I enjoyed Arthur Herman's romp through the Scottish Enlightenment and his book on the Royal Navy, though derivative, was a breezy read. But this piece for Commentary is truly bizarre: according to Herman, you see, Barack Obama and Bob Gates are preparing to throw away American military supremacy.
Yes, really. Despite the reality of a $685bn budget this year, Herman's piece is headlined "The Re-Hollowing of the Military". Herman acknowledges that a 3% increase in the Pentagon's budget this year makes sustaining this argument a pretty tricky proposition. Thankfully he's up to it, complaining for instance that "While military personnel costs for FY 2010 are up 5 percent in the new budget, weapons procurement—the lifeblood of any plan to modernize the military—is down nearly 2 percent." This conveniently ignores the fact that procurement expenditure is due to rise from $100bn (in 2009) to $112bn in 2011 (according to the proposals submitted by OMB anyway). Some decline! Total defence spending will increase to $714bn next year.
None of that seems to matter. Because when Gates warns that defence budgets cannot increase every year forever he's giving succour to America's enemies. When he limits production of the F-22 to "only" 186 planes he's letting the Chinese have a chance of challenging American air superiority. Even America's overwhelming nuclear advantage is in danger of being frittered away. And so on and so on.
Herman's solution? Double the defence budget. Yes, really:
Indeed, from a historical perspective and contrary to conventional wisdom, today’s Pentagon is sharply underfunded, both in terms of its share of the federal budget and in terms of the economy.
Spending currently hovers just below 4 percent of GDP—compared with 6 percent during the Reagan buildup of the 80s and even 4.7 percent during the supposedly pacifist Carter years. As for the defense budgets that Gates professes to admire most, the Eisenhower budgets of the post-Korea years averaged 10 percent of GDP, which means current spending should be at least twice what it is today.
And to everyone’s surprise, America’s declining power of deterrence actually led to more missions for our military rather than to fewer. It was no coincidence that the shrinkage of the American military by land, sea, and air in the early 1990s was followed by the growth of an unstable post–Cold War world, from the Balkans to Rwanda, and from Somalia to Afghanistan.
Herman, who also suggests that Gates was partially responsible for the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks (because of cuts to the CIA during the George HW Bush administration) finishes with a dark warning that is, in its way, authorisation for moral and fiscal blackmail:
In the end, there remains only one alternative: to shrink the mission. If you want to see the results of a shrinking CIA budget and mission, visit lower Manhattan. What might follow from Gates’s career-capping years at the Obama Pentagon could make Ground Zero look like a war game.