Heritage Foundation's James Carafano is one of the more outspoken and colorful think tank scholars. The 25-year Army veteran is Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies. In a continuation of 5 Questions, Carafano talks to Think Tanked about Afghanistan, why state militias are a good thing, budget cuts at the Pentagon, big bucks from the defense industry and why we still have problems with national security professional development.
1) With a draw down of troops set to begin this summer, why is Afghanistan strategy still being discussed? Many of the major think tanks put out a significant report in the last few months on Afghanistan strategy and many of them have the ears of key stakeholders. Is there a hindrance to strategy with all this discussion?
I don’t think all the variations of “cut and run” in Afghanistan from various think tanks is going to have any influence on the course of events. The future will largely be determined by the success or the failure of the strategy on the ground. No one on any side of the debate thought the 2011 deadline for “significant” withdrawals made any sense. The fact that the White House seems to be backing off the deadline reflects two things. First, the administration thinks the strategy might work. Second, it did not see a big “anti-war” sentiment in the mid-term elections. Therefore, the calculation at this point seems to be that the White House thinks the war is “manageable.” So all those reports did was a kill a lot trees and stray electrons. On the other hand, if things “go south” over the next year, you might see the president dust some of them off as he scrambles for an “exit” strategy.
2) You're a strong proponent of state militias. What's the case for that and what are the differences between them and the militias people are used to hearing about?
Most people know very little about these. More properly called “State Defense Forces” or SDFs, they are authorized by the Constitution and many states such as Texas use them very, very effectively as volunteer organizations. They are not to be confused with “pop-up” organizations that are not created or authorized under state laws. One of the jobs of think tanks is to bring attention to important issues that people are not paying attention to and to provide “facts” and not just opinion. With that in mind, Heritage undertook what I think is the only major survey of these organizations. In the U.S., 23 states and territories have SDFs which had a total force strength of 14,000 members. SDFs are a proven force in homeland security and emergency response efforts. After 9/11, the New York Guard, New York Naval Militia, and New Jersey Naval Militia were activated. After Hurricane Katrina, SDF forces from at least eight states responded to support recovery efforts. What we concluded was that states, Congress, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can take some basic steps to enhance and expand the capabilities of the nation’s SDFs.
3)Larry Korb recently wrote that it's possible to shave the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion while still maintaining a 6% increase in spending from the period of 2001-2010. Is he right?
First, don’t assume that just cutting the Pentagon’s budget will generate efficiencies. That is the last thing that is likely to happen. Pentagon spending is driven by plethora of federal rules and Congressional dictates (most of the Army’s R&D budget, for example, is dictated by earmarks). If Congress wants the Pentagon to spend money more efficiently it has to change the rules, not cut the budget. That said; there are lots of ways to make defense spending more efficient. In one report we identified $35 billion in potential savings. The issue is if you create these savings, is that an excuse to gut the defense budget? I would argue no. The US military has been on a virtual “procurement holiday” since the end of the Cold War. A lot of our military hardware is wearing; needs to be replaced or modernized or augmented. The wars have only accelerated the demands to recapitalize the force. Savings need to be plowed back into modernization or we going to finish up with a worn out, undersized, underpowered military just like in the aftermath of Vietnam.
Furthermore, I would argue that the obsession with cutting defense to balance the federal budget makes no sense. Defense is not even the “big ticket” in government spending—accounting for less than one-fifth of the federal budget (50 years ago it was half). National defense now ranks a lowly fourth in overall government spending priorities, falling behind the combined cost of Social Security and Medicare, public education, and means-tested welfare aid. Before Congress starts gutting defense and making us less safe it ought to go after these programs first. Defense spending, as a percentage of GDP, even with the costs of fighting overseas, is at a near historic post-World War II low. We live in a dangerous world and the military has never been busier, the idea that our forces can sustain big defense cuts just does not pass the common sense test. Strategy not “green eye shades” should dictate military requirements.
4) A number of media accounts in the last year criticized think tanks for taking money from the defense industry. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute responded with: "I'm not going to work on a project unless somebody, somewhere, is willing to pay. This is a business...bottom line is that if what I write and say is true, it doesn't really matter what my motives are." What should the relationship be between research and the defense industry?
I can only speak for Heritage. First, our financial statement is online. What you see is that corporate giving accounts for single digits of the foundation’s income. Several defense companies do contribute to Heritage. They represent a small percentage of corporate giving. All the defense company money goes to general operations and does not fund specific programs. I am responsible for coordinating all the foreign policy and national security research at Heritage. All of our research requirements are driven by the research staff—we don’t do work on behalf of others. Our research centers get an annual budget for research and that is not tied to individual sources of donations. Fund raising is done by the development staff not the research staff. We constantly monitor research to ensure there are no “conflicts of interest.” I feel pretty comfortable with our process and that our analysts are adequately “fire-walled” and protected from outside influence.
5) Nearly 10 years after 9/11, there are still major gaps in national security professional development. Why is there still a struggle here?
I could not be more demoralized with a) the lack of attention to national security professional development or b) most of the junk that is put out that purports to national security professional development reform. Mostly what you get are just different ways to “centralize” and re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic (i.e. the Office of the President). Most of it is also incoherent. I have written tons on this issue. Here is a link to one paper as an example. I also wrote a piece for Joint Force Quarterly a while back. The problem is a) nobody really owns this issue so there is no real stakeholder to undertake a reform agenda and b) the lack of really good research and analysis. I am sure what will happen is nothing till the next Pearl Harbor and then we will all scuttle around and do something for the sake of doing something. The great irony is that the Bush administration made a half-decent effort at professional development at the end of its tenure, but they really didn’t get it off the ground. The new administration lost interest it and the whole thing is moribund as far as I am concerned.