The attacks on Washington and New York City nine years ago extracted a terrible price in terms of blood and treasure. Unfortunately, the adverse US reaction to 9/11 has also extracted a terrible price with no end in sight. Although al-Qaeda is no longer a sophisticated terrorist organization capable of launching large-scale operations and is merely one of many jihadist groups based in Pakistan, the United States has thrown itself into the briar patch called Afghanistan.
Nearly twice as many Americans have died fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than were lost in the 9/11 attacks. The total cost of these long wars will be in the trillions of dollars. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the cost of oil was less than $25 a barrel; the price reached $140 a barrel in 2008 and, currently, the price is still three times the 2001 levels. The entire national security system has suffered as a result of the wrong-headed actions of the Bush administration in Iraq and the Obama administration in Afghanistan. The Iraq war marked the greatest travesty of all, based on a series of official lies that linked Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden and Iraq to weapons of mass destruction. As we knew seven years ago, there were no such links and no such weapons.
President Barack Obama declared last week that the US combat role in Iraq was over, but Americans continue to die in military action there, and 50,000 American servicemen and women will remain at least until the end of next year. President Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan, but last year he unwisely redefined and expanded it when he bowed to the demands of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Pentagon to send more than 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan. The president has defended this action as being part of the struggle against bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but we have been told authoritatively that there are only 50-100 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. In both wars, we have aligned ourselves with corrupt governments that are dysfunctional.
These wars have been used to dramatically increase the size of the defense and intelligence budgets, which find the United States now spending more than the rest of the world in both categories. The $708 billion defense budget for FY 2011 is higher than at any point in our post-World War II history. In constant dollars it is 16 percent higher than the 1952 Korean War budget peak and 36 percent higher than the 1968 Vietnam War budget peak. Secretary of Defense Gates argues that the budget plan “rebalances” spending by putting an emphasis on the near-term challenges of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and stabilization operations, but the plan makes no effort to prioritize these near-term commitments against funding for long-term commitments. The Pentagon’s role in so-called nation building assures continued high defense budgets, and already we hear demands for an increased military role in Yemen and Somalia.
The defense budget is, in fact, out of control, increasing funding for both near-term and long-term programs and activities. Overall procurement spending would rise by nearly eight percent in the 2011 budget, buying virtually all of the equipment the services want. Historically, the costs to operate and maintain the US military tend to grow at about 2.5 percent a year. Not this year! The defense budget request for Operations and Maintenance is more than $200 billion, which represents an 8.5 percent increase. President Dwight David Eisenhower’s warnings about the military-industrial complex and the need for commanders in chief who actually understand the Pentagon’s clarion calls have never been more germane.
In addition to unprecedented military spending, the Pentagon has gained increased leverage over the $75 billion intelligence community as well as increased influence over the national security and foreign policies of the United States. As the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency decline in influence, the Pentagon’s role in intelligence, nation building and third world assistance grows significantly. The armed services committees of the Senate and House of Representatives have become sounding boards for the interests of the Pentagon, and the increased absence of military experience on the part of Congressional representatives contributes to an absence of oversight. No genuine Congressional oversight of the intelligence community has been conducted since 9/11, and the Obama administration has made sure that the only internal oversight process at the CIA, the Office of the Inspector General, cannot function in any meaningful way.
The unfortunate creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in the wake of 9/11 has led to a more sclerotic policy process as well as the growth of contractors who have been a drain on the national treasury. DHS has weakened key government agencies.; it took Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to expose the bureaucratic mess at DHS. Spending on intelligence has tripled since 9/11, marking the rise of a national security state that finds all branches of government, even the judiciary, bowing to the demands of the military and intelligence communities. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration used the state secrets privilege to block a lawsuit by former CIA prisoners who were tortured in overseas prisons.
We have had four directors of national intelligence in the past five years, and they have failed to correct the decline in strategic intelligence or strengthen the overall intelligence apparatus. The ability of the Nigerian “Christmas Day” bomber, who should have been a poster boy for the “No-Fly List,” to board a commercial airline in December 2009 demonstrated the confused lines of authority in the intelligence community as well as the failure to learn lessons from 9/11. President Obama has so little confidence in the DNI and CIA that he did not even request a National Intelligence Estimate before making his wrong-headed decisions on Afghanistan. The intelligence community, moreover, has been unable to complete an estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, which was promised nearly two years ago.
George Kennan wrote in his memoirs 60 years ago that it is the “shadows rather than the substance of things that move the hearts, and sway the deeds of statesmen.” In his memoirs, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara finally acknowledged that “wars generate their own momentum and follow the law of unanticipated consequences.” Since 9/11, the national security process has been in a state of decline with a dearth of statesmen and an abundance of shadows on issues dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, insurgency and, now, cyber-war that are swaying the actions of American policymakers. President Eisenhower warned that the fears of the cold war were distorted and exploited for political advantage. Similar distortions have taken place in the wake of 9/11. As a result, we are on a glide path that has bankrupted US national security policy and threatens to bankrupt its treasury as well.