Honey, I Shrunk the Budget … But Left the Strategy
The strategy-policy-budget commentary bum rush has begun. Expect to see dozens of pieces like this in the coming weeks and months: We have a global national security strategy that promises to do X; we now have a budget capable of doing X-minus-Y. (Already critics have honed in to the Asia Pivot Problem: We ain’t got the resources, and we’re running out of ships to make it happen.) Expect to see the GOP hammering the administration between now and November over the awful, horrible, disastrous, unpatriotic, un-American distance between aspirations and resources—and demanding bigger defense budgets to make up the shortfall.
The thing is, the critics are right, at least about the flaw in current approaches. As I have argued here, one problem with Obama administration policy is that it tries to have and eat multiple cakes at the same time, leaving us straddling two alternative paths, having chosen neither. So we have a defense budget that increasingly begins to say “constrained,” and a global strategy—backed up by multiple doctrines and posture statements—that says, “keep doing it all.”
Problem is, the debate will probably focus largely on whether, to close this legitimate gap, we should spend a bunch of money we don’t have to sustain plans, postures and strategies that are unsustainable. Where the debate should aim is on ways out of the dilemma that bring our ambitions into line with our capabilities. The key question is now this: Is that a debate our fractured and partisan political environment will allow us to have?