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.


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