Shining Citadel Redux

Roll of U.S. Dollars

In Jan. 1981, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th U.S. president, he declared the federal budget to be out of control. The deficit had reached $74 billion, and the federal debt was at $930 billion. Mr. Reagan said a stack of $1,000 bills equivalent to what Uncle Sam owed would be 67 miles high. Chump change and height today.

Now that same stack of $1,000 bills would reach 900 miles high. In $1 bills, it would pile up to the moon – and back. Not once, but twice. Like a drunken sailor, America continues to borrow about $125 billion a month – $10 billion of it from China. The U.S. owes China $1.3 trillion.

Now at $14.3 trillion, the national debt ceiling must be raised again by Aug. 2 if the U.S. is to avoid default. The lords of Capitol Hill are playing a dangerous game of chicken, as no one wants to assume the responsibility of drastically curbing federal spending and raising taxes at the same time.

Default would rock global markets. By comparison, the Great Depression would look like children losing their weekly allowance. And the rest of the world would begin to look to China as the next global supreme power.

With the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his secret lair a short walk from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy, we have dramatic evidence that small-scale operations can be more effective for changing the course of history than multidivision invasions that inadvertently hand victory to our enemies.

The intelligence bonanza from that raid included a large collection of memory sticks, flash drives, digital audio and video files, printed material, computer equipment, recording devices and handwritten documents. – the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever.

The intel already has been used to strike al Qaeda targets in other parts of the world.

The $1 trillion we blew on Iraq killed Saddam Hussein, but it was a pyrrhic victory that enhanced Iran’s power and influence in Iraq. As the last 40,000 U.S. troops prepare to leave, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki knows he has to live in proximity with Iran along a 713-mile border from the Persian Gulf to Turkey’s southeastern frontier.

The original U.S. strategic plan was to knock off the Iraqi dictatorship, whose demise would prove contagious in Syria and, with pro-Western Jordan, give Israel 25 years of security.

The U.S. can no longer afford a global military strategy and a defense budget that is almost as large as those of the rest of the world combined. Aircraft carrier task forces cost $30 billion or more to build, including aircraft and escort ships. Annual running costs: $5 billion plus.

Eleven carrier task forces are operational, though cost cutters see barely sufficient resources for eight such carrier groups. This would save about $100 billion. The Navy’s current budget: $150 billion.

Yet conservative think-tank experts are calling for a larger defense budget in order to keep the U.S. dominant on land, sea and air. Carrier-borne F-18 Super Hornets could have reduced Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad house and compound to dust, but that would have destroyed all the intelligence.

The holy grail of defense spending is not as holy as it was before Abbottabad.

Outspending and out-arming the Soviet Union worked at a time when the Soviet empire was on the verge of internal economic collapse. The “American Century” was the politico-military-economic miracle of the 20th century. If America has lost some of its luster in the early 21st century, the loss is entirely self-inflicted.

The Iraq war was an expensive mistake. The Afghan war was an ill-thought-through, expensive punitive expedition that dragged in 42 other nations and, thus far, has cost the hapless U.S. taxpayer almost half a trillion dollars – with still a few years to go before all the troops come home.

Afghanistan’s Taliban regime was ousted in a couple of weeks by a U.S. force of 410 men (110 CIA operatives and 300 Special Forces) led by CIA agent Hank Crumpton. The al Qaeda contingent, led by Osama bin Laden, exited into Pakistan during the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.

Delusions of grandeur, or whatever it was, kept us spending billions on weapons systems for the last war, not the cyber- and robotic conflicts of the future.

The F-35 will be the last manned fighter bomber built. And the Pentagon estimates the total cost of owning and operating the fleet of 2,500 F-35s at $1 trillion dollars over the estimated 50-year life span of the aircraft. And that doesn’t include the $385 billion the Department of Defense will spend to buy them.

The Air Force is training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots, a fundamental shift for the 62-year-old service.

Few of the Air Force Academy’s 4,000 cadets will ever get to fly manned aircraft.

In the future, even aerial dogfights will be fought by drones piloted by remote control from hundreds of miles away. The Global Explorer, with a wingspan the same size as a Boeing 747, flies at 65,000 feet for several days, well out of range of most anti-aircraft missiles, and monitors in a single shot an area of almost 300,000 square miles. All of Afghanistan is 252,000 square miles.

Global Explorer costs less ($30 million) and is more effective than a spy satellite. The stealthy and speedy Phantom Ray can dart in and out of enemy territory to destroy a preprogrammed target. The X-47B is the drone look-alike of a B-2 bomber.

There are now 7,000 drones of various types in the U.S. arsenal.

In Afghanistan, neither old nor new bells and whistles will prevent Taliban from coming back, albeit “reformed” with pledges to keep out bin Laden and his terrorist mob. In fact, al Qaeda fighters took a powder during the battle of Tora Bora 10 years ago. And killing Afghan guerrillas was not why friends and allies originally signed on.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times.  This editorial first appeared in The Washington Times.

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