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Whatever Ashton Carter's Views on War Are, He Should Stick to the Pentagon Budget

December 3, 2014 in Economics

By Christopher A. Preble

Christopher A. Preble

The White House has apparently settled on Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, after other leading candidates withdrew their names from consideration. It can never be a pleasant experience to come into a new job with the baggage of everyone knowing that you were the third or fourth best choice for the position. But that is the least of Carter’s challenges.

He will be expected to manage several ongoing wars, at a time when the public wants to kill bad guys without necessarily using U.S. ground troops to do it. Carter must also oversee numerous major new and costly weapons programs (especially nuclear weapons) in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. The Pentagon’s base budget (excluding the costs of the wars) remains near historic highs in inflation-adjusted terms, and personnel expenses are likely to remain high despite some reductions in the numbers of men and women serving in uniform. The just-released draft budget implements modest cost controls, but the Military Times reports that these “are likely to irritate outside advocates who pushed against any pay and benefits cuts.” Absent significant reform, military pay and benefits will place additional downward pressure on both new weapon R&D and normal operations and maintenance.

On top of all this, the rancor surrounding Hagel’s departure has shone new light on the White House’s tendency to micromanage foreign policy from the West Wing. It is reasonable to ask, “Why would anyone want this job?”

One hopes that experience has taught Dempsey, even if others have failed to grasp it, that the U.S. military is ill-suited to fix Iraq and Syria’s broken politics, the true source of the Islamic State’s strength.”

On the surface, Carter is well-positioned to lead the world’s largest bureaucracy despite all of these challenges. He has arguably been training for the job for well over two decades. He served in the Pentagon during Bill Clinton’s first term, and had been studying security issues going back at least to the 1980s. He has therefore won early praise from the Wall Street Journal’s editors for being an experienced “technocrat” who can hit the ground running.

Carter is also presumed to be sufficiently hawkish to satisfy pro-war pundits — or at least more hawkish than Hagel, who was excoriated during a brutal nomination battle for daring to question whether the Iraq war was such a good idea and for seeming …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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