Boots on the Ground, Not Jets in the Sky

July 31st, 2009 at 9:20 am | 110 Comments |

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The House of Representatives is now deliberating over whether to appropriate money to build additional F-22s beyond the 187 already funded. The Senate recently rejected a similar measure. President Obama has pledged to veto any defense spending bill that provides for additional F-22 aircraft, advice and the White House this week reiterated its veto threat.

The debate has taken on an outsized symbolic importance that far exceeds the $1.75 billion involved. Liberal critics of defense spending see Gates and Obama as bravely trying to break the supposed stranglehold of greedy defense contractors and parochial politicians.

For conservative supporters of a robust national defense, shop the congressional attempt to build more F-22 fighter jets is a much-needed and long-delayed pushback against ill-advised weapon systems cuts by Secretary Gates and President Obama.

This is one debate where both sides are right. Congressmen and Senators want more F-22s not because they have seriously grappled with the defense budget, mind but as a reprehensible act of pork-barreling. Why else would liberal Democrats like Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut support more money for the F-22?

It also happens that there is a serious and substantive case to be made for procuring additional F-22s. The Air Force has made clear that it accepts the current 187 plane limit only because of budget constraints. Since Gates and Obama have capped the defense budget to support greater domestic social-welfare spending, the Department of Defense must make difficult funding choices.

But why has the defense budget been artificially capped? Why is spending on weapon systems being cut even as the rest of the federal budget is ballooning? How come, last spring, lawmakers weren’t decrying this constrained defense austerity budget? Why did they acquiesce in a defense budget top-line number that is inadequate, and which promises, over time, to reduce defense spending to an historic low as a percentage of gross domestic product?

The answer: because our lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, really aren’t much interested in the defense budget or in U.S. military requirements. That’s why their howls of outrage over the F-22 now ring hollow. And that’s why it is difficult for Iraq War veterans such as myself to get much exercised about this latest pseudo-controversy.

As a former Marine, I see a defense budget that for decades has been badly biased against the ground forces who do the actual fighting and dying in modern-day conflicts. Indeed, as the commander of the Joint Forces Command, Marine Corps General James N. Mattis has observed, 89% of U.S. military casualties since 1945 have been suffered by infantry units.

Yet, as the former commandant of the Army War College, Major General Robert Scales has noted, since the early 1990s, some 70% of the American defense investment, or more than $1.3 trillion, has been earmarked for missiles and fixed-wing aircraft.

The F-22 has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, instead of arguing over truly deleterious defense cuts like Gates’ cancelation of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) vehicles, some in Washington are in a tizzy over an aircraft that may have utility in a distant, hypothetical and, in my judgment, highly unlikely, future conflict with China. By contrast, if the FCS vehicles were built and now available, the Army would send them immediately to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’d have more sympathy for the F-22 advocates if ever they voiced even minimal support for ground-force modernization for the Army and the Marine Corps, and for the grunts on the ground.

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110 Comments so far ↓

  • barker13

    Re: Sftor1 // Aug 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm –

    (*WINK*) (*GRIN*) (*THUMBS UP*)

    Re: Midcon // Aug 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm –

    “There are some international laws and conventions to which the U.S. as a sovereign nation has agreed to abide by. Do I blanketly agree that with your question that “U.S. interest are subject to international law” no, I do not.”

    Yeah… that about sums up my position also. (Basically we’d have to go case by case and folks would see the pattern.)

    Re: Dragonlady // Aug 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm –

    “While the founders clearly envisioned Congress providing moral authority and commitment to launch major military wars, nowhere in the Constitution does it enumerate or legally bind the President to ask “mother may I”…”


    DL. I believe you’re being ridiculous. Simple as that. Sorry if you’re offended. (*SHRUG*)

    “…moral authority…” (*SNORT*) (*ROLLING MY EYES*)

    DL. The Constitution clearly gives Congress – and ONLY Congress – the right to declare (take this nation) War in the sense we’re talking. Again… we’ve been over the “exceptions” and none of us are arguing that the President should knowingly allow a foreign power to attack the United States. Of course the President would act, even act along the lines of a good offense being the best defense, but let’s not play word games here… we BOTH understand the different scenarios we’re discussing here and in that particular scenario we’re apparently ALL in agreement.

    “It is in James Madison’s own notes at the Constitutional Convention that they changed that Art 1 Sec 8 clause from “make war” to “declare war” in order to “leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.””

    (*SIGH*) DL. We’re not talking about repelling sudden attacks. Again… we’re all (I believe) in agreement there. (Thanks for citing the back-up for your contention, though.) (*WINK*)

    “They also made it clear Congress was not the appropriate war “making” body and the direction and termination of the war had to be left up to the President.”

    AFTER a Congressional Declaration of War… AFTER a Congressional Declaration of War…


    (And you know what… as to the second part of your assertion… I’m not at all sure that I agree with you that the termination of a declared war was meant to be totally subject to the president’s unilateral authority. For example… assuming the U.S. is officially at War… if Congress votes to simply declare the war “over” and votes to recall the troops {or simply defunds the effort} and the president can’t sustain a veto… then where in the Constitution do you find a presidential right to tell Congress to screw off and continue the War whether they like it or not…??? And if you actually believe the president would be entitled to do just that… what would your reaction be to Congress responding by Impeaching and Convicting the president…??? Would you then cede to the president the “right” to ignore Congress in this instance too… perhaps to use the military to “protect” himself against a legal removal from office upon conviction…???)

    No, DL… again… there’s a REASON the Founders (including THE Founding Father, George Washington) decided against creating an American Monarchy with American monarchs.

    “…even Alexander Hamilton told Pres Thomas Jefferson he didn’t need congressional authorization to attack the Barbary Pirates since they already attacked us and declared war on us (or at least one tribe, anyway).”

    Yes. True. Because they had not only attacked us, but had declared war on us. Still, even there you fail to paint the FULL picture. (*WINK*) Here… allow me:

    “…in January 1791 the Senate issued a resolution “That the trade of the United States to the Mediterranean cannot be protected but by a naval force, and that it will be proper to resort to the same as soon as the state of the public finances will admit.””

    “…January [1794], Congress acted upon a direct request from George Washington to build “a naval force, adequate to the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerine corsairs.””

    “…Jefferson wanted war, but was convinced that Congress would not support it. He therefore asserted an executive privilege: by executive order he sent a small fleet of American warships to the Mediterranean with instructions to protect US commerce, enforce existing agreements with the nations in the region, and to “chastise” pirates when caught in the act.”

    “May 14, 1801, Qaramanli ordered the flagpole outside the American consulate cut down: a colorful and effective declaration of war. Although Jefferson had already dispatched a fleet to the Mediterranean, he was certain that it would not be adequate to deal with a formally declared war with Tripoli and concerned that the other Barbary states might weigh in at any time. He therefore made it known to Congress that more formal action was called for. They finally obliged by passing the “Act for Protection of Commerce and Seamen of the United States against the Tripolitan Corsairs” on February 6, 1802. This authorized an expanded force of five frigates and a contingent of Marines to “subdue, seize and make prize of all vessels, goods and effects, belonging to the Bey of Tripoli, or to his subjects.””

    DL. My point in posting the link and excerpts (and in referring to other material I could note but won’t unless you absolutely insist it’s necessary) is to note that even when Jefferson (as President) was testing the boundaries of Executive Authority it was within the clear context of prior Congressional resolution (and legislation) and even in those instances where Jefferson took action in advance of DIRECT Congressional authorization/instruction he made sure to get Congressional approval after the fact.

    In other words, DL… Jefferson was QUITE aware and ultimately operated within the bounds of a recognition that only Congress has the authority to AUTHORIZE (even after the fact) the waging of war against foreign enemies.

    Each step of the way… from 1701 on… the various presidents took care to not only seek Congress’ approval for their actions, but to acknowledge that they indeed REQUIRED such Congressional approval. To return to your statement, stipulating that even Alexander Hamilton told Pres Thomas Jefferson he didn’t need congressional authorization to attack the Barbary Pirates, Jefferson himself obviously felt he did and thus he did – even if partly after the fact. (*SHRUG*)

    “But I also believe [the Founders] did not want the President to go around starting major wars without consulting Congress. So for the major enchiladas—he needs Congressional authorization.”


    Well… suffice it to say that my view is a bit more… er… restrictive… than yours. I know the Founders didn’t want the President to start ANY wars – major OR minor – which is why they gave that responsibility/authority to Congress and not the monar… er… president.


    “…once Truman sent troops to Korea without any Congressional authorization, every President since…”

    Yeah, yeah… (*RUEFUL SMILE*)… I know; we’re on the same page. I’m not arguing about what has happened; rather, I’m making the philosophical and (more importantly) constitutional case that what’s been happening is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the Constitutional as written and as intended to be followed.

    “…Congress really hasn’t exercised its power since Vietnam, so they are equally guilty…”

    Nah. I’d say Congress deserves the lion’s share of the derision and blame. At least the presidents were coming at the issue from a vantage point of believing they were doing what they had to do in the national interest: Congress on the other had was institutionally shirking their Constitutional responsibilities in order to sidestep potential blame should “the President’s” decisions turn out to be less than totally effective and overwhelmingly popular.

    “BTW, your arguments come off lot better when you’re not being so theatrical and sanctimonious…”

    I actually enjoy being theatrical and sanctimonious. (*WINK*) Most of all though… I like being right.


    Best regards and right back at ya… your Aug 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm post was definitely more along the lines of the “quality” of argument/debate I expect from someone of your obvious sophistication.


  • barker13

    * “…from 1701 on…”

    Obviously I meant from 1791 on. The “01″ was a typo.


  • dragonlady

    Bill, you may think I’m being silly, but many respected professionals interpret the Constitution this way and we’re all reading the same document. You’re taking my point on the President terminating war too far. I meant that the President has the constitutional authority to negotiate an end to hostilities with the enemy without Congress micromanaging him (of course, the Senate has to ratify treaties). I also pointed out that Congress has the power of the purse–of course if they pull the funds, by definition, termination is no longer on his terms. Congressional funding for the military is a specifically enumerated power in the Constitution (likewise with their power to impeach the President). But I don’t believe Congress can just legislate to recall the troops back and issue timetables (that crosses over in how we MAKE war—we only have one CINC, remember? This gets into violating the separation of powers issue. If the Founders wanted Congress to legislate the direction of war, they would have kept the wording from the Articles of Confederation). Going from WWII and back to our founding (let’s not count what we’ve done after WWII), we’ve only declared war 5 times, but we’ve been in a bunch of other military operations in between without Congressional authorization (see Philippine American War under McKinley, and Nicaraguan intervention under Coolidge). It is clear these declarations were reserved for major wars. I believe the Founders were sophisticated enough that if they wanted the Pres NOT to commence military hostilities (other than major war) without seeking Congressional permission except when the country or US citizens are in imminent danger, or is invaded, they would have stated explicitly that, just like they did for instructing the states not to engage in war unless it was under those circumstances. These were very intelligent men–they chose their words carefully throughout the Constitution like using DECLARE war instead of MAKE war and ENGAGE in war (regarding the states) and LEVY war (regarding treason). But I suppose we’ll just agree to disagree on this one.

  • SFTor1

    midcon: I think the United States is a signatory to all pertinent laws of war that apply to the invasion of Iraq.

    The number of 10 million Vietnamese dead is not an official number. It was used in a recent documentary, and the name of it escapes me at the moment. I suppose 3 to 4 million is a range that agrees with official numbers. I have also seen the number 5 million. A lot of people at any rate.

    Let us see whether I can formulate a question that is precise enough for you: Did the United States government have the right to kill a single Vietnamese in either half of the country, based on its own national interests, when there was no threat to this country in any way?

  • midcon


    The Vietnam War was a war between north and south Vietnam. The U.S. was involved at the request of and with the authorization of the legitimate government of the Republic of Vietnam. More precise questions – “Did the U.S. have the right to engage in combat for the purposes of defending themselves and supporting their South Vietnamese allies?” Yes, they did. “Did U.S. troops kill Vietnamese as a result of that mission?” Yes they did. Our support of the Republic of Vietnam during this period was determined to be in our national interests.

  • ottovbvs

    midcon // Aug 3, 2009 at 7:47 am
    ” Yes they did. Our support of the Republic of Vietnam during this period was determined to be in our national interests”

    ………..Only it wasn’t in our national interest and turned out to be one of the most disastrous US foreign and military policy forays in our history ……..and your telling of events is way too simplistic……..the US was covertly involved in Vietnam from the mid fifties and from the early sixties onwards the regimes in power like the Diem brothers were essentially US puppets.

  • barker13

    Re: Dragonlady // Aug 3, 2009 at 1:56 am –

    “Bill, you may think I’m being silly…”



    I think… I fear… you’re being disingenuous.

    Assuming you’ll resent that particular word let’s go to… hmm… willfully blind… “pragmatic” to a fault… willing to grasp at straws…

    (*GRIN*) (*CHUCKLE*)

    Dragonchick. Dudette. Seriously… I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I have the utmost respect for your intellect and obvious educational background. I keep saying that! It’s your reasoning and analysis… your actual deliberate misreading/misinterpretation/plain ignoring of the Constitution that I find offensive and unacceptable.


    “…many respected professionals interpret the Constitution this way…”

    DL. Please. God… PLEASE…


    They’re not respected by me. (*SHRUG*)

    Why are we covering the same ground again and again ad nauseum…??? While I appreciate being presented with the opportunity to provide more verbal slap-stick, what is it you’re getting from making a bad case and sticking to it…???

    (Yeah, yeah… “verbal slap-stick”… the disconnect is what makes the phrase a unique Barkerism.) (*WINK*)

    Anyway… I declare unilateral ceasefire. You’ve had your say, I’ve had mine. I’m sorry you won’t acknowledge I’m right… but as Sinatra sang… “That’s Life!”

    (Are you a Sinatra fan, DL? Me… I LOVE Frank!)


  • midcon

    Otto, Yes I was being simplistic, but the essense of my comments remains valid. The U.S. was in vietnam (regardless of the year) with consent/authorization of the Vietnamese government. Sftors purpose/point was about the legality of the situation not the policy or the efficacy of the policy. So for that reason I wanted to narrowly parse the question without getting into the broad rationale for the war and obvious consequences of disasterous policy decicions.

  • ottovbvs

    midcon // Aug 3, 2009 at 5:25 pm
    “The U.S. was in vietnam (regardless of the year) with consent/authorization of the Vietnamese government. ”

    ……….The problem was the South Vietnamese govt was rigging the elections………The Diem brothers were notorious for it…….So yes we were there at the agreement of a corruptly elected govt……we knew this but still proceeded when it should have warned us of the danger…..and in any case by the start of the sixties the S. Vietnamese govt’s took their orders from the US govt our local proconsul being one Ellsworth Bunker (who I actually met)

  • ottovbvs

    “our local proconsul being one Ellsworth Bunker (who I actually met)’

    ……..Not in Vietnam btw