Shadow Government

The Missing Trade Advance Team

When we see a well-executed political event, such as a national convention, it is usually a reflection of significant advance work and meticulous planning. Without such advance work, we can get Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.

In the world of U.S. trade agreements, there is a particular need for such advance work. One part of government -- the executive branch -- attends all the negotiating sessions and conducts the international haggling, while a different part of government -- Congress -- is constitutionally required to set the policies. In recent decades, the two branches have struck legislative deals, known most recently as trade promotion authority (TPA). This authority reassures trading partners that whatever trade accord the White House ultimately agrees to will get a timely vote in Congress without any amendments. If the two branches of government do not work out a plan in advance, it can get ugly.

And that's right where we are. In a short news release on Nov. 13, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) effectively warned that the president's trade agenda is in danger. He stated:

The President must do more to make the case about the importance of TPA. He missed a prime opportunity last week to highlight TPA when he spoke in New Orleans about the economic benefits of trade policy. We simply cannot get the high standard, job-creating agreements that we need without TPA.

Barack Obama's administration has for years decided to pursue an ambitious trade agenda without TPA. In September 2011, amid congressional trade debates that led to passage of agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, Senate Republicans made a push to grant TPA. Democrats rejected the idea.

Why on earth would Obama not want the authority to negotiate agreements he was already in the midst of negotiating, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Because TPA is the point at which one moves from vague, idealized support for a trade initiative to the controversial specifics of what that agreement will require. Large fractions of Congress are generically in favor of "a new, improved 21st-century trade agreement." In contrast, any particular set of stances on labor, the environment, and intellectual property rights can be much more controversial. In the fall of 2011, the president's supporters in the labor movement were already upset about the passage of the Colombia free trade agreement (supported by only 16 percent of Democrats in the House). Why upset them further, heading into the 2012 election season, with a battle over TPA that would inevitably end up favoring a Republican approach?

So the Obama administration consistently argued that TPA was a technicality that could be addressed shortly before Congress took up any completed agreement. That dilatory approach posed a number of difficulties, only some of which were predictable at the time.

The predictable concern was that, as negotiations proceeded, the administration's specific stance or negotiating approach in trade talks would engender new opposition. That has happened primarily through complaints about a lack of transparency in administration negotiating positions in TPP. The Campaign for America's Future, for example, describes growing AFL-CIO concern about the TPP and advises that "You can help fight a corporate takeover of democracy by telling Congress you oppose [TPA]."

One of the less predictable costs of delaying a TPA vote has been the emergence of a new "strange bedfellows" group of concerned members of Congress. Whereas Tea Party Republicans strongly supported Obama in the passage of the three free trade agreements in the fall of 2011, relations have been more troubled since then. Whether because of these strains or because of principled opposition, a group of Tea Party representatives has stated its opposition to TPA on the grounds that they oppose the delegation of powers constitutionally granted to Congress. There are counterarguments to these concerns, but when one begins adding clumps of House Republicans to over 150 avowed Democratic opponents of TPA, the numbers get more worrying (the Senate is less of a concern).

The other unforeseen obstacle has been the push to link enforceable currency measures to trade agreements. At a time when there is little bipartisan agreement on anything in Congress, 60 members of the Senate and a majority of the House have signed letters calling for the inclusion of provisions for currency. (See an argument in favor by former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt here, and my arguments against here.) The idea is sufficiently troubling to the country's trading partners that it drew a quick rebuke from Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast. But Canadian opposition may not prove decisive as the Obama administration tries to coax TPA out of Congress.

To date, the administration has done so by engaging in quiet discussions and increasingly urgent musings about how nice it would be to have TPA. This approach has left it to congressional leaders, such as Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chairman Camp, to work out the details of a deal. There have been active efforts to do so -- and missed deadlines -- at least since June. That's why it was so notable last week when Camp publicly called for the administration to do more and flagged the currency issue as particularly problematic.

So far, the 11 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the United States have been willing to accept assurances that U.S. negotiating authority would be forthcoming. As those talks are supposed to be moving into their final stages, however, either the administration needs to figure out how to deliver a belated TPA deal, or it may find itself talking to empty chairs.

Photo: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

Shadow Government

How Big An Army?

The unified front put forward in the budget debate by the military services is cracking.  It was inevitable: When money gets really tight, trade-offs have to be made and those trade-offs will create winners and losers among the services. A year ago, the service chiefs were extolling the camaraderie amongst themselves; now they are beginning to challenge the distribution of budget shares.

The Army is in the proverbial gunsight, for several reasons. First, Congress has gotten serious about debt reduction. Second, the wars are drawing to a close. Third, the difficulty of fighting those wars with large land armies has exhausted public -- and therefore political -- willingness to handle current and future threats by those means. Fourth, there is a public sense that either the threat that has galvanized our national security establishment since 9/11 is lessening or our ability to manage it has increased to a comfortable level (something reinforced by the head of the FBI in yesterday's congressional testimony). Fifth, the administration is choosing to address the terrorist threat by stand-off means (drone strikes, training local forces) in Yemen and other very dangerous places. Sixth, the Marine Corps will (as usual) get a pass because they so adroitly argue they're the nation's 9/11 force (as a soldier of my acquaintance argues, the Army brings a spoon to the budget fights, the Marine Corps brings a knife) and so unflinchingly make do with what they get.

And seventh, sad to say, the Army has done a dismal job of justifying their preferred end-strength of 490,000 active duty soldiers. The number is suspiciously near the size of the Army in the 1990s, before advances in information technology enabled our dramatically heightened situational awareness, persistent surveillance, and precision strike from beyond the enemy's visibility -- changes that a former commandant of the Marine Corps said gave a battalion the firepower of a brigade. And even with that end-strength, General Odierno now says the Army will be incapable of fighting even one war because of cuts to training and equipment. 

As Micah Zenko pointed out in his insightful piece on myths the military are propagating, the Army's argument is that (1) we're terrible at predicting the future, but (2) we know it will require large land armies. 

Their rebuttal of critics has consisted mostly of saying anyone who doesn't support 490,000 doesn't know history. Not only does the Korean War's Task Force Smith (in which the Army deployed an unready force that took high casualties and failed in its mission) figure prominently, but so does their current evaluation that 530,000 soldiers would be needed to occupy North Korea should that tyrannical regime collapse. But their own war games show it would take on order of five months for that force to arrive, rather defeating the purpose of sending it.  

Nowhere evident is an intellectual ferment about how to capitalize on technology and operational experience to find new and less manpower intensive ways of countering our enemies. Nowhere evident is the kind of conceptual development that melds a joint force -- our signature dominance over other militaries -- to greater effect. The Army's advocates talk as though sooner or later every military engagement results in the commitment of large ground forces. It's actually not true: That's a political and strategic choice, not a law of nature. And it's even less true as our range of military capabilities expands thanks to technology and operational innovation. 

Breaking Defense today reports an interview with MG Snow, the Army's director of strategy, plans and policy, in which he derides Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Sandy Winnifeld for stating that the Army won't fight large wars. The article quotes Snow: "It's not his call, though...That future security environment... is going to require a suite of capabilities. OK, so Admiral Winnefeld, he certainly has got his thoughts, [and] in many cases, if you view the threat as things that can be addressed by technology, that leads you in a particular direction. [But] technology is not going to solve all of our problems in the future."

It's an aggressive tactical move, an admirable reflex in a soldier, but in this case wrong.  Because it's not Admiral Winnifeld that has determined in these austere times the place to accept risk is in the size of the active-duty Army. The president of the United States made that decision. Winnifeld's statement was paraphrasing the president's guidance to the Department of Defense. That presidential guidance has been incorporated into Department of Defense planning documents under both of the last two secretaries: Secretary Panetta's January 2013 defense guidance for the budget and Secretary Hagel's recently concluded strategic choices management review. The truth is that if the Pentagon really budgeted to the president's strategy, the Army would take an enormous cut, probably far beyond what the White House, the Pentagon or the Congress would be willing to actually administer. 

Rather than validating the end strength, the Army's approach seems to have caused Secretary Hagel to question the force-planning constructs that produce such large numbers as "requirements." The secretary has now identified revisiting those as one of his top priorities.  In what should be heard ominously by the Army, Hagel in his CSIS speech, said "We must make sure that contingency scenarios drive force structure decisions, and not the other way around." Hagel has also signaled an Army end-strength of 420,000 is under consideration. The Army looks set to lose the budget battle. And the reason is that they have lost the battle of ideas.

MARIO TAMA/AFP/Getty Images