U.S. Middle East policy is in shambles
Last week, as the deployment of American troops to Iraq more than doubled (from 300 to 800), the Pentagon sought to reassure that it was not "mission creep." In DoD News Joint Chiefs Chaiman Dempsey offered a circumlocutory explanation:
"Currently, U.S. advisors in Iraq are not involved in combat operations, Dempsey said, but he did not rule that out.
“'If the assessment comes back and reveals that it would be beneficial to this effort and to our national security interests to put the advisors in a different role, I will first consult with the secretary, we will consult with the president,' he said. 'We’ll provide that option and we will move ahead.'
"Even so, he said U.S. involvement in Iraq does not amount to 'mission creep.' Choosing to characterize it instead as 'mission match.'
“'We will match the resources we apply with the authorities and responsibilities that go with them based on the mission we undertake, and that is to be determined,' the chairman said."
There should be little doubt that President Obama prefers to send as few American troops to Iraq as possible, but it may be a rough proxy measure of how bad things are militarily in Iraq that the number has doubled in just two weeks. In Dempsey's phrase the upper limit remains "to be determined."
Meanwhile the White House (using OCO funds) plans to send a half billion dollars of military aid to 'vetted' rebel forces in Syria while the Syrian government forces (allied with Hezbollah) will be fighting radical sunni forces in both Iraq and Syria. U.S. 'vetted' Syrian rebels will have to fight the Syrian government, Hezbollah, and ISIS, as they were this week in and around Aleppo.
The upshot of the developing situation is that the U.S. will be supplying major aid to groups fighting Syria's government while simultaneously being in tacit alliance with Syria, Russia, Iran and Iraq in fighting the most effective insurgent force in Syria and Iraq -- ISIS.
Conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are fond of reminding us of the unintended consequences of government action. It is hard to imagine a greater mess of unintended consequences than those manifesting in this late stage of their war in Iraq. It is of critical importance that the lessons of this adventure in using the U.S. military to change another society be fully debated and absorbed. Then these lessons must inform U.S. national strategy going forward.
Overseas Contingency (OCO) Funding
The White House request for the FY15 OCO budget was submitted to Congress on June 26. As Taxpayers for Common Sense points out, if the Pentagon's $58 billion OCO budget funded a separate department it would be the fifth largest Federal agency, coming in ahead of the State, Energy, Homeland Security and HUD. In other words, The OCO budget is not a trivial footnote in Federal spending.
Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments esitmates that U.S. troops in Afghanistan will cost about $20 billion in FY15, begging the question of what the other $38 billion is for?
As we reported in the June 4th Bulletin, President Obama announced two 'initiatives' on May 28th, both of which would be funded in OCO: a $5 billion fund for training and equipping other country militaries to fight terrorism and a $1 billion European Reassurance fund. More recently the President announced a plan to spend $500 million to train and equip "vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition."
There is also $6 billion for weapon procurement in the OCO, including money for a C-130J transport plane, 12 Reaper drones, 983 Predator Hellfire missiles, 3106 JDAM bomb kits, and 90 Javelin missiles.
The White House 2015 OCO Request Fact Sheet names "DOD’s supporting presence in the broader [Central Command] region" as one of the main uses of OCO funding. It doesn't put a number with this item, but we can be sure it runs into the multiple billions. In a report on CENTCOM headquarters costs the GAO finds:
"...the military services have not transitioned or developed a time frame to transition these enduring costs to DOD’s base budget. DOD’s base budget contains the department’s priorities forallocating resources. DOD officials stated that the department has not issued guidance that addresses how to fund these costs or established a time frame for when to transition them from DOD’s overseas contingency operations budget to its base budget because DOD is waiting on decisions about future military involvement in Afghanistan. Officials also stated that the constrained fiscal environment has contributed to the department’s reluctance to transition overseas contingency operations costs to DOD’s base budget."
This is but one of the several substantial items in the OCO request that belong in the Pentagon's base budget. It is clear that it ends up in the OCO fund because OCO is exempt from budget caps.
All together the normal/non-emergency items included in the administration's OCO request gives the Pentagon about a 7% bonus compared to what they would have received under the provisions of the Budget Control Act. This misuse of OCO funding makes a mockery of the goals of the Budget Control Act and the so-called "firewall" between domestic and national security spending that was supposed to make sure that the budget cuts would be equally divided between the the two.
AP: "Syrian army tries to choke off rebels in Aleppo,"
Washington Post:"U.S. confronts difficulties in arming Iraqi air forces with missiles and F-16s," Dana Priest and
Foreign Policy: "Pentagon Says U.S. Troops Could Fight in Iraq," Kate Brannen, 03 July 2014.
DoD: "Chairman Describes U.S. Interests in Iraq," Jim Garamone, 03 July 2014.
McClatchyDC: "Pentagon denies 'mission creep' in Iraq as new U.S. troop presence reaches 650," James Rosen, 01 July 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/07/01/232105/pentagon-denies-mission-creep.html
Foreign Policy: "Democracy, Freedom, and Apple Pie Aren't a Foreign Policy," Stephen M. Walt, 01 July 2014.
AlJazeera: "US to deploy more troops to Iraq," 30 June 2014.
New Yorker: "Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form," Andy Borowitz, 30 June 2014.
Taxpayers for Common Sense: "$58 billion 'Emergency' Overseas Operations Spending equals 5th Largest Fedearl Agency," 30 June 2014
The Hill: "Congress should scale back the war budget," William D. Hartung, 30 June 2014.
Defense News: "'Magic Money': DoD's Overseas Contingency Budget Might Dry Up," Marcus Wesigerber, 29 June 2014.
Los Angles Times: "Netanyahu expresses support for Kurdish independence,"
War is Boring: "The House of Representatives’ Defense Authorization Is a Wasteful Mess," Winslow Wheeler, 26 June 2014.
Defense News: "Contingency Spending Request Includes $6B for New Weapons," Marcus Wesigerber, 26 June 2014.
Washington Post: "U.S. should take lead on setting global norms for drone strikes," John P. Abizaid and Rosa Brooks, 26 June 2014.
Military.com: "Army General Selected to Head Iraq Advisors,"
Stars and Stripes: "Sudden Taliban attack raises concerns about effectiveness of Afghan army," Josh Smith, 26 June 2014.
http://www.stripes.com/news/sudden-taliban-attack-raises-concerns-about-effectiveness-of-afghan-army-1.290779, 26 June 2014.
Roll Call: "Pentagon's Budget Projections Ignore Long-Term Caps," Megan Scully, 24 June 2014.
TomDispatch.com: "It's the Oil, Stupid!" Michael Schwartz, 24 June 2014.
The Jerusalem Post: "Israel expressed concerns to US over security failures in Iraq," Michael Wilner and Herb Keinon, 24 June 2014.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "ISIS: The unsurprising surprise that is sweeping Iraq," Charles P. Blair, 18 June 2014.
DefenseOne: "Where Will CENTCOM’s Post-War Funding Come From?" Stephanie Gaskell, 10 June 2014.
Key Reports, Official Sources, Journal Articles, and Books
White House: "Fact Sheet: The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Request," 26 June 2014.
Stimson Center: "Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on US Drone Policy," 26 June 2014.
Department of Defense: "Submitted Statement of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel -- Senate Appropriations Committee-Defense (Budget Request)," 18 June 2014.
Department of the Army: "Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Amended Budget Estimate, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Request, June 2014.
GAO: "Defense Headquarters: Guidance Needed to Transition U.S. Central Command’s Costs to the Base Budget," June 2014.
Department of State: "Blackwater Contractor Performance in Iraq," Jean Richter, 31 August 2007.