The money the military spends on R&D today impacts the defense capabilities of the country decades from now.
Military spending, according to one theory of international relations, is directly tied to the necessary downfall of world powers. But as a Brookings report out last week makes clear, that doesn't mean wantonly slashing defense budgets is the way to go. In fact, there's reason to believe cuts currently on the table could have a disproportionate impact on the U.S.'s military edge.
Immanuel Wallerstein's theory of world-systems analysis holds that countries achieve hegemony by being very efficient at economic production. But maintaining hegemony involves what he calls the "expensive and abrasive" attempt to carry out a "political and military role." As soon as other states catch up in economic efficiency, the hegemonic power's "political clout" goes, and the state starts actually having to use its military instead of relying on threats. As Wallerstein explains, "Its use of military power is not only the first sign of weakness but the source of further decline."
In the current climate of budget cuts, therefore, it seems natural to want the country to scrap a few F-16s instead of, say, the public school system. Give our troops proper tank and body armor, runs the classic (and generally liberal) refrain, but ditch the "nano hummingbirds" -- and let's get rid of a few more warheads while we're at it.
Of course, it's more complicated than that, as most people acknowledge, and last week's Brookings report does a better than average job of explaining why.
This summer, when Democrats and Republicans finally reached their debt ceiling deal, it included $400 billion worth of cuts on national security. But due to other cuts on the table, we could be looking at roughly $1 trillion total. In short, it's a post-war pullback, and though the size of it, according to the Brookings report, "is not unusual by historical standards," it's happening in the midst of China's rise, North Korea's leadership hand-off, the menace of a nuclear Iran, and continuing unrest in the Middle East. But that's not even the main point of the report.
What the report highlights is that "the current wave of defense cuts is also different than past defense budget reductions in their likely industrial impact, as the U.S. defense industrial base is in a much different place than it was in the past." Cutting-edge technology is a big part of the United States' edge, both in actual conflict and as a deterrent, and thus what the signatories of the Brookings piece seem particularly concerned about is the procurement budget -- part of the so-called "investment accounts" -- along with research and development.
Right now, "Reagan-era weaponry is wearing out, and the recent increase in procurement spending has not lasted long enough to replenish the nation's key weapons arsenals with new weaponry" -- we've mainly been focusing on "filling certain gaps in counterinsurgency capabilities." Meanwhile, "unlike the period just after the Cold War, there are no obvious surpluses of defense firms, such that a natural paring process will find the fittest firms and ensure their survival."
In other words, the defense industrial base may be inefficient, but cuts won't make it fitter -- just leaner. The scary part about that is that industrial base health is a long-term thing, and the money the procurement budget is spent on today winds up determining the defense capabilities of the country much further into the future than, say, troop numbers in Afghanistan.
So how do you address that? The Brookings report puts out 10 questions to consider "as presidential candidates and other national leaders develop their platforms." They include ideas like fixed-price contracts, which signatory Dr. Robert Haffa, formerly of the Air Force and currently principal of Haffa Defense Consulting, explained to me over the phone are an attempt at making the defense industry more like other markets. But this is probably impractical -- when companies gives estimates in competing for contracts, they really have no idea what a given plane, for example, might cost to make.
Another idea is reforming regulations to make it easier for new companies to enter the defense contracting market. "It's difficult for a firm, an IT firm particularly, to sell to the Department of Defense because of all the regulations that attach themselves to every competition the Department of Defense takes on," Haffa explained. "It takes a huge amount of proposal money just to compete for a major program, and you have to be very knowledgeable about those regulations."
Reform, of course, takes a while, and the procurement and research and development budgets are likely to be slashed precisely because, as Haffa pointed out, "that's where the fast money is. They can be cut right now and have fewer F-35s."
But the message from the Brookings piece and its signatories is that this is, in a sense, simply externalizing the time cost, because we'll be living with the consequences of quick cuts for years to come. Defense spending is more like entitlements than ideologues on either side might like to admit. Reform is tricky, and quick fixes are tempting. Ultimately, the quick fixes are a type of punt. And that's exactly what modern political systems tend to reward.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
If the U.S. and Iran conclude a nuclear deal next week, the Islamic Republic stands to gain billions of dollars in eventual sanctions relief. But money isn’t the most important reason the Iranian leadership may be set to shake hands with its historic enemy after 18 months of negotiations.
“One of the most important reasons Iran is signing this deal, in my opinion ... is not actually sanctions,” said Vali Nasr, the dean of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “It’s ISIS. There is actually support for this deal within the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, because their day job is right now fighting ISIS, and they need the United States, particularly in Iraq, on the right side of that fight.”
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, and much more.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, cosplay in Paris, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, a train wreck in Pakistan, an airshow over St. Petersburg, Russia, and much more.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)