February 23, 2013

NEW YORK – In the colorful, pithy Scottish language, there’s a delightful expression, “greet an’ gurn.” Which means to loudly moan and groan.

That’s what’s happened this week across the United States as the fiscal Ides of March grow close. On
March 1, unless Congress and the White House come to an agreement on cutting taxes and/or spending the dreaded “Sequestration” takes effect.

According to this plan promulgated by President Barack Obama, automatic federal spending cuts over 10 years of $1.2 trillion will take effect, with $85 billion hitting in 2013.

Listening to all the special interests moan and groan, one would think it’s the end of the world for poor America – a giant leap backwards into the Stone Age. Everyone agrees the dangerous US budget deficit must be cut – provided cuts come out of someone else’s hide.

Claims are made that al-Qaida will attack Kansas City if military spending is cut, or the Chinese will seize Hawaii. Consumer spending will fall, warn critics, sending the US economy backwards – even though the respected Congressional Budget Office estimates the total sequester will only cause a small .6% drop in consumer spending.
America will grind to a halt, claim doom-sayers.

Granted, $1.2 trillion is a lot of money, even by Washington’s standards. But it’s not as catastrophic as the huge number suggests. The Federal Budget is $3.6 trillion and GDP $16 trillion annually. The $85 billion in cuts mandated for 2013 are not a big percentage of the huge US economy. The Pentagon’s total combined budget alone is around $1 trillion annually.

Most Americans, grown deeply cynical by the cowardice and doubletalk of their politicians, expect a last-minute deal between the president and Congress to kick down the road really painful spending cuts. The axe won’t fall until they are long gone from office.

The loudest cries of anguish are coming from Washington and its suburbs where the so-called “Beltway Bandits” – the colonies of private contractors and intelligence agencies, and America’s military-industrial complex that feed off government. There may actually be some real cuts in America’s military spending, which accounts for almost 50% of world military spending.

Horror-stricken military contractors are waiting to see where the axe will fall: the impossibly expensive F-35 fighter, new navy carriers and surface ships, ground forces, anti-missile systems – the list is endless.

Military cuts raises a key strategic question: for what new war should the Pentagon prepare? The old Cold War plan of the US being able to fight 2.5 wars simultaneously, is gone for good. The choice facing the Pentagon is: to plan and equip for more colonial-style energy wars in the Muslim world, or to get ready to confront China in the Pacific. No two conflicts could be more different.

Before World War I, the British Empire’s colonial armies were trained and armed to put down “native” uprisings. They were very good at this. But when Britain’s colonial troops had to face German regulars in Flanders, they were slaughtered and nearly defeated.

The US faces this same problem. Ground and air units configured to hunt guerillas in Afghanistan and Iraq will be useless in a Pacific conflict. All the tens of billions poured into anti-guerilla arms and equipment will be useless. Confronting China will mean more $25 billion-apiece aircraft carriers and surface battle groups, more drones and satellite systems, more Marines and Pacific air bases.

So the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, whose budgets doubled after the 9/11 attacks, face a serious diet; and they must decide on which war to plan for.

Having just been defeated in the $2 trillion Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Pentagon may actually be relieved to go back to conventional warfare against Chinese targets they can identify.

But if the choice is China, the Pentagon will need 5-10 years to re-equip and rearm its forces for the Pacific. And, of course, trillions in new spending. Military competition with increasingly high-tech China in its backyard will prove ruinously expensive. What’s more, American forces have become too costly to use in war, as Iraq and Afghanistan showed. The US has grown soft and flabby fighting small nations with no air power: China will prove a very different story.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013

This post is in: Afghanistan, China, Debt Crisis, International Politics, Iraq, USA

3 Responses to “America’s Next War?”

  1. I once did a poster showing a house totally on fire with the caption “Watching the American government trying to solve gun violence and fiscal problems is like watching a group of absolutely fanatical fire worshipers trying to save a burning house. They will do ANYTHING to save the house….EXCEPT PUT OUT THE FIRE!”


  2. This is very interesting because just recently Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta had indicated that some 10,000 troops were to remain in Afghanistan after the initial 2014 pull out of any remaining troops.



    Somehow the cynic in me tells me that the ongoing dispute with Iran over possibly fictitious nuclear bombs has something to do with this.Since the early 90’s Israel’s leaders have been warning that Iran is only a few years away from building a nuclear device…fast forward 10 years and we hear that Iran is getting too close now and that something must be done….fast forward another 12 years and PM Netanyahu is saying that Iran is 6-8 months away now and the world (meaning the US) can no longer wait for this to happen.

    Now everything is falling into place here…President Obama was re-elected to his last term in office,so if the US was “convinced” to go to war against Iran,he could care less…not that he really has any control over the mighty Military Industrial Complex anyway.As Mr. Margolis rightfully pointed out, America needs to find another conflict to engage in so that no monies will be cut from the massive military budget.It is a known fact that the US always needs to be involved in some sort of war or conflict…otherwise the unemployment rate in the US would rise from the present (unofficial) rate of 15% to as high as 40% if not higher.That’s how many people there are that depend on the weapons industry for a living.How sad.

    Now Iran borders Afghanistan….and if those 10,000 or more troops are to remain there,the cynic in me tells me that this will be the place where the next conflict will be.Against Iran because they would be the obvious next whipping boy that could be defeated (never mind the resulting collateral damage).Not that I’m in favour of any of these insane nuclear weapons,but Iran has every right to possess them too….just as a deterrent, as Iran would NEVER strike first against anyone….they are not suicidal.Israel has some 300-400 nuclear warheads which they will not claim to have…or deny having them.

    The Mideast is already in turmoil.Another conflict is the very last thing it needs.

  3. Mike Smith says:

    ” American forces have become too costly to use in war ”
    Ironic that the Cold War ended in large because the Soviet Union could never afford to match the expensive high tech weapons being produced and developed by the Americans at the time… Quality over Quantity.
    And now today we find that the Quality is unaffordable in the face of a non modernized enemy that refuses to fight by the rules the US have long assumed all will follow.
    One would think the war in Vietnam would have demonstrated the utility and outright need for aircraft which can operate from primitive airbases, with minimal maintenance requirements, able to drop cheap but effective non guided gravity bombs in large numbers. Instead the direction the Generals went, was in favor of multi million dollar aircraft, incapable of, or not to be risked in deployments to airbases in areas where security might be in doubt… capable of limited weapons payloads of outrageously expensive guided bombs and missiles… spending a fortune… even if the target is just a squad in a treeline.
    Perhaps the war Washington will prepare for will be the one at home. The Czars of the corporations and of the political process may find themselves at odds with the masses if the economy should fail, or in the US finds itself in another losing war, or both.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.