamental and structural imbalance that is driving the nation to a fiscal meltdown?
In an extended essay in the December 7 issue of Newsweek (“An Empire at Risk”), the right-of-center economic historian Niall Ferguson expressed fear that “if the United States succumbs to a fiscal crisis, as an increasing number of economic experts fear it may, then the entire balance of global economic power could shift.”
“Military experts talk as if the president’s decision about whether to send an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan is a make-or-break moment,” says Ferguson. “In reality, his indecision about the deficit could matter much more for the country’s long-term security. Call the United States what you like-superpower, hegemon, or empire — but its ability to manage its finances is closely tied to its ability to remain the predominant global military power.
Pointing to deficits bigger than anything seen in 60 years, “only slightly larger in relative terms than the deficit in 1942,” Ferguson says, “We are, it seems, having the fiscal policy of a world war, without the war.” Moreover, total debt held by the public, excluding government agencies, but including foreigners, will rise from $5.8 trillion (with a “t”) in 2008 to $14.3 trillion in 2019 — “from 41 percent of GDP to 68 percent.” Projecting to 2039, the federal debt held by the public will reach 91 percent of GDP in the low-end estimates and 215 percent in the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) high-end one, more than double the annual output of the entire U.S. economy.
Ferguson outlines a number of gruesome outcomes resulting from these developments, but the paramount point from a military perspective is that
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?