The Peace Dividend: Coming in 2010

Despite being engaged in a war in Afghanistan, what President Obama has termed the “central front” in our war on terror (or our hissy fit on terror as it is shaping up with this administration), the administration is pressing ahead with cuts in the defense budget.

It is clear that the decision on the procurement of a replacement for the aging fleet of KC-135 tankers, and by aging I mean they entered the inventory in 1957, will be kicked down the road several years and the proposed replacement for the B-52 (vintage 1955) and B-1B (serving since 1986) fleet will be scrubbed.

While the choice to not move ahead on the bomber perhaps has some logic the decision to delay replacement of the KC-135 is nothing short of boneheaded. Despite all the problems associated with the procurement effort, this aircraft is sorely needed.

More disturbing is the talk is starting that the military personnel accounts will also be targeted.

If there is one thing that the ill-conceived Peace Dividend of 1991-1992 should have taught us it is that gutting the Army by reducing it from 18 divisions to 10 divisions was a fundamentally flawed decision and one that should be rectified and not repeated. What we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan is a direct result of the short and disastrous tenure of Les Aspin as Secretary of Defense who, to produce the Peace Dividend, devised the “win-hold-win” strategy that is playing out on the ground right now.

In a recent hearing, an analyst from the Congressional Research Service gave the administration the opening it will need.

The biggest reason, he said, is that “a big, big part of the budget is driven by the cost of people.”

The cost of an active-duty military service member “shot up like a rocket after about 1999. By my numbers, a military service member in 2009 is 45 percent more expensive, in addition to inflation, than in 1998,” Daggett said. (This doesn’t include the cost of medical care for service members or veterans’ benefits.)

The increase was due to pay hikes and “very big increases in the basic allowance for housing to eliminate on-base versus off-base discrepancies in housing costs,” he said.

There were also increases in retirement benefits, especially for Tricare, the military’s health care plan.

But the higher pay and better benefits may well mean buying fewer destroyers and F-35 fighter aircraft, eliminating jobs from Bath, Maine, to El Segundo, Calif. And some critics say that also could pose risks to national security.

The unfortunate fact is that where weapons systems have constituencies, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines do not. And while the Democrats are big fans of veterans whom they can ply with a cornucopia of benefits and endeavor to turn them into yet another whiny bunch of entitlement babies, they really have no use for those men and women on active duty.

Of course, a lot of what happens will hinge on Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan.

If Iraq proceeds on the current trajectory, and thanks to President Bush and General Petraeus there is every reason to believe it will, the forces there will be greatly diminished by next summer. I think it is becoming increasingly obvious from the Obama Administration’s inability to walk and chew gum at the same time that Afghanistan will be written off and blamed on President Bush. (Those people just weren’t ready to govern themselves, you know.) They are already offering Iran a role in Afghanistan in exchange for some sort of public acceptance from the Tehran regime.

Right now the Administration is taking the position that they have increased the Defense budget because they have rolled in the supplemental appropriations which were used over the past five years into the regular budget. When they fold the tent in Afghanistan next summer, look for the new peace dividend to be announced.