WASHINGTON: When the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee went to talk with the almost mystical Pentagon gang known as the Office of Net Assessment, they told him America can’t afford to execute the strategy we’re pursuing.
“I asked them what they were lacking. They didn’t have an answer,” Rep. Adam Smith told the Defense Writers Group this morning. Net Assessment, led for decades by the revered Yoda-like figure known as Andy Marshall, produces what are supposed to be fundamental strategic assessments of US national security and how we should position ourselves to cope with threats.
“Our overall strategy needs to change,” Smith said. “We don’t have the money so we need a better strategy.”
Things are likely to get worse, Smith said. Democrats and Republicans are afraid of passing appropriations bills in the face of the Budget Control Act, because, as Smith told us, they’ll anger somebody when they vote. Add to that the Republicans decision to pass a tax reform bill that the great majority of economists say will add huge amounts to our deficit, and our current fiscal madness is likely to worsen.
Cutting the Pentagon budget overall wouldn’t help much, because that just leads to pell-mell cuts to everything without any strategic direction. So, I and other reporters pressed Smith on what a new strategy would look like. After noting the expense of the next generation of nuclear weapons and the size of the American nuclear warhead arsenal, Smith essentially said we have to drop our commitment to try and handle everything around the world at once. This does not mean, he was careful to say when I pressed him, that America will abandon its commitment to being a global power, but it may mean we focus much on our defense industry’s surge capacity instead of the ability to immediately respond to a crisis.
“The Pentagon has plans for everything — war with China if they cross the Formosa Strait, if Russia invades Eastern Europe, responding to a missile strike from North Korea,” Smith said, shaking his head. “I just think we need to be more realistic.”
Speaking of being realistic, Smith offered the depressing prognosis that the Federal government will shut down for 24 hours come December 8, when the current spending bill is expected to run out. “Then,” he said, referring to his fellow lawmakers, “we’ll realize that that’s not popular either” and the government will reopen.
Reporters and many other Americans prize candor, especially from our politicians, precisely because it is in such short supply. I thanked Smith for his at the end of the breakfast — though I can’t say the rest of the day looked very bright.