Obama's Pentagon

If Barack Obama becomes president, his defense agenda and team will cut defense spending, rely on international organizations for our security and push for radical social change.  His Pentagon appointees will come from liberal think tanks, Ivy League schools and the Clinton administration.  

Most new presidents come to office with big plans but when their appointees collide with the Pentagon’s bureaucrats and the realities of war, those plans often crumble.  The same will be true for Obama.  The professionals at the Pentagon focus on war not political posturing.  

And geopolitics such as Russia’s invasion of Georgia can overtake election strategies as well.  Ask President Bush about the impact 9/11 had on his promise to “transform” the Pentagon.  

Senator Obama’s security agenda includes little that is new.  He promises to end the Iraq war but President Bush may preempt that promise by signing a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad that transitions America out of Iraq by 2011.  Geopolitics and logistical realities make an earlier withdrawal foolhardy.  

While Obama and Bush agree that Afghanistan must become the focal point of the global war on terror, Bush has already announced troop increases for Afghanistan beginning next year.

Senator Obama promises to refocus military capabilities on stability and counterinsurgency but that’s already a Pentagon priority outlined in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.  The junior senator from Illinois promises to build partnerships abroad but that too is a top Bush priority and his Pentagon is already transforming America’s security cooperation efforts.

What concerns many observers are Obama’s spending priorities.  He has promised to “cut tens of billions” in “wasteful spending” and “investments in unproven missile defense systems.”  It’s not clear, however, whether he intends to replace the military’s critical war ravaged equipment.   

Obama is being pressured to make deep defense cuts.  House liberals and Obama constituencies like the Black Leadership Forum have argued that cutting defense programs “… would free up $1 trillion in the federal budget.”  Cutting such programs will be difficult, however, because the defense budget is the most politically contentious in the federal government.

Richard Danzig, a former Clinton navy secretary and chief Obama defense advisor, expects Pentagon spending under an Obama administration to remain at current levels.  However, Danzig promises “… to come to grips with affordability issues and the requirements process” which should be a red flag for new acquisition programs like the Army’s $160 billion-plus Future Combat Systems, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter which already faces significant cost overruns and the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer.

Obama plays to his liberal constituencies when he pledges to do away with nuclear weapons without Russia, China and others also doing away with theirs. Promises to radically reduce the nuclear threat, while nothing new are nearly impossible to accomplish.  

The primary policies Obama might change are Clinton-era social experiments.  Obama and a democratic controlled Congress will push to dump the military’s homosexual exclusion policy and force more women into direct combat.  No military necessity exists for either change but Obama’s liberal constituency demands nothing less.

Obama’s team overseeing his Pentagon agenda will be a predictable cast of new and old characters with at least one surprise.  Likely sitting behind the defense secretary’s desk on the Pentagon’s E-ring will be a member of Obama’s “unity ticket,” retiring Republican Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel.  Allegedly, Obama will tap Hagel for the job as part of a “high profile” team that will “command public confidence.”  

Hagel is a Republican in name only. He has often taken positions that rankle fellow Republicans.  The Vietnam veteran agrees with Obama on many defense issues.  He’s an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, favors direct talks with rogue nations like Iran and Syria and disparages the so-called Jewish lobby.  Like fellow Republican (and former MaineSenator) William “Bill” Cohen who served President Clinton as secretary of defense, the addition of Republican Hagel fits Obama’s “change” agenda and his promise to tackle Washington’s “partisan gridlock.”

Richard Danzig, a back-up candidate to Hagel for the top job, is most likely Obama’s choice for deputy secretary of defense.  Danzig, a Yale lawyer and Rhodes Scholar who served in the Pentagon under both Presidents Carter and Clinton, will be Obama’s chief ideologue to keep the Pentagon on a liberal course.  Recently, Danzig outlined the “Obama doctrine” which includes three guiding principles: “The US can’t do everything by itself; the US must get its allies to assume the burden militarily; and international security problems require the US to use non-military assets.”  This sounds like the failed Clinton principles that resulted in “Black Hawk Down,” the USS Cole, Khobar Towers and the Kosovo bombing fiasco.

The Pentagon has approximately 250 political appointee positions.  Most of those positions will likely be filled with know-nothing-about-national-defense youthful campaign workers, a move typical of new administrations pressed to find jobs to reward party loyalty but many will never get security clearances required for their jobs.  Basically, it means political appointees below the third tier level will require a lot of on-the-job-training and handholding by seasoned bureaucrats and uniformed members.  

The Democrat Party has plenty of loyalists with defense credentials ready to join the Obama Pentagon.  Some, like Harvard professor and Obama national security advisor Sarah Sewall, are very credible.  Sewall served in the Clinton Pentagon as a deputy assistant secretary of defense and recently collaborated with General David Petraeus to rewrite the military’s counterinsurgency field guide.  But she will push the Pentagon toward more nation-building projects.

Members of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal advocacy group headed by Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, could play a prominent role in an Obama Pentagon.  Obama might rehire CAP staffer Rudy deLeon, a former Clinton under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, to advance liberal social issues.  DeLeon was Clinton’s front man for homosexuals in the military and he pushed for women in more combat roles.  Other CAP staffers that might join Obama’s Pentagon team include Denis McDonough, who wants to combat climate change, and James Ludes, a former defense adviser to Senator John Kerry who rightly sees the current financial crisis as a national security problem.

Obama will dip into liberal think tanks like Washington’s Brookings Institution for Pentagon staffers.  Philip Gordon and Ivo Daalder are among 83 scholars identified as foreign policy experts at Brookings’ website.  Both men worked in the Clinton administration and now serve as Obama campaign advisors.  Daalder wants the US to unilaterally reduce our nuclear weapons arsenal to 1,000 warheads and Gordon wishfully declares the war on terror will end once Muslims turn against extremists.

Obama’s campaign has tapped many retired military advisors but most of these former soldiers won’t be front and center at the Pentagon.  Retired Air Force Major General Jonathan Gration, a former combat fighter pilot and campaign adviser, is the exception and could land a policy position in Obama’s Pentagon.  Gration is the son of missionary parents who were in the Congo where he learned Swahili.  After retirement, he translated his Africa experience into the Millennium Development, a non-profit organization that aims to lift African villages out of poverty, an issue that Obama appears to favor.  

Predictably, an Obama Pentagon will be run by liberal national security experts who will put the Pentagon on a crash diet and refocus security priorities on other than combat missions.  And soldiers will pay in blood for their liberal agenda.