Shadow Government

We don’t need to bankrupt America’s security to balance the budget

On Wednesday, in response to Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity," President Obama announced sweeping cuts to the budget to pay down the deficit, including significant defense cuts. In contrast, Paul Ryan's budget proposed last week did not significantly decrease defense spending, indeed it matched President Obama's FY12 request submitted in February.

House Republicans seem to realize that defense is different. President Obama appears to believe that defense is a large part of the problem.

His proposals would cut $400 billion in security spending from the budget by 2023. Two months ago, the president submitted a budget to Congress that already included cuts to defense. The president now seems to think that those were not significant enough.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that during the run-up to the administration's FY12 request, Secretary Gates made clear that the $178 billion in cuts forced upon the Pentagon by the White House during the budget process left "the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary, given the complex and unpredictable array of security challenges the United States faces around the globe: global terrorist networks, rising military powers, nuclear-armed rogue states, and much, much more." Gates went on to say that proposals for major reductions in defense spending would be "risky at best, and potentially calamitous."

Instead of listening to Gates, Obama now is following the lead of Deficit Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. They, at least, were honest about their goals. Their proposals released last December included "Keep America safe, while rethinking our 21st century global role."

Ongoing unrest in the Middle East and U.S. involvement in an unexpected war in Libya, extensive humanitarian operations in Japan, and continued threats from rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, should remind us that "rethinking our 21st century global role" is not possible. Just addressing current challenges, let alone preparing for the threats of tomorrow, will be difficult at current funding levels.

Secretary Gates seems to realize this, saying this in January:

For more than 60 years, the United States, backed up by the strength, reach and unquestioned superiority of our military, has been the underwriter of security for most of the free world. The benefits in terms of stability, prosperity and the steady expansion of political freedom and economic growth have accrued not only to our allies and partners, but above all to the American people. We shrink from our global security responsibilities at our peril, as retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later -- indeed, as they always have in the past."

The cuts announced by President Obama this week repeat the mistakes of past presidents exploiting "peace dividends" that in the end never paid out.

Obama's defense gambit should present an opportunity for Republicans in Congress and 2012 aspirants. In recent months, Republicans have rightly focused on fiscal responsibility, but now is the time to remind the American people that there is a way to cut the deficit and restore fiscal sanity without bankrupting our national security.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Shadow Government

The riddle of Pakistan

According to the New York Times, Pakistan has demanded that the United States halt drone strikes on Pakistani territory and draw down the number of CIA and Special Forces personnel in the country. The move is in response to the United States' insistence that Pakistan release American contractor Raymond Davis, who had been arrested on charges of murder. If true, and if Pakistan holds fast to its demands, the move could represent a watershed in U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Since 2001 U.S. relations with Pakistan have been premised on the idea that Pakistan shares U.S. interests in South Asia and is willing and able to cooperate with us. The first idea -- that we share interests -- is patently wrong. The second is increasingly doubtful. What then? What should U.S. policy towards Pakistan be?

For 60 years Pakistan has defined its national interest as the ability to compete with India, retain its hold on part of Kashmir, and advance its standing in the Muslim world. To that end it fought three wars (four if you count the Kargil conflict in 1999) with India since 1947, sought hegemony over Afghanistan as "strategic depth," developed nuclear weapons, and supported a range of militants as proxies against Afghanistan and India. None of this is in America's interest.

More recently, in the last ten years we have given billions of dollars of aid and military training to Pakistan to increase its ability to counter militants in the tribal areas-premised, again, on the idea that Pakistan is both willing and able to do so. Here the picture is complex. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have been killed in conflict with al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, and Pakistan has facilitated the arrest or death of more al Qaeda members than any other country. But the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-I Taiba-the group responsible for the 2009 Mumbi attacks -- seem to remain almost unhindered inside Pakistan.

Now, if the New York Times report is true, Pakistan has signaled that it is no longer willing to tolerate what limited action the United States has allegedly taken against militants in Pakistan. That leaves very little common ground on which the two countries can meet. Almost everything Pakistan does, outside of cooperation against al Qaeda, hurts regional stability and undermines U.S. security.

But the United States cannot simply walk away from Pakistan. Ending military aid or slapping Pakistan with sanctions for proliferation or support for terrorism would jeopardize our capabilities across the region. Pakistan was a major ally of the United States against the Soviet Union, and the Bush administration designated Pakistan a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2004. This is relevant not because we incur a moral obligation to old allies, but because a half-century of alliance has created a large infrastructure of cooperation, including military and intelligence ties, on which we still depend. As any Cold War history will tell you, much of our capability to project power and glean intelligence in South and Central Asia, Iran, and Russia, stems from those residual ties with the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment.

In other words, our Pakistan policy is hostage to the legacy of alliance and our lack of unilateral capabilities in the region. We would have a freer and stronger hand in South Asia if we built a more independent intelligence capability there. Until that happens (since that takes decades), the United States should gradually complement our Pakistani ties with ties to other countries in the region-which means (sotto voce) India and Afghanistan. Strengthening these relationships-or strengthening them faster than we already are -- would make the United States less reliant on Pakistan, enabling us to develop a clearer, more consistent, and effective policy on nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

Which, again, is not to say that the United States should walk away from Pakistan, only that we should have a more balanced posture in the region. Despite the deep mutual suspicions and recriminations that have plagued the bilateral relationship in recent years, we should not treat Pakistan as a pariah. Another of our key interests is to prevent state failure in Pakistan, which walking away would do nothing to accomplish.

A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images