After that, two suggestions:
1) The Global Trends 2025 report from the National Intelligence Council. (Intro page here; 8MB pdf file of whole report for free download here.) Projections of how the world will look 17 years into the future are by their nature preposterous. One conducted in 1991, looking toward the present day, would have found it hard to imagine the defeat of George H. W. Bush (then on the top of the world politically) and the subsequent Clinton and Bush II and possible Clinton II eras that made possible; the tech induced stock boom, and tech bust, and second boom, and second bust; the current situation of both China and Russia, then mere glimmers of what they are today; the resonance of the names bin Laden and Guantanamo. And... a whole lot more.
Still, for what it is, this forecast is sensible and provocative. It has gotten a lot of ink as a forecast of US "decline," but it is more interesting and less blatant than that. I disagree with a lot of it but am glad to have had the occasion to think through its arguments. And 17 years from now, we can see how it stands up.
2) I can't say this often enough: seriously, anybody who presumes to hold an opinion on America's defense needs, defense spending, and long term military strategy really has to read "America's Defense Meltdown," available in free 2MB pdf download here. (More words than the NCI report above; fewer graphics.)
This report has facts; it has figures; it has history; it has to-do lists for the next administration; it has things you might expect and things you don't.
From what you might expect, an introductory passage about what's happened to our military establishment:
Our equipment is the most sophisticated and effective in the world. We easily whipped one of the largest armies in the Middle East, not once but twice, and we have now clearly mastered a once difficult and ugly situation in Iraq. Success in Afghanistan will not be far away, once we devote the proper resources there. Those who take comfort in the last three sentences are the people who need to read and consider the contents of this book the most. Reflect on the following:• America's defense budget is now larger in inflation adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of World War II, and yet our Army has fewer combat brigades than at any point in that period, our Navy has fewer combat ships and the Air Force has fewer combat aircraft. Our major equipment inventories for these major forces are older on average than at any point since 1946; in some cases they are at all-time historical highs in average age. [etc etc]
For a sample of something you might not expect, the following, from probably the most right-wing of all the authors in the book -- a man whose cubicle wall, in the Senate office building where he worked, was adorned with a poster of Mussolini when I met him in the early 1980s. He is discussing the overall balance between the US Navy and the Russian and Chinese fleets -- especially the looming Chinese "menace" that drives the need for new US ships:
Overwhelming any comparison of fleets is the fact that war with either Russia or China would represent a catastrophic failure of American strategy. Such wars would be disastrous for all parties, regardless of their outcomes. In a world where the most important strategic reality is a non-Marxist "withering away of the state," the United States needs both Russia and China to be strong, successful states. They need the United States to be the same. Defeat of any of the three global powers by another would likely yield a new, vast, stateless region, which is to say a great victory for the forces of the Fourth Generation. No American armed service should be designed for wars our most vital interest dictates we not fight.
Read these between football games over the weekend. You won't be sorry. And consider sending copies of #2, especially, to the Obama household for Christmas.
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