1:45 PM, Jul 16, 2014 • By ROGER ZAKHEIM
This week senior officials from the Pentagon will testify before Congress on their request for emergency appropriations, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations funding (OCO in military speak). A decision to maintain troop presence in Afghanistan, a resurgence of radical Sunni terrorism across the Middle east, and Russian expansionism in Europe all seem like good reasons for the administration to request the emergency funding. These events, however, haven’t prevented some proponents of defense cuts to question the validity of the request.
To be sure, the OCO request for the Defense Department is $58.6 billion—a substantial sum of money. Yet, it is 31 percent less than last year’s war funding bill reflecting the substantial reduction in U.S. forces planned for the next two years. This sharp decline in war funding hasn’t mollified critics who argue the request is too high because the funding doesn’t keep pace with troop levels, which will drop by 56 percent between this fiscal year and the next. This has led some to conclude that the OCO request is funded beyond what is strictly necessary for Afghanistan and related operations.
This argument is specious. To start, the baseline numbers aren’t equal. If you put aside the new counterterrorism fund ($4B) and the emergency fund for Europe to counter Russian aggression ($1B)—both first time requests and unrelated to Afghanistan—then the OCO request is actually 36 percent less than what was enacted for this year. So, the difference between percentage decline in troop levels and the percentage decline in OCO funding is twenty percent.
There are a number of reasons that explain the twenty percent difference.
Foremost, the need to reset the force after 13 years of conflict. Few want to admit that the OCO has historically been underfunded. In the past, the OCO has not prioritized the reset of equipment. Simply paying the operations and maintenance costs of the deployed troops was all the executive branch could afford or was willing to ask of Congress. With sequestration caps staying in place for the foreseeable future the OCO is the only account that can replace the platforms chewed up in wartime operations. This explains why procurement funding in the OCO is roughly the same as last year—there is a huge reset bill that will take years to pay. Contrary to noise out there the procurement funding makes up less than ten percent of the total request. The OCO request is hardly outfitting new brigades, squadrons or fleets with these funds.
This leads to a more basic point about the dual purpose of OCO: to fund the current fight and to replace the equipment lost in the fight. Congress should scrutinize the requests, but as long as there is a nexus to reset it is legitimate to be included in the OCO request. So when some criticize the OCO for funding programs that do not feature strongly in the military’s vision of the future, but concede their importance to the war in Afghanistan, they implicitly acknowledges that the OCO request is tied to real war-time needs and not funding priorities that otherwise belong in the peace time budget. In other words, the war funding request is playing by the rules.
Another cost driver unique to this year’s war funding measure is the bill for redeploying. Military leaders have consistently testified that redeploying forces, retrograde of equipment and closing facilities and bases in Afghanistan is a costly endeavor. So, redeployment costs inevitably drive up the ratio of OCO dollars per soldier. Congress should also keep in mind that some costs of keeping forces in theater are fixed and apply whether the force is sixty thousand or ten thousand. So as forces go down, not all war costs realize a commensurate decline.
Finally, making this a discussion of only numbers really misses the point. Should it matter that the decline in OCO funding isn't steep enough? In an environment where almost every senior military leader is blue in the face warning of the significant risk to our security posed by sequestration's budget caps it seems entirely appropriate to use the OCO to mitigate that risk. Waiving the banner of budget purity and pointing to the peacetime budget as the more appropriate funding mechanism to address shortfalls smacks of rigid budget ideology blind to reality.
4:45 PM, Jul 9, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama announced the resignation of National Counterterrorism Center director Matt Olsen.
"Most Americans may not know Matt Olsen’s name, but every American is safer because of his service," says Obama in a prepared statement.
7:01 AM, Jun 5, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Addressing a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum earlier this week, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers detailed a laundry list of national security threats that the United States faces today, the American Forces Press Services reports, including:
8:19 AM, Jun 2, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Former Obama administration national security official Michael Leiter called the release of five top Taliban leaders from Gitmo a "big win" for the Taliban:
11:42 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
A video of a large al Qaeda gathering in Yemen has raised eyebrows in the press. Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as well as general manager of al Qaeda’s global network, can be heard saying to a crowd of more than 100: "We must eliminate the cross. ... The bearer of the cross is America!"
10:22 AM, Apr 9, 2014 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
My review of former top CIA lawyer John Rizzo’s book Company Man appears in the current issue of this magazine. A friend in a high place who read the review pointed out to me that the book adds something significant to our understanding of the Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby, Richard Armitage, Judith Miller, Robert Novak imbroglio.
3:47 PM, Mar 1, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A White House official emailed some reporters to say that President Obama's team met today to discuss the ongoing situation on Ukraine. It appears President Obama did not attend.
"The President's national security team met today to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine and discuss potential policy options. We will provide further updates later this afternoon," reads the full statement.
10:24 AM, Feb 25, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Dick Cheney ripped President Obama's defense drawdown in a phone conversation with Sean Hannity:
"They’re basically making the decision in the Obama administration that they no longer want to be dominant on the seas and in skies and space," says Cheney.
"The fact of the matter is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise."
11:11 AM, Feb 3, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Al Qaeda is not on the run. And John Kerry, according to a report in Bloomberg, is finally admitting it.
"[T]he al-Qaeda threat is real, it is getting out of hand,” Kerry told a delegation.
It's in stark contrast to President Obama's repeated claims. “A day after 9/11, we are reminded that a new tower rises above the New York skyline, but al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and bin Laden is dead,” Obama said in the run up to his reelection in 2012.
9:01 AM, Feb 3, 2014 • By GARY SCHMITT
In the immediate days leading up to President Obama’s January 17 speech on the National Security Agency, news stories and leaks from the White House suggested the president would largely ignore the set of overhauls that had been put forward by his own presidential review panel—Peter Baker’s New York Times front-page story, “Obama’s Path from Critic to Overseer of Spying,” is a good example. But then the president gave his speech and, while the changes he offered up were not as radical as the panel’s recommendations, he did go farther than the pre-speech spin stories led you to believe by requiring each and every search of the NSA database to have judicial approval, which is a major modification to the program.
11:13 AM, Jan 24, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a little noticed interview President Obama did with German media last weekend, he defended his positioning on the NSA by saying, "I am one figure, one man in this broader process."
Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By GARY SCHMITT
In the wake of all the “leaks” by Edward Snowden of the National Security Agency’s collection programs and the resulting debate over those programs, one constantly hears from elected officials and the commentariat about the need to strike the right balance between privacy and security. More often than not, this is followed by a suggestion that, as a country, since 9/11, we haven’t.
The NSA on trial.Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By GARY SCHMITT
Not that long ago, one could assume that a judge with an activist approach to interpreting the Constitution was probably left-of-center politically and, accordingly, believed that overturning precedents was often necessary in order to make the Constitution relevant to present issues and alive to evolving democratic mores.
3:01 PM, Dec 21, 2013 • By GARY SCHMITT
When the “President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology” issued its report (Liberty and Security in a Changing World) this past week, an honest and objective newspaper headline the next day would have read: “Rogue Panel Reports on Non-Rogue NSA Program.”
12:20 PM, Dec 11, 2013 • By ROGER I. ZAKHEIM and THOMAS DONNELLY
A future historian would describe the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) as having a profound effect on the United States. The BCA, he would write, was a critical step toward making America into a social democracy while ensuring its decline as a global military power. He would conclude that the law transformed the U.S. government into an entitlements agency that occasionally paved a road or killed a terrorist.