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Et Tu, CNAS?

4:23 PM, Feb 14, 2011 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
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The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was founded to the sound of many hosannas in 2007. The organization was the brainchild of Kurt Campbell, now the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, and Michele Flournoy, who is now deputy secretary of defense and often mentioned as a potential successor to Robert Gates at the Pentagon. They day-to-day operations of CNAS used to be in the capable hands of Jim Miller, currently principal undersecretary of defense for policy. CNAS also provided a good number of lesser bodies to the Obama administration and the Defense Department.

Et Tu, CNAS?

While Campbell, Flournoy, and Miller had solid reputations as “responsible” and “moderate” Democrats (the first object of CNAS’s attention was the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign), since their departure, CNAS has more frequently put the accent on the “New” part of its name. Under the new management of John Nagl and Nate Fick, CNAS first became the home of the counterinsurgency “COINdinistas” but has also been in the forefront on issues like “natural security” – that is, security the way environmentalists would think about it – and “energy security” – including how the Navy can get better gas mileage – and “soft power” in all its various manifestations.

In its infrequent work on more traditional military issues such as defense strategy and budgets or weapons programs, CNAS has tended to adhere to an analytical approach. But its just-released report on the 2012 Pentagon budget – “The Sacrifice Ahead” – comes from the heart of the Rand Paul-Barney Frank corner of the cosmos.  Fearing that the “cost of servicing the [national] debt could…put pressure on investments in America’s soft power” – yikes, the AID budget is at risk! – the study calls on the military to man up (emphasis added): “[A] base reduction of approximately 10-15 percent of the [future years defense plan] could serve as a useful benchmark because it corresponds with DoD’s approximate share of total federal spending and thus its burden of responsibility in contributing to deficit reduction.”

Where to begin with such a rationale? It certainly is as pure an expression of “everything-on-the-table” thinking as can be imagined; CNAS will brook no changes in the federal government’s priorities. (And that, in turn, is what the Obama budget intends: let’s lock in the “gains” in domestic discretionary spending and entitlements, like the health care plan, of the last two years.) But it’s also a pretty perverse reading of the military’s “burden of responsibility.” Asking soldiers and Marines to add “balancing Uncle Sam’s books” to “win in Iraq and Afghanistan” seems like a stretch. The battlefield is burden enough.

The report’s economics are also ludicrous. A 10 percent cut in defense spending would be, taking the Obama administration’s 2012 request as baseline, $55 billion. That’s a lot of money, but a piddling amount in a $3.7 trillion federal budget – and another $1-trillion-plus annual deficit – and a $15 trillion economy. If an $800 billion stimulus couldn’t “shore up the U.S. economy,” let alone create job growth, it’s hard to imagine how another $55 billion will have an appreciable difference.

The U.S. military already has made an enormous budgetary, strength and modernization sacrifice: the loss of a third or more of its force and a generation of new weapons systems after the end of the Cold War. These have also been the years when they have been called upon to make much greater sacrifices in blood. A cutting 10 to 15 percent from the military’s at-war budgets is hardly a “moderate” approach, even less a “responsible” one.

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