With America’s attention focused on the ever-growing budget crisis, Jed Babbin — bestselling author and a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration — hopes to pivot attention back to the nation’s defense woes.
In his most recent work, “How Obama Is Transforming America’s Military From Superpower to Paper Tiger,” Babbin argues that the administration is intently lessening U.S. power in the world by reducing the country’s military strength — a strategy he believes is incredibly dangerous.
The Daily Caller spoke with Babbin about his book and the struggles U.S. soldiers face on and off the battlefield.
TheDC: Why did you decide to write this book?
Jed Babbin (JB): I think people have to put in context the cuts being made to defense spending and the reshaping of America’s defense forces with President Obama’s main goal. I believe he is not acting out of ignorance or naivete; I think he has a clear agenda of reducing America from a superpower to something much less.
TheDC: In the wake of the spending crisis in Washington, what do you think of proposals — even by Republicans — to cut military spending?
JB: Well, there are certain things you can cut. Certainly, like any bureaucracy, the Defense Department has parts of its budget which can be reduced, and reduced substantially. The issue is: How are you going to do it? The problem with what Obama and Secretary Gates are doing is they are cutting muscle and not fat.
TheDC: What kinds of things have led you to believe the administration is trying to reduce our military into a paper tiger?
JB: You can look at a whole variety of things. You can see Dr. Gates has expressed — and he did so even back in the Bush administration — that he believes we should not think in terms of what he calls “next-war-itis.” That basically means, and he expounded on this, that he believes we will not have to fight another conventional war.
The problem with that theory is twofold. First and foremost, the reason why our forces can defeat any enemy on any battlefield is “next-war-itis.” It infected, if you will, our leaders’ brains after World War II, and by investing in technology and futuristic weapons systems, that is how we have managed to stay ahead of any adversary. Right now — the second part of the answer to that question — to say we will never have another conventional war, well, doesn’t the enemy have some say in that?
TheDC: Why do Gates and others think another conventional war is unthinkable?
JB: I don’t know, they have never really explained it. It is easy to say, and it is correct to say, the days of mass armies confronting each other on the plains of Europe with massive tank formation is over. But that does not mean we are not going to need to engage on the high seas, it does not mean we are not going to need to engage and defend our friends and allies on their ground. And to do that we are going to need conventional forces that are extremely advanced.
TheDC: Why do you think they want to reduce our defense systems?
JB: It comes back to Obama’s agenda, I don’t think this is Gates’s idea. I think it is Obama’s agenda. He said, and I forget which speech it was in, I think it was quoted in the book, he looks at the Middle East and he sees a lot of conflicts that arise there which we are drawn into because we are a superpower and we get drawn in whether we like it or not. Well he is obviously uncomfortable with America’s status as a superpower. I don’t think that he believes America is a force for good in the world.
TheDC: Conservatism has split into a lot of disparate groups, with some conservatives saying we should avoid too much foreign entanglement. What do you say to come of your more isolationist conservative peers?
JB: Well I hope they are not taken in by that argument, I don’t really hear that from too many. The question of being an interventionist or an isolationist is the the wrong question. The issue is what do we need to do to preserve America’s interests around the world and make America safe. And that is going to require us sometimes to intervene in foreign lands. But on the other hand, I don’t believe, for example, in nation-building. I think that is one of the biggest mistakes we have made since 9/11, and I believe that has put us on the strategic defensive. I think Bush was wrong in doing it and I think Obama, frankly, is compounding his mistakes.
TheDC: How do our defense systems compare with other nations’ today. You write a bit about China — how do we compare to them?
JB: If we went head-to-head with China right now, we would win, but five, 10 years from now, I’m not so sure that is the case. China does not want to go to war with us. What China wants to do is to deny us the ability to intervene when they seek hegemony in their area. That goes for a lot of other countries, but China is the most obvious and compelling example.
TheDC: You write about military culture. I was wondering how you would describe military culture and why do you believe liberals have such a hard time understanding it?
JB: Well, that is a big question. First off, military culture is something that is based on history, tradition and self-reliance, and has built up since, frankly, 1775 into a culture which places a high premium on the ability to perform the mission and be able to rely on the guy next to you in whatever fight you might be in.
I think the answer as to why liberals find it anathema to them is, quite frankly, that self-reliance, that self-discipline. Liberals don’t believe people should have to do anything that, on the spur of the moment, they don’t particularly want to do. And really the other part of the answer is that the military has a lot of fault in this because it is very insular, and it always has been. Part of the culture and why it is so successful relies on that.
The military has not done a very good job over the past 50 years or so of maintaining the connection with most Americans that they need in order to understand it. So most people, not just liberals, most Americans don’t really identify with the military that much and I don’t think they really have an understanding of what makes it work.
TheDC: What would be some ways to remedy that do you think?
JB: I think one of the best things to do would be to try harder to reach out to people throughout the country through ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and Junior ROTC programs. I don’t think we really should try to get ROTC back into the Ivy League schools — to the contrary, I think that is a waste of time — but I think an awful lot of colleges and universities could do with a little injection of military culture in that way. Junior ROTC in high school is a fabulous way to teach young Americans how the military works, some military history and frankly convince them of the value of the culture and what the military does.
TheDC: Do you think the administration is more concerned with the political correctness in the military than in defense?
JB: Well, I think it has a lot of interests that are more important to it than defending the country, I think political correctness is only part of it. The PC atmosphere pervades the military right now and is pushed very hard by the White House. And everything from the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” to the fact — when you look at the Army — how reluctant they were, how much they frankly refused to recognize the danger posed by Major Nadal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter. I’ve got reports here, and I think they are public, that mental health specialists were trying to say that Bradley Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks leaker should not be deployed because he had mental problems and I believe those were overlooked because he’s gay. This is a big big problem. You’ve got problems within the force then you have problems external to it, like “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which is going to have a very large impact on it.
TheDC: Will we ever see a reinvigoration of our defense systems?
JB: I don’t know. The answer to that is, do we have in the offing a conservative president who will work hard to do that? You need leadership in order to accomplish that, and in the military I think it would be easy to stir up the effort that would be required to do that. But I don’t know that any of the present 2012 candidates that I see, with the possible exception of John Bolton, has that in mind.
I think we have rightfully focused our attention on economic problems for the past couple of years, but the problem of focusing on that is we are not at all aware of the other issues that frankly can be much more important. You know it is going to be horrible when gasoline hits $5 a gallon again this summer, but we have young men and women dying in Afghanistan for no apparent purpose. People need to start thinking really hard about what the military is doing, what it needs to do and how we need to do to support it to make sure it has every tool it needs to defend us in the future.