Shooting the Wounded

Author: Gary Hart

In describing a politician lacking in courage, someone once described him as “entering the battlefield after the conflict is over and shooting the wounded.” That description came to mind in recent days when credentialed economists, a number from previous Republican administrations, suddenly appeared, after the hangman of debt default was narrowly escaped. Suddenly, as if by magic, a consensus emerged in the economic community. Conservatives joined liberals to say that we need to stimulate the economy first and then turn to deficit reduction.

It is a cause for wonder that some of these important figures were not heard during the politically bloody “debate” over deficits. It would have been helpful if these experienced economic gurus, with credentials in conservative political and economic circles, had weighed in when their voices might have countered, at the least, the shrill nonsense of the Tea Party representatives and those in Congress they have intimidated. Conservative authorities might have given a bit of courage to those in Congress more concerned with a primary challenge, and thus their jobs, more than the national interest.

As one of the few described as a “liberal Democrat”, yet concerned for several decades with national security, it is of concern that the “super committee” emerging from the tenuous debt ceiling resolution is tasked with taking reducing federal spending by 1.5 trillion dollars in the next decade or, if it fails, seeing another 500 billion dollars in cuts, added to the already programmed 350 billion in cuts in the defense budget. Defense spending is to great. We are buying high performance, super expensive Cold War weapons systems, and supporting big divisions, carrier task groups, and long-range bomber wings neither useful nor relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century. But across-the-board percentage reductions in the DoD budget are not the way to go. They will simply produce a somewhat smaller version of a 20th century defense structure.

Instead, the “super committee” should use the existing and potential budget cuts to force the Pentagon, the last big enterprise to do so, to enter the new 21st century. DoD must restructure and reconfigure itself to be relevant to the irregular, unconventional conflict arena of today. We don’t need a somewhat smaller 20th century defense system. We need one that has undertaken fundamental re-thinking of its roles and missions and that has restructured itself to respond to non-state actors using low technology weapons to attack civilian targets in unpredictable ways. The SEAL Six assault on bin Laden is the conflict of the future. We are not nearly prepared enough for it, abroad or at home.

Next time, when courage is called for and wavering politicians are looking for support, let’s hope those who sat on the sidelines–especially in conservative circles–when the nation’s future was at stake will have the courage to speak up, yes even against the mighty Tea Party, when it counts. A coalition involving Democratic and Republican economists, labor and management, Main Street and Wall Street could have been formed to say what most serious people now understand: the economy must grow again before we drastically reduce public investment.

3 Responses to “Shooting the Wounded”

  1. Forest Book Says:

    Why is that each time I read this entry from you Mr. Hart that I think the DoD is being transformed more obviously into what it appears to be now: A law enforcement, and security agency. Why do I keep thinking you, and other DoD policy wonks need to be re-defining the meaning of “Defense.” The alleged actions of the strike force of six seem to fall under the purview of guerilla warfare tactics. Along with the use of unmanned drones, and other unmanned mechanisms the DoD is moving to, or has arrived at its own re-definition of “Defense” and it appears the whole world is the theater of engagement. But, what if “Defense” became actions of mobilizations for humanitarianism, rather than the protection of assets; capture or elimination of value targets? What if the astonishing budgets for weapon systems research and development; our precious and ever indebted/non-existent national treasure became investments into the methodologies and leadership of disaster confrontation, management, rebuilding, and maintenance? What if “Defense” of one nation is in fact the “Defense” of the entire planet? Defense of water, defense of healthy farm lands, defense of healthy, well educated human beings? On and on. Defense should mean nurture and protection of betterment. If civilization means to move forward, is not now the time to confront meaning? Today it seems to me almost impossible to take war seriously in the face of what is taking place in the streets around the world. Are the people calling for war? Or are they calling for medicine, water, food, health, homes, a sense of belonging to something greater than a “side.” Maybe I am wrong, and bloodshed is endemic to global nurture and protect of betterment.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Thanks to Mr. Book for his comment and questions. In fact, in Under the Eagle’s Wing, The Shield & The Cloak, and The Fourth Power, I do exactly as he insists–redefining “security” to include climate change, pandemics, failed states, fundamentalism, and many non-military challenges in a new, broader 21st century understanding of what it means to be secure. Very few of the real “threats” we and others face in coming decades can be deflected by military means. So, I agree with the understanding of defense he is here promoting and have been arguing for it for some time.

  3. Jim Engelking Says:

    Leon Panetta will never transform DOD, in fact all his early words and actions point to his being merely a confirmable placeholder. DOD and its outrageous budget is firmly in the grasp of the military-industrial complex which needs continuing warfare on a global scope to grow and prosper. America remains traumatized by 9/11 and the Bush-Cheney policies which kept the people anxious for their safety to the extent that they willingly accepted global preventive warfare and conceded their freedoms to the all-powerful state. You need to mentor a cadre of young people to speak the truth to power, Gary.

    On your point of tardy conservative economists, they are captives of the gigantic money interests who employ them. Only Mark Zandy appears cqapable of telling objective truth. It reflects the intractable political divide, which, IMO, has been fostered and exaggerated by those same money interests as a divide and conquer strategy, and it is working.

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