Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is America the Indispensable Nation?

This article first appeared on The Epoch Times    

     President Obama firmly asserted that America is the indispensable nation to CBS's Steve Kroft.  "That's always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world. And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don't call Beijing. They don't call Moscow. They call us," the president stated.  Saying that, how is America to continue this trend in the face of a seemingly insurmountable deficit, sequestration, and domestic political instability?  Can America really continue to be the indispensable nation?

     The United States has currently engaged in a new military campaign in the Middle East, contrary to 2008 candidate Obama.  Some estimated the initial daily military actions in Iraq and Syria are costing between $7 and $10 million dollars a day while the Pentagon estimated overall efforts from June until early October have cost $1.1 billion.  Despite the fact these numbers are significantly lower than those in Afghanistan and Iraq at the peaks of both wars, are these dollar amounts really sustainable for the foreseeable future?

     Currently, the Pentagon is funding its actions out of the Overseas Contingency Operations or OCO budget, also referred to as the "war" budget.  Many in Congress wanted to cut the OCO budget as some described it as a "slush fund."  Money from previous budgets has already been allocated to OCO but the renewed military incursion into Iraq and Syria will surely stir a renewed debate over the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA and spending levels.  Marcus Weisgerber reported that Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work provided three possible options for the OCO budget going forward: "Move the money into the base budget and increase the Pentagon’s top line budget cap; Move the money into the base budget and don’t increase the top line, a move Work said 'really constrains us;' or Allow the OCO account to remain 'and we’ll establish the rules to do it.'"  Weisgerber also reported that operations in Iraq and Syria could cost up to $15 to $20 million per year.

     Military officials including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have already asked Congress for more funding, though while such officials will always request more funds, under current sequestration models, current funding will be inadequate for the missions being undertaken.

     Recently, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno stated that previous 2012 estimates of 490,000 active duty troops that would suffice in a "post-Afghan War world" are no longer enough.  Odierno cited a rapidly changing world that includes the Islamic State, Russian aggression, and other instability for a reassessment of overall troop levels.  President Obama also deployed up to 3,000 soldiers to be accompanied by $500 million dollars in aid to Africa in an effort to fight an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

     One of the most detrimental side effects of the Afghan and Iraq Wars was the toll on the American economy, specifically the deficit.  Both wars were funded on a credit card, without any taxpayer assistance.  President Obama is running the risk of making this mistake again as now, more than ever, Americans do not want to see their taxes go up, especially to fight in another Middle Eastern war.

     War is supposed to be a difficult venture.  Though, as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow describes in her 2012 book, "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power", war has become easier to wage and has had less of an effect on the American public as a whole starting with the Vietnam era.  Maddow contends that President Johnson "was trying to thread a new and difficult needle: taking the nation's armed forces to war without taking the nation as a whole to war."  Maddow continued by writing that Johnson refused to call up the reserves despite the reserves being called up in every other armed conflict that involved the US.  World War II saw the entire nation rallying behind the troops with the draft and factory workers producing weapons, vehicles, and other necessary tools of war.  While the World War II generation is coined the Greatest Generation, Maddow's overall point(s) is that war should be difficult, the entire nation should feel it, and it should not be up to just the executive to make this decision. 

     Americans do have a stake in the game as their fellow citizens are going abroad to fight and die.  Aaron David Miller, Distinguished Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, expresses a similar sentiment in his new book, "The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President."  According to Miller, in order to forge another great president, there will have to be another national crisis under which the American people will also have to make great sacrifices to get the nation back on track.  It seems as though the willingness to make the American sacrifice today has disappeared.
     According to Gerald Seib, Wall Street Journal Washington bureau chief, Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling indicated that the beheadings of two American journalists by the Islamic State caught more of America's attention than any single event in the last five years, even more so than the Trayvon Martin murder.  Sieb stated it was the biggest event since 9/11 among the American public according to polling and as a result, US retaliatory action is popular among most Americans.  Americans support air strikes generally, but do not support ground troops.  The big question is, are Americans willing to pay for the air strikes?  The first night the US struck inside Syria, it fired 47 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to the tune of about $1.5 million a piece.  Americans must come to terms with the fact that taxes will likely have to go up marginally in order to help dig America out of the hole it is in, which is somewhat of a paradoxical notion seeing as the economy is so bad and many Americans do not have such spending capabilities currently.   

     Domestic political instability has also tarnished the reputation of the United States.  Political gridlock and fiscal gambling has contributed to poorer credit ratings and feelings of distrust as Congress has continued to use the global financial standing of the US as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.  Such stalemating is what forced sequestration - as written into the Budget Control Act of 2011 - in the first place.

     In a refreshing soliloquy of agitation over thirteen years of war with no end in sight, Vermont Independent and potential 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders lamented on cable television after President Obama's address to the nation on military strikes in Syria, that the United States deserves attention or a pivot of resources.  "There is no question, ISIS is a dangerous and brutal organization, and they have got to be stopped.  But I'll tell you what I'm a little worried about.  This country today, in terms of a collapsing middle class, more people living in poverty than ever before in the history of this country, growing wealth and income inequality - you know what, we have enormous domestic issues, we have crises right here that cannot be ignored," Sanders stated.  Sanders reminds viewers that there is a widening wage and income gap in America, and this must not be pushed aside in the pursuit of remaining the world's superpower - it cannot be pushed aside if America wants to remain the world's superpower.            

     America has a long history as an indispensable resource for humanitarian, monetary, and military aid to much of the world.  However, domestic constraints may hinder its ability to continue to be a global provider.  If the United States wants to continue to deserve this moniker, Congress will have to stop the partisanship, the American people will have to make some sacrifices, and the president will have to use discretion on when and where to deploy military resources.              

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