Robert Maginnis discredits himself yet again


NOTE: Yesterday, or today before 8:33AM, my blog hit the 15,000 hits mark.

HumanEvents is now known for its lousy, ridiculous, poorly-researched articles, and for the idiot columnists who write them. Nonetheless, this doesn’t absolve HE editors from the duty to address this issue.

But rather than do so, they continue to post further BS articles.

One of the latest is a ridiculous article titled “How the US can cut, but not gut, defense” by Robert Maginnis, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. The title itself is ridiculous and it alone indicates how ridiculous and factually incorrect the article is. The US has already cut its defense spending from $550 bn (in FY2011 dollars; in CY2009 dollars it was $534 bn) to $513 bn in FY2011, i.e. by $37 bn, and the military has already been weakened as a result. For over 20 years, successive Administrations and Congresses have been forcing it to “do more with less”. Moreover, because the DOD’s modernization spending is drastically inadequate, and because defense spending cuts (like with Maginnis’ proposals) would fall on crucial modernization programs rather than bureaucracies, you CANNOT cut defense spending without gutting America’s defense. It’s not possible. And there isn’t much waste in the annual defense budget left to trim it significantly without cutting crucial defense programs. It’s not possible.

Maginnis has blindly accepted the ridiculous claims and numbers from discredited bureaucracies. Although he acknowledges that “It remains below the 60-year trend as a percentage of our gross domestic product”, he claims that “The 2010 Defense Business Board states that U.S. defense spending is at its highest level since World War II, and the Pentagon consistently pays “more for less.””. Those are blatant lies. America’s defense spending ($513 bn in FY2011) is actually the smallest defense budget since FY2007 and is significantly SMALLER than the FY1968-1969 defense budgets and the defense budgets of the Reagan era. Maginnis and the DBB, of course, utterly fail to distinguish defense spending from GWOT spending, which has NOTHING to do with America’s defense and instead pays for Iraq and Afghanistan. As a percentage of GDP, the FY2011 defense budget (3.5% of America’s $14.620 trillion GDP) is the smallest since FY1948 (excluding the last 4 years of the Clinton era). In FY1948, defense spending also equalled 3.5% of GDP. So throughout the entire Cold War, except FY1948, defense spending was HIGHER than it is now.

Even if one counts total military spending, though, America’s FY2011 military budget equals only 4.6% of America’s GDP, a Carteresque level of military spending (reached in FY1979).

The claim that the Pentagon “consistently pays more for less” is also a blatant lie. The DOD has actually been forced, ever since FY1987, to “do more with less”. Defense spending was being constantly cut ever since FY1989; program closures and program cuts have been conducted ever since FY1987. And, as Maginnis himself acknowledges, in 2009, Gates closed or cut over 20 weapon programs.

Maginnis also writes that “The “more for less” view is echoed by a 2010 Congressional Research Service report that indicates the Pentagon’s base budget has grown at the rate of 2% per year above inflation per troop since 1955, and operation and maintenance costs grew at 2.7% per year above base inflation since 1998. ”

But the 2% per year above inflation is true only if one compares the FY1955 and FY2011 defense budgets to each other and ignores the defense budgets passed after FY1955 but before FY2011. During the last 56 years, defense spending has seen high peaks and deep valleys; some Administrations significantly increased it, while others dramatically reduced it. Defense spending has NOT been growing constantly since FY1955. If the CRS claims that, it’s lying.

Maginnis further discredited himself by making biased proposals (based on his Army background) to presumably “collapse functional responsibilities” to cut costs, while presuming that the Four Services duplicate each other and do the same tasks. He falsely claims that:

“Specifically, Congress should ask hard questions, such as, “Why do we need two ground forces (Army and Marines)?”  “Why do we need four air forces (each service has an air force)?”  “Why do we need three navies (Coast Guard, Navy, and Army’s fleet of tugs, barges, and boats)?””

America does not have two ground armies. The Marine Corps is not a second ground army (and doesn’t want to be one), and Maginnis’ claim that it is reveals only his Army bias (the Army has, for a long time, loathed the Marine Corps as a duplicative service encroaching on its responsibilities). The truth is that the USMC is a versatile, multirole rapid reaction corps, capable of fighting on land, in the air, and at sea. And it must remain capable of fighting in all three of these domains if it is to remain able to react quickly to any crisis. As then-Commandant of the USMC Charles Krulak said during the 1990s, “Winning land wars is not our mission – that’s the Army’s mission. Our mission is to win the first land battles and if we’re not going to be able to do that, we’re going to lose our raison d’etre.”

Similarly, the nation does not have, and does not need, four air forces. The Air Force is the only service capable of conducting full-spectrum air operations. The Navy and the USMC possess only helicopters, fighterplanes, ASW aircraft, and (in the case of the USMC) ground attack helicopters. The Army possesses only C-27Js and helicopters. The Air Force was originally a part of the Army, but was separated from that service in 1947, taking all the non-AH assets with it – bombers, fighterplanes, cargoplanes, etc.

Maginnis has also wrongly called on the Congress to do the following:

“(…) appoint three independent teams of national security experts to craft Pentagon policy plans similar to President Dwight Eisenhower’s competitive Solarium Project of 1953.  That effort led to Eisenhower’s New Look Policy, which balanced military capabilities and the defense budget. The three teams would define the threat, identify critical defense roles and missions, and recommend the forces and systems needed.  Congress should take the best recommendations to form a plan to compare with the administration’s plan.”

Although Congress does indeed need an independent panel of defense experts to provide an independent recommendation of how to size, organize, structure, and equip the military, it has already received such a recommendation from such an independent panel – the QDR Independent Review group co-chaired by former SECDEF William Perry and former nat-sec Advisor Stephen Hadley. They have looked at the entire military and, in their opinion, which I mostly share, the military is facing a modernization crisis and therefore, both its modernization spending and its force structure should be greatly INCREASED. Their report praises Secretary Gates for prioritizing Iraq and Afghanistan, but otherwise, that report can only be described as a stark damnation of Gates and his policies.

So no, the Congress doesn’t need another panel and another review. The QDR Independent Review should be the guideline.

Maginnis also lied that:

“Procurement plans must be suited to current and future military needs.  That is why Secretary Gates pressed to end production of the costly Air Force F-22, Raptor.  The stealth fighter failed the “needs” rationale.  The same rationale should apply to the over-budget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Marine Corps’ costly V-22 Osprey vertical takeoff aircraft, and the $15-billion-each aircraft carriers that are becoming vulnerable to China’s DF-21D missiles, which are specifically designed to sink carriers.”

And thus again showed his Army-biased opinion. The F-22 program was absolutely needed; it passed the needs rationale with flying colors. But, like the Gatling gun during the Civil War, it didn’t meet the political criteria of President Obama and Sec. Gates, who were both insisting on sinking the vast majority of the DOD budget in Iraq and Afghanistan. The F-35 JSF program is also absolutely necessary – and even more needed than before, given the closure of the F-22 program. These days, America’s most likely enemies (China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Russia) are armed to the teeth with large arsenals of modern SAMs, as well as older SAMs and AAA. Only stealthy aircraft such as B-2s, F-22s and F-35s can survive in such highly-defended environments. Nonstealthy aircraft cannot. Also, only 5th generation stealthy aircraft can defeat the Generation #4.5 and Generation #5 fighterplanes developed and fielded by America’s enemies. The claim that F-22s and F-35s are not needed is utterly ridiculous. They are now needed more than ever.

The V-22 program, which has been the defense budget opponents’ favorite whipping boy for a long time, is another example of a crucial weapon program. As has been documented here and elsewhere, the V-22 is, by far, the best rotorcraft type operated by the US military. It can fly 3 times farther and 2 times faster than any helicopter, and is also more survivable and less detectable. It has performed brilliantly during all the three conflicts the US is now involved in – the Afghan war, the Iraqi war, and the Libyan war. In Libya, it managed to rescue downed American airmen in just 90 minutes. Maginnis’ call to close the V-22 program again betrayed his Army-biased opinions. Costly? One V-22 costs just $63 mn, compared to almost $200 mn for its competitor, the MC-130.

Maginnis also lied that:

“Recently, Secretary Gates told an Air Force audience that it needs to concentrate on mundane platforms such as unmanned aircraft, cargo airlift, and medical evacuation capabilities.  Even the Congressional Budget Office (2009) plugged legacy platforms such as the F-15E fighter over gold-plated new systems such as the F-35s, which will save the taxpayers multiple billions and still be effective against future threats.”

Those claims are blatant lies, like almost everything else Maginnis has written. Gates didn’t say that to the Air Force. In fact, Gates warned against misinterpreting his speech this way. He warned that his speech would be misinterpreted as an attack on fighterplanes and bombers. Maginnis has committed the very mistake Gates has warned him and others against. Gates said that the USAF’s core competencies like air superiority and long-range strike, and the platforms needed to execute them (i.e. fighterplanes, bombers, and long-range missiles) are absolutely necessary roles and must be properly funded. He endorsed both the F-35 program (hailing it as a $300 bn investment in air superiority, which it is) and the Next Generation Bomber project. What Gates DID say to the Air Force was that these two competencies should not be the sole roles of the Air Force (“what some consider the real Air Force normal”, as he called it), and that the USAF should also continue to train for, budget for, and equip for, other Air Force missions (medevac, CSAR, AEW, ISR, airlift, cyber warfare) which it has been executing on a large scale during the last 9.5 years. Those are missions which only the Air Force can conduct anywhere anytime. No other service can substitute for the USAF in that regard.

Maginnis’ claim that F-15Es can act as substitutes for F-35s is also ridiculous and shows that he knows nothing about aviation. F-15Es are obsolete, nonstealthy, worn out, and easy to detect and shoot down. As stated earlier, they cannot survive in moderately- or highly-defended environments. F-35s can, and they are also cheaper than F-15Es. A single F-35A costs $89 mn (flyaway cost); a single F-15E or F-15SE costs $100 mn. If one is concerned about the budget deficit, one should ENDORSE the F-35 program.

Maginnis also claimed that “The plan must also address global posture and foreign partner obligations.  We can save billions by withdrawing tens of thousands of U.S. troops from Europe and Asia.” True, but those would be gross savings. Withdrawing troops from those regions would also mean significant costs (it would not be cost-free), just like it cost Russia a lot of money to withdraw its troops from Central Europe after the Cold War (Germany had to finance the withdrawal).

Maginnis, in his concluding remarks, said that “Congress should launch an independent review process that leads to a plan that cuts costs but not security.” One can cut the costs of a specific program, or aspect of how the DOD operates, but not the overall size of the defense budget, without endangering America. That’s because the US already spends too little on defense and too little on military modernization. America cannot afford to further reduce its defense budget. It should be grown, not reduced. For the last 23.5 years, the US military has been forced to “do more with less” – even under the administration of George W. Bush. It’s time to properly finance the US military and to say no to further defense budget cuts.

Maginnis did recommend several worthy reforms – such as elimination of excess base infrastructure in the US and abroad, the ending of defense commitments to parasitic clients, a reduction of personnel costs, and slimming down DOD bureaucracies. My Defense Reform Proposals Package, if implemented, would enact these and many other necessary reforms. The difference between myself and others, including Maginnis, is that I’ve called on all savings made in the DOD to be reinvested in the DOD, while Maginnis wants them to be redirected to deficit reduction.

Defense spending must not be reduced. Period.

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