Real War Game At Pentagon Is 2010 Budget
A story yesterday on the local Washington, D.C. all-news radio station indicated that the Pentagon has been running simulations -- war games -- on what a U.S. war with Iran would look like.
But according to this excellent article by Gordon Adams, the real war the Pentagon is planning for right now is the 2010 military budget.
Adams, who has long been considered one of the best military budget analysts around, makes a number of key points.
First, while all civilian agencies have been told not to prepare a real budget for next year, the Pentagon (along with Homeland Security, State, and the Agency for international Development) is being allowed (or is it can't be stopped?) to come up with a formal 2010 spending plan that includes policy choices for the coming year. The strategy is to make it difficult for the next president to come up with a budget that spends less because he will look like he's underfunding the military.
Second, DOD is trying to rework it's baseline so that the much what we have been told up to now is "one-time" spending for Iraq and Afghanistan becomes permanent. If successful, this would eliminate much of the peace dividend that both John McCain and Barack Obama say they will use to pay for everything else they want to do on taxes and spending.
Even without these games, the military budget was always going to be a big battleground next year. And that's not including the potential dollar costs if the U.S. does engage with Iran at the same time it is fighting other wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, it is becoming increasing clear that the current level of military pay is not enough to get people to enlist or re-enlist in the numbers the Pentagon needs. As many military families will tell you, the low level of benefits have become a strong disincentive for people to stay in uniform.
We've also known for over a decade that, even without the activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was going to be a real need to replace and upgrade equipment this decade.
Adams mentions another: "mission creep," that is, the growing requirement that the military do things such as building "clinics, schools, wells, and roads," and deal with "natural and pandemic disasters and a growing competititionf or resources" that are beyond the Pentagon's core competence. Whether or not these need to be done is one question. The other is whether they should be done by the Pentagon and built into it's budget.
But the most important point Adams makes is in the first paragraph when he says that the new president won't have much time to deal with this situation. If the new administration and Congress doesn't deal with it immediately, the new baseline that will likely be approved and the momemtum created by the Pentagon's 2010 budget will make it very hard to make anything budget marginal changes in the following years even if all activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran have ended.