Highlights

 
Quotable
For what can war, but endless war, still breed?
John Milton
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 
October 9, 2008

Pas d'Argent, Pas de Suisse


by William S. Lind

The old saying, "No money, no Swiss," dates to the early days of the state, but it is no less relevant today than it was 500 years ago. Money is the lifeblood of militaries now just as it was then. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the United States is running out of it.

The Panic of '08 is in full swing, and whether it will end in recession or depression no one knows. Either way DOD will find it is no longer at the head of the line at the federal soup kitchen. Bailing out the economy will take precedence over fighting foreign bogeyman, not to speak of spending hundreds of billions preparing to battle some hypothetical "peer competitor." DOD's trough won't run dry, but it should expect thinner swill and less of it.

How might the U.S. best meet the challenge of less money for defense? To start with, we must impose the right priorities on the Pentagon. I say impose, because left to its own devices the building will cut combat units first and programs last. A new administration must demand the opposite: as resources diminish, combat units, especially in the land forces, must be retained while programs, contractors, headquarters and service bureaucracies are quietly garroted. Note: this would mean a very small Air Force.

Next, we must reduce commitments. That starts with getting out of both of the wars we are now fighting, in Iraq and Afghanistan. No activity of the state is more expensive than war, much less two. All over the world, we need to pull back troops and our long nose, the one meddling in someone else's business.

In the face of falling defense budgets, the work of the military reformers of the 1970s and 1980s may prove useful. They argued that by putting people and ideas over hardware, we could have more effective forces at a lower cost. Military reform was scuppered by the vast tide of money that flowed into DOD starting in 1980. But with that tide now receding, the work of people such as John Boyd and Chuck Spinney may re-emerge from the muck. Secretary Gates has been voicing views that have a strong similarity to what the reformers were saying twenty and more years ago, including a suggestion that cheaper, simpler weapons that actually work in combat may be more useful than rococo objet d'art such as the F-22 and the Future Contract System. Putti are more comfortable on chapel ceilings than in foxholes.

Fortunately, a few people have kept the reformers' ideas alive and updated them, waiting for the financial crisis that has now come. Winslow Wheeler and the Strauss Military Reform Project have published several books on the subject, with a new volume soon going to press. A seminar of field grade officers did a lengthy paper on the subject which I gave to Vice President Cheney early in the current administration, obviously to no effect. And the Fourth Generation seminar I lead at Quantico continues to write new doctrine. With some official interest and support, these efforts could make a difference. At the very least, they mean we do not have to start at square one in the quest for new directions.  The spade work has been done.

The key to bringing America's armed forces through the Panic of '08 and the following recession or depression is to act quickly.  If we continue to overextend our commitments while pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into legacy forces and systems, we will bring about a general collapse. Historically, this has usually taken the form of irredeemable military and foreign policy defeats coupled with runaway inflation: think 17th-century Spain. Avoiding Spain's fate requires the next administration to make some major decisions, and set a very different course, right at the beginning. In most administrations, that is the only time large course corrections are possible, before the usual interests have established a stranglehold.

In ordinary times, the chance any of this would happen would be zero. But the Crash of 2008 means we are not living in ordinary times.


comments on this article?
 
 
Archives

  • The Magic Potion
    2/18/2009

  • Israel Doesn't Get 4GW
    1/14/2009

  • Intervention: A Problem of Means?
    12/12/2008

  • The Other Election
    10/29/2008

  • Al-Qaeda in Iraq:
    Another Case of Failed Interventionism?
    10/21/2008

  • Pas d'Argent, Pas de Suisse
    10/9/2008

  • War on Two Fronts, Without Railways
    10/2/2008

  • Why Obama Is Wrong
    9/18/2008

  • Defending the Baltics
    9/9/2008

  • The Necessary War?
    7/3/2008

  • The Yellow Press
    6/27/2008

  • Don't Miss the Train
    6/25/2008

  • The Ancient History of Military Reform
    5/29/2008

  • A Confirming Moment
    4/18/2008

  • Operation Cassandra
    3/26/2008

  • When the Money Stops,
    Military Reform May Start
    3/12/2008

  • Linear Tactics in a Chaotic War
    3/5/2008

  • Kosovo: Fools Rush In
    2/28/2008

  • The Best Counterinsurgency: Unentangle
    2/14/2008

  • Die and Win
    2/5/2008

  • Side Effects of Our War in Afghanistan
    1/16/2008

  • Kicking the Can Down the Road
    1/10/2008

  • In the Fox’s Lair
    11/29/2007

  • No, the US Is Not Winning in Anbar
    10/11/2007

  • Truth-Tellers
    8/31/2007

  • The Petraeus Report:
    More Kabuki?
    8/22/2007

  • One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
    8/9/2007

  • America's Last Successful Mideast War
    8/3/2007

  • US Military Riding the
    Perfect (Sine) Wave
    6/13/2007

  • Flickers of Light
    3/23/2007

  • The Washington Dodgers
    3/8/2007

  • Insurgency May Be Back on Its Heels, but It's No Setback
    1/30/2007

  • Identifying Variables
    1/18/2007

  • Less Than Zero
    1/13/2007

  • Somalia: A State Restored? Not So Fast
    1/6/2007

  • Knocking Opportunity
    12/12/2006

  • More Troops?
    12/1/2006

  • Lose a War, Lose an Election
    11/14/2006

  • Third and Final Act
    10/31/2006

  • Why We Still Fight
    10/12/2006

  • The Sanctuary Delusion
    9/29/2006

  • General Puff
    9/15/2006

  • Collapse of the Flanks
    8/11/2006

  • Welcome to My Parlor
    7/29/2006

  • The Summer of 1914
    7/19/2006

  • To Be or Not To Be a State?
    7/6/2006

  • Air Strikes in Afghanistan: Aargh!
    6/20/2006

  • Fourth-Generation Hell
    6/14/2006

  • The Power of Weakness, Again
    6/8/2006

  • The Perils of Threat Inflation
    6/3/2006

  • Off With His Head!
    4/29/2006

  • Sweeping Up the Debris
    4/20/2006

  • Taking Pakistan's Temperature
    2/24/2006

  • The Long War
    2/9/2006

  • The Next Act
    2/2/2006

  • Forcing the World to Be Saved
    1/21/2006

  • Two False Options
    12/21/2005

  • Questionable Assumptions
    12/8/2005

  • It Ain't Fair
    12/1/2005

  • Engagement: An Exit Strategy
    11/5/2005

  • Condi's True Confessions
    10/28/2005

  • Important Distinctions
    9/24/2005

  • National Defense for a Republic
    8/3/2005

  • Discouraging Lessons From Imperial Spain
    7/29/2005

  • Hunting for Cops
    7/15/2005

  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2003 Antiwar.com