April 25th, 2011
05:20 PM ET

What in the World? The military's secret plan...to shrink

An article written under the pseudonym Mr. Y. grabbed my attention this week. The article has a bold thesis, even more surprising given who the mysterious Mr. Y turns out to be.

It argues that the United States has embraced an entirely wrong set of priorities, particularly with regard to its federal budget. We have overreacted to Islamic extremism. We have pursued military solutions instead of political ones.

Y says we are underinvesting in the real sources of national power - our youth, our infrastructure and our economy. The United States sees the world through the lens of threats, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world. Y says that above all we must invest in our children.  Only by educating them properly will we ensure our ability to compete in the future.

Y also argues that we need to move from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence.

Y goes on to say that we shouldn't even talk about national security as we have for the past 60 years; we should be talking about national prosperity and security.

Now, I think this is very smart stuff for the new world we're entering in, but it's important and influential in particular, given the source. This article arguing we need to rely less on our military comes, in fact, from the highest echelons of the Pentagon.

Mr. Y is actually two people, both top-ranking members of Admiral Mike Mullen's team, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are Captain Wayne Porter of the U.S. Navy and Colonel Mark Mykleby of the Marine Corps. It's likely that the essay had some official sanction, which means that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or perhaps even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had seen it and did not stop its publication.

So why did the authors call themselves Mr. Y? It's a play on a seminal essay from Foreign Affairs magazine more than five decades ago. The title was "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," and it was signed simply X. The author turned out to be the American diplomat George Kennan, and the article turned out to have perhaps the greatest influence on American foreign policy in the second half of the 20th century.

It set out the policy of containment, that if we contain the Soviet Union, countering its influence, eventually the internal contradictions of the Soviet system would trigger its collapse, and it worked. But Porter and Mykleby say the basic approach, a massive military to deter the Soviets, a quasi-imperial policy to counter Soviet influence all over the world, is still in place and is outmoded and outdated. They call their policy proposal sustainment, and they hope it just might be the policy that will carry us forward for the next 50 years.

Mr. Y is hoping to be the next X - to set the new tone of Washington strategy. Will that happen?

Well, the term "sustainment" is silly, but the ideas behind it are not.

Washington needs to make sure that the United States does not fall into the imperial trap of every other superpower in history, spending greater and greater time and money and energy stabilizing disorderly parts of the world on the periphery, while at the core its own industrial and economic might is waning.

We have to recognize that fixing America's fiscal problems - paring back the budget busters like entitlements and also defense spending - making the economy competitive, dealing with immigration and outlining a serious plan for energy use are the best strategies to stay a superpower, not going around killing a few tribal leaders in the remote valleys and hills of Afghanistan.

Take a look a the report and then, if you feel so moved, write your congressperson about it here.

And let us know in the poll below whether you think the U.S. should substantially reduce its military expenditures to decrease the deficit and/or allocate money to other priorities.

As always, you can reach me through Facebook and Twitter.

soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. Andrew

    The problem I have with defense spending is not that it makes our military bigger and better BUT rather because the REASON for the spending is to fill the pockets of far cats in the defense industry, contractors, politicians etc!!!
    There have been so much waste on some programs that it makes the mind boggles!!!
    The truth is we can have the same awesome military for half of what we spend!!!
    The other half is bascially spent to enrich others w/o a single benefit to the military personnel or even weapon systems.
    We don't need to cut the speding per se.. we just need to spent it wisely and efficiently.... the "cuts" will happen automatically.

    April 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  2. Peak everything

    Don't you think its a little to late. We've been in Afghanistan, the grave yard of empires, for over 10 years. Theres no turning back, the US will be brought to its knees.

    April 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  3. XIII

    Been saying this since the 70s. Yes the 70s. Really though, not askingthe military to go away, just to manage itself better and take some of teh savings and get the schools up to par with some of the more educated parts of the world.

    April 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  4. nunitak

    Which do you prefer? Greatest good for the greatest number (within your limits) or the doomsday button? Everything seems to be in between these extremes. But I like to consider the former quite often in my life decisions, and I am certain it would lead to the greatest planetary progress if applied by all, even working within personal limits. The alternative is HARMFUL... Too many little doomsday buttons and look at who is in charge of some of them.

    So, I am NOT QUITE against the military and I am myself a former military person, but I think USA spends too much there, missing vital priorities like R&D for energy sector, education for gifted (notice that said 'gifted' not 'rich' and we need to work on efficient mass transit and more private and public gardens, helping baby and other similar harmless and beneficial endeavors. The Final Crunch will be between those who want the Economic System to enslave and those who want it to SERVE ALL. A huge battle is shaping up in which the former will lose everything, including their eternal destinies if they do not repent.

    World policing should be a regional function and should be guided by the understanding that evolution cannot be forced, but starts with scaffolding that rises from ground levels. Civilization does not make the man, man makes the civilization, and the places where there is no decent public education will remain in the pits.

    But the places where education is a special privilege reserved to the few will do only slightly better while prolonging world agony and suffering.

    The right priorities are the ones which best sustain the nation with good health for all as well as liberty and justice for all, and right now the military budget is too big. By the way, when militaries are the right size, they tend to be used more for defense than for offense...

    Any tamping down in various places should be done by agreement, as wide as possible.

    I think people can work together if they try.

    April 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Reply
  5. Gridlock

    I would also stop dumping money into Africa except to gain harvestable resources and protect the Boers.
    The USA has dumped over 6 trillion in trying to civilize, educate, and control African-Americans and frankly we've been continually betrayed for our generosity. Stop dumping money into Israel. Israel has betrayed the USA by regular MOSSAD spying at every turn (nuke secrets to the USSR as the most infamous example) for decades and certainly is too rich to be worthy of any "Aid". Stop importing incompetent immigrants. We don't need more immigrant burdens and failures in the USA, only tolerate immigrants if their IQ is over 130 and they speak English. Don't allow any further Islamic immigrants (they hate the USA) or black African immigrants (they hate the USA and have historically cost the USA 85% more than they ever return) or Hispanic immigrants (highest historical criminality rate for the past 100 years which cost 95% over any USA profit returned) ever again for any reason. Stop importing dangerous violent incompetent burdens into our borders.

    Make it so that any politician spending the public's money has to risk at minimum 30% of their personal savings + income + investments for any spending bill. If the spending bill rewards the USA in 5 years, then the politician gets their money back + 5% interest. If it fails to reward the USA, then the politician loses that 30% permanently and that money is equally redistributed to the USA taxpayers. No more blank-check spending for the politicians. They risk our money foolishly, they lose 30% of their money permanently.

    April 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • seraphim0

      Careful... your racism is showing.
      Additionally... your ideas for risking the savings of politicians, although potentially emotionally satisfying for some members of the public are none the less ridiculous and laughable at best. They also wouldnt work in this two party system of ours- at all- even if one were to try to stretch the imagination to make such a situation feasible.

      April 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • Rationality

      Obvious troll is obvious.

      April 27, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  6. MichaelEdits

    We can keep spending on the military the way we do now, just like the USSR was doing when it collapsed, or we can think of something better. I no longer care which we choose. I just wish we'd stop with all the killing.

    April 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  7. Rick

    MichaelEdits – Your last ten words surmise my sentiments exactly. My tuppence worth follows, (for what little my opinion's worth in this or any other forum, as it appears popular public opinion is conveniently overlooked by virtually any government once elected). I simply can not comprehend how the US, UK and other allied powers that be consider continual warmongering in sovereign countries to be beneficial for any party concerned. However, whilst I realise that this is not exactly a new state of affairs, I do not mean historic or established areas of conflict, but the new wars that we seem to ingratiate ourselves with with seemingly alarming frequency. The countries with our shared values should work towards a strong, stable defensive military pact – much as NATO should be – and operations be limited only to humanitarian and interventionist missions. If an offensive operation is deemed necessary it should only be carried out under a clear mandate from the UN – with all troops wearing blue berets and therefore not representative of a particular religion, ideology or nation. Surely every country has better things to spend their taxpayer receipts on than sending their youngest generations overseas to fight and die? Why embitter and enrage the local populace in these places and then attempt to portray ourselves as shining examples to be emulated? What beacons we are for the World with our democratically elected, altruistic, responsible, incorruptible and educated governments... Me, cynical? Never... (Before I'm trolled for being a peace loving hippy, I'd like to point out that I served the best part of a decade in Her Majesty's Forces – most of it operational. I volunteered to give to my country, not to be abused by politicians as a projection of power to install friendly, puppet regimes into virtually defenceless resource rich regions. Maybe if some of the savings in general military expenditure were spent on technological R&D in energy then hundreds of thousands of troops could return home as opposed to being stuck in yet another sandy sh**hole.)

    April 27, 2011 at 1:59 am | Reply
  8. Butters

    I agree with most of you, spending is out of control, and should be focused on education and our infrastructure etc… But get a grip; do you honestly think that by you turning off your security service in your house that you will actually save money? You would probably spend it on something you don’t need. And at the same time run the risk of whatever you bought with your new found money being stolen because you turned off your security instead of cutting back on drinking.

    You want to lower Government spending, got it; but cutting the best thing about our government is not going to help. The Military is used to protect our Nation’s borders, and its national interest.... So here I am a simple person, but knowing all too well that as a nation we do not really produce anything, it's mostly imported from foreign countries. So what would happen to an economy that has a huge demand (but imports everything) all of a sudden loses its supply? And let’s just say it’s not one thing, maybe its several because not only is the place the supplies come from affected, but the entire region is. Then what? What happens to an economy that cannot operate because its demand cannot be met? Honestly, and this is of course a personal opinion, you send the military to ease civil unrest, and bring a sense of security to the region (ever wonder why the military is only sent to certain places?). This way we as a nation can continue on with normal lives and have all the things we take for granted. Oh and since we are a free country, lets criticize the people we elected who sent the military to these places to secure our demands because sending Soldiers to war is better than telling you “sorry the container is empty” .... Very easy for us fat lazy Americans to sit on our couches, in our nice homes, with our nice cars, and civil liberties to enjoy the fruits of impoverished war torn countries. What price it too great for you to live a comfortable life? What? You say you pay too much every day, every year? Well did you ever stop to think what price the Government pays for you to live like that? Man, maybe if we stopped over spending, then….. Naaaaa

    So yes, cut spending on the military, I am all for it, as soon as we 1. Start producing our own supply and minimize our foreign (interests) demands and 2. We are able to egress out of these countries without repercussions. I cannot believe some of you still think this nation is invincible.

    Oh hey by the way to the idiot with the remarks about the immigrants, they are coming from these exact countries I am talking about… They are following their exports, yes the exact ones you are surrounded by and get to enjoy on a daily basis; they want those same civil liberties we enjoy, and minimum wage hell, that’s one year’s salary where they come from. You want them gone, lol, who will harvest America? Who is going to work at all of the places Americans refuse to work? You? Your kids? You probably don’t know the meaning of physical labor; you just enjoy what it can do for you, and when it’s no more, and they are all gone you will be the first to complain…. Funny you didn’t know everyone in this country is an immigrant!! Freakin loser

    April 27, 2011 at 10:44 am | Reply
    • Soulcatcher

      Why don't we just amalgamate with China? Call it USAC or CUSA. Take the best of both worlds and move on. Both countries I think would benefit. I'm not saying USA adopt Communism and China Democracy, but maybe there is a middle ground?

      April 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  9. GenB

    I think we should limit our current military and focus our shrinking funds on our children and vets.

    April 27, 2011 at 10:58 am | Reply
  10. KDoyle

    "An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere."

    April 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
    • Carey

      His hairstyle and nelgth of hair on video of interview and at the time he got passport is the same. So is his dress, same shirt, same necktie. I would guess the video was made on the same day.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  11. Z

    By the way, the priority suggested by Mr. Y is exactly what China has been pursuing for more than 20 years. See what happened.

    April 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  12. Paradise

    I want our country ( Washington) to get back to making the hard decisions that are good for all of our people .Our young people and children are the future. We have lost our focus and can not seem to work together . This article gives me some hope for change.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:08 am | Reply
  13. Diplomacy

    Military force should be a means of last resort. It is but one tool in the large tool box of state craft. If we use force where diplomacy could do the job instead, in the end, we will lose. The application of force is expensive, and will ultimately contribute to our bankruptcy as a nation.

    Our strategic competitors couldn't have devised a more cleaver plan for our demise, than we have already done ourselves.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:26 am | Reply
  14. Divine Being

    Wow! Someone in Washington has finally gotten it!!! I just hope our leaders see this and try to follow it exactly. I whole heartedly agree with Y on all accounts. Our military spending is out of control. I know some wars are necessary and there are humans suffering because of their governments enslaving and abusing them. I agree with helping them, no human should ever be treated that way and should be free, free to speak their own minds and make their own decisions. I understood taking it to the terrorists after 911, although a little mis-guided, it was necessary and something had to be done after an attack like that. But damn! All the spending we're doing because of the threats of a few men. WTF!!!! Yes they are terrorists and hate America, but it is a small group making threats and we send our entire military forces after them!! How crazy is that?? If I made threats to, say GE, and sent videos telling of how I was going to destroy them, would they pour billions of dollars into sending people to get me?? Hell no. I'm just a person and not a threat. They'd entrust in their security to protect them. But yet, we do. We pour billions in to chasing these few nobodies that have made threats against us. We've showed everyone we will strike back if they strike at us. Everyone knows this now! Why can't we entrust in our defenses, that if, these pieces of $^&* do try to attack us, our military will be there to defend it and stop any attacks. We have no faith in them at all, so we take the fight all across the globe. Losing so many lives and bankrupting our country. It needs to stop and we need to believe in our military as a defense mechanism and not a global killing machine. We need to stop trying to enforce our beliefs on every other nation. Some don't want to live by our belief. Let them grow and mature as a nation. We had many battles within our country before we got to where we stood as one. Let them find their own way. If it's not affecting us, let them sort it out on their own and become what they become. Back out of everyone else's wars and focus on our own country. We need to rebuild, we need to take care of the poor, sick, and indigent in our own nation. We send billions and billions in aid monies to so many other countries and we have millions in our own that are suffering just as bad. How can we overlook them and think helping other nations before our own is good. Our leaders need to take a good hard look at what they've created and see where it's gone terribly wrong. Our country has so many suffering and all the help sent all over the world could save them. It could save this country. We've got to start manufacturing and distributing here, creating millions of jobs, employ our people. Make sure our citizens are taken care of first and than we can all help take care of others. If the heart stops, we die, no questions asked, we die. If we keep overlooking the heart of our country, our citizens, than our nation will die!!! That can't be disputed. Take care of your own and they will take care of others. The governments responsibility is to take care of it's citizens and our responsibility as people, is to take care of others. Poor all of that money into us and let us poor money into the others. We need our military here fighting the wars within our country, taking it to the drug dealers and manufacturers. Cleaning up the streets and making the citizens feel protected. We need them here defending us against a war that terrifies so many. The drug wars going on have good citizens locked in their houses, scared to go down their own street, not able to get a full nights sleep because they sleep so light from gun shots ringing in the night and junkies trying to steal what they've worked so hard for. We have a war here and our military is away fighting everyone else's wars. Bring them home and let them stop these drug lords and drug wars that have so many great citizens terrified and scared to walk the streets. Make our country safe again before it's heart stops and it's too late!

    April 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  15. Oladipo Akinyemi Omole

    Hi Fareed,
    It really depends on at least two variables.If the United States is at war,it's logical that its military spending should increase.The US is at war,if (God forbid)it experiences another September 11 or if it has to fulfill its treaty obligations to NATO or Japan.Otherwise at peace time,it makes sense to spend more on "butter" and not guns like Professor G Lipsey wrote.Cheers.
    Your friend,

    April 28, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  16. Global Core

    Really Fareed,
    They didn't tell you that they injected me into every Computer Program on Earth since 1993, upon finding out that my own peers in the development years of Office using a DOS like structure (I drew in Word Perfect on special request from my simulation Company CEO) able to shrink the World to managable chunks of information but forgot to shrink the blown up ego's of most politicians blowing up their balloons filled with covert operations for their personal benefits to last through these transitional years to stay on top of people in all, where our Computer Programs grow as if they were people joining in activity to change our World for better. I can only hope our Network Systems will win this tug of war, otherwise we will be all shrunk into the Borg Machine getting all greased up from the maintenance to a Machine we no longer can trust to be beneficial to man because the wrong people stood at the helm for all the wrong reasons known to Man.

    April 29, 2011 at 8:13 am | Reply

    Dear Dr. Zakaria,
    At your suggestion, I have read the article by Mr. Y and the preface by Dr. Ann–Marie Slaughter. The views in the two are both interesting and troubling.

    The authors advocate a new version of the equilibrium doctrine in which the United States occupies the same position that the British Empire did in the 19th century. They recognize that the weakness of the British system was that throughout their role as the dominant power, their economy was the fifth largest in Europe. What they advocate is an American system in which the American government is the power that puts its thumb on the scale to maintain the equilibrium. The form of this system assumes American military, economic, and cultural dominance.

    To accomplish this end they propose a restructuring of the manner in which government policy is formulated and executed. Rather than the hierarchical model of current policy formation with various bureaucratic entities more interested in protecting their propagative, they propose a more task oriented method similar to PERT/CPM and indirectly suggest a less hierarchical bureaucracy.

    Both the preface and the article assume that the primary material actors on the international scene are nation–states. For America, policy would be done by projecting soft power by advocating the values (read: Bill of Rights and representative government) and “growth.” The definition of “growth” has a long list of necessary conditions.

    The three interrelated genera of these necessary conditions: domestic expansion of the educated population with the acceptance of the values of the middle class, an expanding gross domestic product, and the maintenance of leadership in innovation. However, these generic expressions of power can not be accomplished without the cooperation of the large economic units that occupy American territory.

    This fails to recognize that some large economic units act independently of governments and are out of the control of the governments of nation–states. The most glaring example is the financial institutions that created the current recession. Others are corporations that move their operations and manage to be reinforced for this behavior with tax incentives. The general theoretical thesis is: the larger the economic entity, the more independent of government control it can act and the more it can use the nation–state’s wealth for its own purposes.

    Further, the history of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Thirty Years War, 1920’s to 1945, just to name a few examples, show the effect of not having a dominant power capable of enforcing its will on others. Even during the “Golden Age” of the equilibrium doctrine of the 19th century, wars took place all over Europe, South and North America, Africa, and Asia.

    The other mode of both the Preface and the article is, it is to the advantage of the United States to create a common set of interests among nation–states. This, they believe, will produce greater stability. Assume, for the moment such is the case: Such a state of affairs is likely to have two unintended consequences: First, it is likely to increase rather than decrease the economic concentration of power. One result will be the political influence of these large economic units will become greater. Another result will be frustrated populations will take to the streets.

    The second consequence will be an increase in “soft repression:” viz., concentration of information flow, ahistorical education, and a near or actual oligarchical class structure.

    The general thesis: Freedom of the press is for those that own a press. The Chinese have become adept at maintaining control of information. The role of the internet in most nations is in the control of the security services. Six corporations in the United States control the major source of news in this country—television.

    In short, if it is in the interest of both governments of nation–states and the economic entities that control information to participate in a cooperative venture. This leave the world left with one of George Orwell’s 1984 mottos “Ignorance is Strength.”

    Ahistorical education and illiberal education is the rule. It is current policy to emphasize science and technological education. The consequence is a narrowly educated class of individuals who know little or nothing beyond the narrow specialty in which they are schooled. This serves both political ignorance and control. An examination of the wingnuts on the right, the Tea Party, positions and their sources of finance indicate that they are financed by the super rich and their positions show a lack of knowledge of basic economics and history. The left is no different: Their naïve view is that as the strongest nation in the world we can live in glorious neo–isolation without suffering any consequences. Thus we are in the position of creating a situation similar to an old ACLU poster. The poster had the Bill of Rights on it with what looked like a large rubber stamp across it that read, “Not Applicable Where Prohibited by Law.”

    By now it is a bromide, the middle–class in the United States and Europe is under tremendous financial pressure. Both nation–states e.g., the current British Government, and large economic entities seek larger freedom to move their operations to the lowest wage countries. Lassalle’s “Iron Law of Wages” viz., “real wages always tend, in the long run, toward the minimum wage,” is coming true. At the other end of the class structure, some control must be asserted over wealth accumulation. Thus, unless the Mr. Y’s theory can be revised to account for large economic units and super rich individual’s power, asserting the values of the United States will have little effect. The reality will be “Freedom is Slavery.”

    In short, the greater the cooperation of nation–states, the greater the interest of those in both political and economic power in maintaining the status quo. Whether by hard repression viz., extensive security apparatus, or soft repression.

    The experience of France in the 17th and 18th centuries and the Swedish in the Thirty Years War are strong evidence that military power alone is not sufficient to maintain a dominant role in your geographic area. Economic strength and cultural unity are necessary. The economic decline of the Roman Empire was in part responsible for the collapse of the Western Roman Empire as opposed to the Eastern Empire that was not in a state of economic decline.

    Another European example is the Crusades. It was the primary self–identification of Western Europeans as Christians, that, in part, lead to the Crusades. But note in both cases, the political entities were authoritarian. Using core beliefs to influence others, assumes such beliefs exist. Throughout our history, Americans have never agreed on anything. Through one lense, American history is a history of riots, slavery, small and large scale civil wars and exclusion of some and the acceptance of others. Getting the late Howard Zinn and U.S. Representative Ron Paul to agree on anything would be a pipe dream The hypothesis, to paraphrase a movie cliche, “If we tell them our ideals, they will join (“love”, “respect,” pick your own word) us,” assumes we agree on something. Selling diversity is hard—look at Egypt.

    Personally, I wish, to paraphrase Rodney King, we could all get along. But in a world without central authority, someone ends up playing cop. Right now it’s the United States. Influence is dangerous, without some limit on those in political and economic power. Currently, I see nothing and nobody capable of exercising such power.

    Thank you, and I am

    Cordially yours,

    Lawrence Egel, Ph.D.

    April 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
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