America: Primaries and Military-Strategic Primacy

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America: Primaries and Military-Strategic Primacy


by Michael Liebig

January 2012 is the month of key “primaries” in the United States: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida. In the American electoral system, primaries are the procedure to select a candidate for a political office among competing aspirants within a political party. On the Democratic side, there is no competition: President Obama is the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidential elections on November 6, 1012. On the Republican side, we have a collection of pre-candidates who raise the disturbing question whether they really belong to the same Republican Party that produced Presidents like Lincoln, Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan.

This years presidential primaries are an eerie political spectacle. The United States is simultaneously faced with a deep and protracted economic crisis and an unprecedented fiscal crisis. This twin pack crisis has dramatic implications for American foreign and security policy: Drowning in public debt, America can no longer sustain its giant military apparatus as it used to do. Tough choices have to be made on what to cut in the military budget. New priorities have to be set in foreign policy and military strategy. However, in the primaries there’s no substantial political debate about these fateful strategic issues.

The Republican Aspirants

Mitt Romney, currently the frontrunner, Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich look like reincarnations of Dick Cheney – the mean and ruthless former Vice President and eminence grise behind (or on top of) President George Bush Jr. Arguably, Cheney did more to accelerate the decline of the United States than any other political figure in recent American history. He pushed America into two senseless wars which ruined its state finances and its foreign policy reputation.

The 2012 Republican pre-candidates share a basic policy stance of “denial”. They stick to the ideology of “American exceptionalism” which – in the current situation – really means frantic denial of the structural defects of America’s economic system as well as its foreign and security policy. Whatever has gone wrong with America, notably the deep and protracted economic and fiscal crisis, the Republican pre-candidates blame it on Obama. They have substituted policy debate with ideology and “hate politics”.

There is, however, one Republican pre-candidate who might still be characterized as a traditional “conservative Republican”: Congressman Ron Paul, who came second in the New Hampshire primary. Paul is usually called a “libertarian”, because he opposes the “Federal Reserve” central bank and favors a gold-backed monetary system. His criticism of “Wall Street” capitalism overlaps in many ways with the “Occupy” movement. But, simultaneously, Paul has many friends in the right-wing “Tea Party” movement. Most vehement is Paul’s criticism of America’s imperial foreign policy; he has steadfastly opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the infringements of civil liberties in the name of the “war on terror”.

There is a distinct possibility that Paul might run as a “third party” presidential candidate in November 2012 – as Ross Perot did in 1992, then gaining 19% of the national vote. If Paul would run as an independent presidential candidate, his chances to win would be minuscule, but he might determine the election result – most likely the reelection of Obama.

Republicans in the Eisenhower Tradition

An outside analyst of current American politics is inevitably appalled by the shallowness in political substance and the simultaneous ideological fervor of the Republican Party. There are, however, besides Ron Paul, some Republican thinkers who deserve closer attention.

One is Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell. In that position, Wilkerson – a combat veteran of the Vietnam war – was a preferred hate-object of the draft-evading Dick Cheney. Wilkerson’s sees himself as a Republican in the tradition of Gen. Eisenhower. He is particularly active in the internet community, where he presents his Republican agenda:

  • the first and foremost political task is rebuilding America’s industrial-technological base and infrastructures as well as fiscal consolidation in view of the $15 trillion public debt
  • the United States must end its policy of engaging – by choice – in foreign wars. Going to war must be ultima ratio reserved for repulsing direct military aggression or clear and present threats against existential security interests of the United States – no war fought by the USA since 1945 meets these criteria.
  • America must liberate itself from the domination by the “military-industrial complex”, against which President Eisenhower warned in his 1961 Farewell Address.
  • the erosion of civil liberties, through legislation like the 2001 “Patriot Act”, must be reversed. Of particular concern is the 2012 “National Defense Authorization Act” which codifies the government’s authority to indefinitely detain in military custody anyone, including U.S. citizens, suspected of terrorism or supporting terrorists.

Col. Andrew Bacevich is not a card-carrying member of the Republican Party, but sees himself as a “Catholic conservative.” Like Wilkerson, he is a Vietnam war veteran; his son was killed in action in Iraq in 2007. Since retiring from active military service, Col. Bacevich has written several books, among them The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005) and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008). The book titles are indeed programmatic.

A few years ago in Washington, I listened to lecture by Bacevich – and I was deeply impressed. He cogently elaborated how America got fixated on military power as the primary means of foreign policy:

  • the economic weight of the military-industrial complex and its symbiosis with both the government and Congress
  • the growing public ignorance of the historical – sovereignty-focused and anti-imperialist – foundations of the United States
  • romanticized image of war in American mass media and popular culture
  • the ideological fixation on “American exceptionalism” combined with a cognitive disconnect with respect to other cultures of the world.

Bacevich emphasized that U.S. military spending equals that of every other state on the planet combined. No country – even if it is a “superpower” – can sustain that in the long run without self-destructive effects. The 2012 U.S. defense budget stands at $662 billion. The total budget is $3.7 trillion – of which $1.1 trillion are debt-financed!

Debt: The Biggest Threat to National Security

The Obama administration has announced that the American defense budget will be cut by $500 billion – over the next 10 years. The Republican pre-candidates – except Ron Paul – screamed an yelled that Obama was undermining America’s national security. One really wonders about the state of mind of these Republican pre-candidates. Have they forgotten that in 2010 the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, had said that America’s public debt was the “biggest threat” to U.S. national security.

The $500 billion defense cuts over the next 10 years are inclosed in the Pentagon’s latest “Strategic Guidance” document which was presented on January 5 by Obama, Defense Secretary Panetta, and Adm. Mullen’s successor, Gen. Dempsey. At a closer look, cutting $50 billion per year isn’t really that impressive. It seems, this rather modest level of cuts is not very realistic, much more likely are much deeper cuts in the defense over the coming years – probably twice the currently projected volume. The inescapable need to reduce the U.S. public debt will simply dictate that.

The “Strategic Guidance” document states that the USA will relinquish the capacity to simultaneously fight two major wars. That means giving up a dogma in U.S. military strategy which was upheld for the past 70 years. The twin wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan have demonstrated that the United States just cannot do that any longer.

The Pentagon has announced that already in fiscal year 2012/13 the manpower of the Army and the Marine Corps will shrink by roughly 50.000. It seems certain that U.S. Army forces in Europe will be cut by 50%., two combat brigades and their support personnel will be withdrawn from Germany. But, beyond that, the downsizing of U.S. forces in Europe will continue. Presently, there is a total of some 80.000 U.S. troops, including Air Force and Navy, stationed in Europe. That total too will likely be cut by half over the next few years.

The New Military-Strategic Priorities

The “Strategic Guidance” states explicitly that the Asia-Pacific region has strategic priority for the United States. Force levels the Asia-Pacific region will not be reduced. The document makes also clear that China is seen as the prime potential adversary. Particular emphasis is given to “combating anti-access technologies”. The latter mean advanced Chinese missile and cruise missile capabilities which could prevent US aircraft carriers from operating in areas of the Pacific which are in the vicinity of the Chinese coastline.

The other priorities in the “Strategic Guidance” document are “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” (ISR). ISR means “information warfare” capabilities: satellites, drones, sensor and communication technologies. ISR is the basis for “network-centric warfare”, which aims at the “fusion” of reconnaissance, command and control as well as weapon systems. The idea of “network-centric warfare” is defeating the enemy through information superiority. Gaining information superiority and denying it to the the enemy – by “blinding” him – are two sides of the same coin. And, of course, the “Strategic Guidance” document gives special emphasis to cyber warfare capabilities.

The Pentagon’s new priorities are not a matter of some distant future. And that’s demonstrated in America’s “cold war” with Iran. In spite of the latest conjuncture of “war angst” over Iran, neither the United States nor Israel for that matter, want a “hot war” with Iran. In my view, most relevant here are the recent statements by current and former Mossad chiefs. Tamir Pardo stated that that Iran’s potential possession of nuclear weapons would not constitute an “existential threat” to Israel. And his predecessor Meir Dagan said that a military attack against Iran would be “stupid idea”. Senior American military and intelligence experts have said the same. The latent conflict between the USA and Iran is being fought by other means than bombs and missiles.

An eerie incident occurred on December 4: the Iranian government announced that an American RQ-170 reconnaissance drone was “downed” on Iranian territory. The stealth-configured RQ-170 is supposed to evade radar-detection while penetrating enemy airspace and loitering over reconnaissance targets – in this case, supposedly Iranian nuclear facilities. On December 8, Iranian state television aired film footage of a RQ-170, which was undamaged except for the landing gear. The U.S. government confirmed the loss of the RQ-170 and demanded the return of the drone. The United States claimed that the stealth drone had suffered a technical failure during a reconnaissance flight over Afghanistan and had inadvertently flown into Iranian airspace.

U.S. espionage flights over Iran are no surprise. The real surprise is that the RQ-170 was neither shot down nor did it crash. The Iranians claim that they had “taken over” the drone by means of „electronic warfare“ and landed it on their territory. This would mean, that the Iranians had penetrated the encrypted radio link between the drone and its “virtual pilots” at some distant U.S. ground station. I talked to an expert who thinks this version – penetrating an encrypted radio link – is highly improbable. More likely would be jamming – i.e. cutting off – the radio link and then “manipulating” the sensors of the drone by “tailored” electromagnetic radiation. That would be “electronic warfare”, not “cyberwar” – but the effect is impressive enough. The Iranians managed to land the RQ-170 with minor damage and its self-destruct mechanism – to prevent such a secret, high-quality asset falling into enemy hands – was not activated.

For the Iranians, the RQ-170 is a God-sent present. Now the Iranians will technically dissect the stealth drone and its payload of sensors. Surely, other countries – for example China – are most interested in analyzing the RQ-170 thoroughly. The drone may provide a wealth of information for „reverse engineering“ the captured reconnaissance drone.

The RQ-170 incident shows us the “new way of war”, in which cyberwar and electronic warfare are gaining enormous importance. In 2009-10, Iran was indeed attacked, but not with bombs and rockets. Instead the computer worm stuxnet, which likely originated from Israel and/or the United States, was used to cripple Iranian nuclear facilities. Now the Iranians seem to have responded in kind.

I’m quite sure we will see a lot more of this new type of warfare. Electronic warfare and cyberwar are not exactly cheap, but much cheaper than big warships, armored divisions or B-2 bombers costing $2.1 billion a piece.

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