On War #286: America’s Defense Meltdown

by William S. Lind
15 December 2008

America’s Defense Meltdown is the title of a new book on military reform, edited by Winslow Wheeler and published by the Center for Defense Information. In it, some of the leading figures from the military reform movement of the 1970’s and ‘80’s update their work and relate it to today’s challenges, including that posed by Fourth Generation war.

The book is timely. For years, Chuck Spinney and I have said that there will be no reform until the money simply isn’t there anymore. If that day has not yet arrived, it is on the calendar. The combination of a severe recession or depression and vast New Deal-type public works programs means something has to give. As the largest element in the discretionary federal budget, defense spending is an obvious target. More, it is a worthy target, in that much of what we spend buys little or no capability. The problem is not only mismanagement, but outdated and fundamentally wrongheaded approaches to war.

The latter are the focus of America’s Defense Meltdown, although the book addresses financial and managerial issues. Here, I want to focus on three chapters, the three most innovative (I leave my own two chapters, on the Marine Corps and the Navy, for others to weigh). The first is Chet Richards, “Shattering Illusions: A National Security Strategy for 2009-2017.”

In its first incarnation in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the military reform movement deliberately avoided the subject of strategy. It did so because the Cold War locked the U.S. into worshipping the great clay god NATO, which is to say into a continental strategy. Then as now a maritime strategy made better sense, but anyone who questioned the holiness of NATO was cast into outer darkness. So we bit our tongues and bided our time.

Now, with the Cold War over and the challenge of 4GW upon us, a debate over strategy is urgent. Chet Richards launches it con brio, arguing that we must determine what state militaries can and cannot do in a Fourth Generation world. Then, we must stop asking our armed services to do things that are impossible for them, like turning fly-blown, flea-bitten Third World hellholes into Switzerland. More, we should stop buying forces that are useless or worse for the types of conflicts we are likely to face.

Chet may disagree, but I think that in his chapter he moves closer to what I have advocated for years, namely a defensive rather than an offensive grand strategy. In any event he puts the subject of strategy on the table, which is vitally important. Because a higher level of war dominates a lower, if you don’t get your strategy right, no matter what you do at the tactical and operational levels, you lose.

The book’s second brilliant chapter is by Pierre Sprey and Bob Dilger, “Reversing the Decay of American Air Power.” In it, the authors chop up the idea of “winning through air power,” aka strategic bombing, and flush down war’s cloaca maxima.

More, they explain in detail how we can build an air force that can really make a difference in wars’ outcomes and do so for less money than we are spending now. The key idea is simple, and well supported by military history: build an air force that works in close union with ground forces.

A personal anecdote: Years ago, I was asked by a thoughtful SAC commander (yes, there was one), “What am I supposed to do with 18 B-2 bombers?” I replied, “Tow them around to county fairs and charge admission.”

My favorite chapter in America’s Defense Meltdown is Bruce Gudmundsson’s, “The Army National Guard, the Army Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve.” Bruce is the highly talented author of Stormtroop Tactics, the history of the development of Third Generation war in the German Army in World War I. Here, he shows how to take the classic European reserve system and adapt it to American conditions. Few transplants work “straight,” as direct imports. Adapting them requires great insight and imagination, and Gudmundsson demonstrates both in proposals that would improve the usefulness of our Guard and Reserve forces by orders of magnitude. His chapter alone is easily worth the price of the whole book.

Is anyone listening? Maybe. Interest is growing on Capitol Hill in reviving the Military Reform Caucus. Both Republicans and Democrats see major cuts in the defense budget are coming, and they know that left to its own devices the Defense Department will cut combat forces while preserving the bureaucracy and the money flow to the contractors. I suggested to a Hill staffer last week that the motto of a revived Reform Caucus should be, “Preserve the combat units, cut the bureaucracy.” That slogan could quickly gain bi-partisan support.

America’s Defense Meltdown is available immediately in Kindle Edition and will be published in hard cover on March 20.

Note: This will be the last On War column for 2008. Best wishes to all for a holy Christmas and a safe and prosperous new year!

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 25 responses so far

25 Responses to “On War #286: America’s Defense Meltdown”

  1. Sven Ortmannon 16 Dec 2008 at 8:19 pm 1

    “The combination of a severe recession or depression and vast New Deal-type public works programs means something has to give.”

    The opposite is true.
    Domestic military spending has almost the same effect as those “New Deal-type public works programs” in the short run.

    I believe that this crisis might actually keep the military budget party alive for one or two more years (not the least because there are still wars going on and Obama foolishly committed himself to the Afghanistan War).

  2. Rob Pon 17 Dec 2008 at 11:20 am 2

    I downloaded the book free through the website (from my PC, not my NMCI computer of course). Is there someone, somewhere who should be paid for this? People did put time and effort into writing and editing this book.

    Does the physical book have additional articles that the download does not have?



    [CR: Rob — what a great gesture, and will make it possible to continue publishing books like this. I’d suggest contacting the editor, Winslow Wheeler. The CDI site lists his e-mail as: winslowwheeler@msn.com.

    The printed version has the same articles as the PDF.]

  3. Cheton 17 Dec 2008 at 2:34 pm 3

    Forwarded to me to post as a comment:

    Mr. Lind commented that CDI and the paper are blocked by DoD. Not true, at least from my computer here at the Pentagon. Regardless of how many in the defense community might be out to get him, there’s no need to be paranoid on this item, at least.

    Several people have reported problems logging in and posting comments on this piece.

  4. Maxon 17 Dec 2008 at 3:18 pm 4

    “The opposite is true.”

    Sadly I agree.

    The MICC is among a very few bright spots
    in the US economy currently.


    “Obama foolishly committed himself to the Afghanistan War”

    Again, it’s abundantly apparent, the electorate has been mislead,
    and sold yet another proverbial and somewhat unexpected bill of goods. By the now enshrined institution of the Imperial Presidency.

    As is the evolving outcome, predictably, taking into
    consideration all factors, which has left the United States
    almost entirely unrecognisable from the country we respected,
    admired, and were so proud to be of, or associated with.

    There maybe still hope, but only if Bill Lind is correct
    in his belief that the warnings will be heeded, and then
    only as Boyd taught, ACTED upon, accordingly !


  5. loggie20on 17 Dec 2008 at 5:39 pm 5

    “Domestic military spending has almost the same effect as those “New Deal-type public works programs” in the short run.”

    This statement may be true for isolated localities, but is false for the general economy.

    The economic impact of military spending is ultimately very negative.

    The jobs contribute only to local economies, and that is why there is the depot caucus and the PAC’s.

    The spending makes a limited number of otherwise inept companies “profitable” and that buys PAC’s.

    From the perspective of how the product of the military industrial complex benefits society that is quite negative.

    The things produced, even the jet noise, do nothing for the local or national economy.

    Worse they take away skilled work force and materials which could be put into things that actually benefit society.

    Yes, for the PACs and the few localities military spending is good but for the general economy it is quite negative and weakens the recovery.

  6. EmeryNelsonon 18 Dec 2008 at 1:56 pm 6

    Couldn’t agree more with Loggie. These programs don’t benefit enough people to survive what’s coming. In the days when the US army had 600 bns this makes some sense, although, still not enough to justify the spending. Today it makes no sense at all. It’s a big fat negative for the economy and we can look for severe cuts in the military after the Obots take over. They have no other choice open to them.

  7. Sven Ortmannon 18 Dec 2008 at 4:38 pm 7

    I added “in the short run” for a very good reason.

    In the short run (a year or less) it’s like this:

    Fed invents money,
    Fed lends money to Govt,
    Govt gives money to corporation,
    corporation pays wages,
    worker goes shopping,
    shop can buy new goods,
    goods need to be produced – by other workers.

    The other effects take more than a few weeks or months.

  8. Rob Pon 18 Dec 2008 at 5:47 pm 8

    If defense spending does not help the economy except locally, why does every reputable economist state that WWII got us out of the Great Depression, not the New Deal? If the massive defense spending in support of WWII didn’t break the depression then what did?

    Speaking as a user of a lot of the expensive gear that the taxpayers buy for me, I (and especially my family) feel a lot better knowing that the taxpayers like me enough to provide me with not just a helmet like my WWII bretheren, but also body armor, a decent rifle (it was not that long ago I only had a pistol), day and night optics, as well as decent gear for all weather conditions. In total all that gear that the conscripts of WWII didn’t have is worth, conservatively, $8,000 in todays dollars (the NVG alone is approx $3,500). This does not cover the latest and greatest in medical technology that is shipped to the front lines to help ensure I live after I get hit. In short, spending per troop is going to be high unless you like massive casualties every time you “call up the conscripts” and poorly train them for the next big war.

  9. loggie20on 18 Dec 2008 at 7:16 pm 9

    “If defense spending does not help the economy except locally, why does every reputable economist state that WWII got us out of the Great Depression, not the New Deal?”

    This is an unsubstantiated and misleading statement, list the ‘reputable’ economists. It may acceptable if you define ‘reputable’ as those with whom you agree.

    Lend lease was an economic plus as the military gear sold was paid in foreign currency and at a profit not taken away from other uses of the US tax dollars.

    The war itself took over 40% of GNP and blew a lot of things up in the Pacific, Japan and most of industrial Europe but made no roads or cars or hospitals for US citizens.

    As to you going off to war and the taxpayer giving you good or poor tools you have to ask yourself if the war you fight spent money blowing up terrists which ought to might have been better used ending childhood disease and hunger among Americans.

    The terrists will always be there and I am sure the tactics are not worth the costs for the limited benefit.

    I don’t know any economist with a definite answer on what ended great depression I.

    I might suppose for your consideration: pent up demand from not having Chryslers (they were making airplane and tanks) to buy, forced savings from rationing, the wreckage of German and Japanese competition, as well a wrecked friendly nations, reconstruction of friendly and enemy nations, a number of things but no eveidence that the war itself ended great depression I.

    However, do you think the 400,000 Americans who gave their all and the 16 million who gave some did it to end great depression I and was their sacrifice needed or sufficient for that economic benefit?

  10. Rob Pon 18 Dec 2008 at 10:03 pm 10

    If you really want references starting from high school, ping me end of January after I complete Defense Meltdown and War Made New. We both seem open to the idea that 1) WWII may have ended the Great Depression and 2) It was unintentional.

    I will always agree that children’s hospitals are great things to have and if Congress allowed for choices between the B2 bomber and childrens hospitals, then I would kill the B2 for the hospital. Problem is, not having B2 bombers will not lead to children hospitals, it will lead to millions of dollars being funneled into corrupt governors bank accounts who are trying to sell the President-elect’s Senate seat to the highest bidder or another 1,000,000 ways that Congress spreads the wealth around to their friends and husband’s firms, which is really the point, isn’t it.

    That is, the same corrupt defense procurement system that ensures friends of congressmen and retired generals get plenty of money also applies to procurement for all other government projects. Problem is, with national defense the “business as usual” approach in DC actually endangers the security and freedom of the citizens of the USA in a way that not having another childrens hospital does not.

  11. Maxon 19 Dec 2008 at 11:11 am 11

    “If defense spending does not help the economy except locally, etc, etc ”

    A loaded retorical question to be sure.

    Kinda like saying, I’m perfectly happy and am being looked after,
    so what’s wrong with my acoholism, and the related tendency to beat my wife and kids ?


  12. Maxon 19 Dec 2008 at 11:33 am 12

    I’ll add in haist that in direct involvement one is therefore profiting, (serving your country as one might prefer) gamefully employed and supplied, by the US large scale industrialised export of warfare, along with the ensuant destruction, and as some would make the point, pain, and suffering and further promoted hatred and excallation.

    The bussiness model is therefore wonderfully self sustaining,
    in a similar sense and degree as an example I like to use, being as a gambling casino

    But in one’s own mind, they are in fact protecting us, and making a huge sacrifice and putting ones self at risk and in harms way.
    Protection from a monsterous evil, that would otherwize
    over run and destroy our scociety.

    Difficult to confirm or deny that, isn’t ?
    And so the rational is well versed, and the dogma re-enforced.

    But, the real beuty is that since, and afterall, the US dosn’t make cars anymore, at all, still a few aircraft maybe, other than military jets, we scarcely ever fix the roads, we don’t make consumer electronics other than a dwindling few niche computer related items, and some softwere.

    And so, War is just a great bussiness, with virtually UNLIMITED growth potential, and the side effects listed are considered as just like industrial waist or polution right ?

    We’ll worry about all that later, the really important thing is to make
    a buck right now, and keep making it !


  13. loggie20on 19 Dec 2008 at 4:28 pm 13


    It is the legacy of “breaking starch” and “paying your schilling”.

    Never do anything that would harm your self interest, except maybe go off and get those battle ribbons.

    The problem is that in the past 15 years rewrote the OMB directive A109 on federal Investments deleting the proscription to “assure the procurement is worth the expenditure of the scarce taxpayer resources” every one has acquired for their own self interest.

    Every weapon and every formation in the order of battle has more political support than strategic or operation sense.

  14. loggie20on 19 Dec 2008 at 10:13 pm 14

    Rob P,

    In Nov 08 the Econ Blogs had a bit of traffic on the topic that “WW II ended great depression” (or the 1937 disruption of the FDR recovery).

    Here is a start: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/11/what-ended-the.html You should read the Higgs paper as well as the others.

    Logistics is the materiel side of war, economics is important, you need stuff to go to war.

    “Logisticians are a sad embittered race of men who are very much in demand in war, and who sink resentfully into obscurity in peace”

    It may have been the US loggies who both ended great dpression I and won the war.

    If Chet wishes we can do an economics section every couple of weeks here.

    [CR: Sure – just keep it defense-oriented. General econ stuff would probably be more at home on Fabius Maximus’ blog.]

  15. Maxon 20 Dec 2008 at 12:20 am 15

    “Every weapon and every formation in the order of battle has more political support than strategic or operation sense.”





    “The entire method of attempting to revive an economy by central bank and government manipulations is flawed. It creates a sick and weak economy based on undue credit creation and higher and higher debt burdens. This was done already from 2001 onwards and created the current economic decline.”

    The following might also readily apply to defence spending, and using defence spending as a principle economic stimulus in the current circumstance. It benefits a reletively narrow and shallow percentage of the overall population.

    Credit to my friend Proff Rozeff.

    “Public works projects are a loser. They are low-return projects. The people working construction make money for awhile, while the rest of us lose. The actual welfare of all of the people does not improve even if the GDP holds on or grows a little. Government spending that is included in GDP doesn’t add to the well-being of most of us. The actual well-being of people is what counts, not GDP growth, not how many pyramids we build in order to keep people “working.””

  16. loggie20on 20 Dec 2008 at 8:03 pm 16

    Been on teh CDI .pdfs.

    As a careful observer of the defense acquisition process, mainly first hand. The issue is moral.

    As Napolean observed the moral is to the material as three is to one.

    The moral portion of the material approaches zero.

    What good is all the money when all it does is break starch?

  17. Maxon 21 Dec 2008 at 8:44 pm 17

    “What good is all the money when all it does is break starch?”

    Not entirely sure if I understand that reference.
    However, and if I do get the inference, the entire
    “system” is predicated on that pyramid scheme.



    “”The military-industrial-complex [would] cause military spending to be driven not by national security needs but by a network of weapons makers, lobbyists and elected officials.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower”

    “”There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.” — General Smedley D. Butler”

    “Problem is, with national defense the “business as usual” approach in DC actually endangers the security and freedom of the citizens of the USA in a way that not having another childrens hospital does not.”


    “That wars are very good, even wonderful for business, is demonstrated dramatically by the present conflict in Iraq. First, this aggression put the huge Mesopotamian petroleum resources at the disposal of the American oil trusts.”

    “Second, the Iraqi market has been pried open to American export products such as Coca-Cola and Marlboro cancer sticks.”

    ” Third, the Iraqis now have the opportunity to slave away, in return for low wages, for the benefit of the US corporations for whom the country’s state-owned enterprises are being privatized – in flagrant violation, incidentally, of all principles of international law.”

    ” Fourth, in the USA itself employment opportunities will shrink, thus driving wages down even further, as large firms will be able to have their commodities produced by cheap labour in sweatshops on the banks of the Tigris. (Yet another case of “outsourcing”!)”

    ” Fifth, the war has brought about an explosion of present and future military state expenditures, and supplying the Pentagon with pricey martial toys is guaranteed to be a bonanza for the giants of the American armaments industry;”

    “That the USA is entangled in a vicious war in Iraq is not the fault of President Bush, but of America’s economic system. Without wars, America’s unbridled brand of capitalism can no longer function properly.”

  18. Maxon 21 Dec 2008 at 8:48 pm 18

    “why does every reputable economist state that WWII got us out of the Great Depression,”

    Exactly, it did, it worked then, in that instance, but to make
    that a “way of life” ever since,,?!!

    Please explain.


    “I have demonstrated in my book The Myth of the Good War, it was the Second World War which revealed to corporate America how wonderfully functional armed conflicts can be for the purpose of making money.”

    ” In fact, by the time that war came to an end in 1945, making money – more particularly, achieving sky-high profits ˆ had become unthinkable without warfare. This is why after 1945 the USA has never ceased to fight wars, a long “cold” one against the USSR as well as plenty of hot wars in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Persian Gulf, etc. Not all, but most, of these wars were overtly or covertly unleashed by Washington. ”

    “The warmongering of Bush Jr. is therefore no exception to the rule. It is the rule, the rule of the system. Only wars can bring the super-rich of America the fabulous profits that are the raison d‚être of the rugged American economic system, a system sometimes pithily summarized as “profits before people”. The USA may soon have another president, but let there be no illusions: America will continue to fight wars,”

  19. loggie20on 22 Dec 2008 at 6:30 pm 19


    Ike had it right. Sen Proxmire called it the Golden Fleece.

    The breaking starch (old regular Army) metaphor is ‘put the career ahead of looking at what you are doing and what you are wasting and salve your conscience by not demanding the imagery if you ever get to the point when you’ve got yours’.

    In addition to perpetuating the for ‘profit war machine’ (began in War Between the States, later Mahan’s battleships, then WW I arms sellers, etc) that demands a steady flow of profit disguised as the ‘industry’ being “capability” to save the nation someday, WW II was charcaterized by a command economy with national mobilization and it monetarized (printed military script like the fed is printing green today) the money system going way off gold.

    The profit stream is justified by the con that the US needs to maintain a level of mobilization far above Dec 1941 so that it would not be caught by Yamamoto again.

    Chinese posturing towards Formosa are worth a cool trillion in revenues.

  20. Maxon 22 Dec 2008 at 10:22 pm 20

    “Chinese posturing towards Formosa are worth a cool trillion in revenues.

    Exactly, as if it’s in the interests of the average schmuck to seriously risk such a confrontation, as such, and taking the collective stupidty of the prolitariate entirely for granted, entirely !

    The politics of fear leveraged on a scale that utterly dwarfs Madoff’s scam.

    In as much as Walmart inc. US based,
    and the largest employer outside of US government (incl. Mil.)
    on the N. American continent, IS China’s 5th largest international
    trading partner. Forget, Microsoft, IBM, GM, Ford, Chysler,
    Apple, Cocacola, Pepsi, WaltDisney, Marlbourgh, US Steel, Mobil/Exon, Boeing, Lockmart, etc, etc, etc.

    Not to mention thier status as a major nuclear and space faring
    country, that can feild what ? 100, 200, or 300 ? and more million pepole in arms without so much as breaking the proverbial sweat.

    While the US struggles to maintain what ? about 150 thousdand depolyed and equipped.

    Dream on, and pine for war with China. That, I’d actually
    like to see, from a safe distance on say Mars.


  21. MickeyPvXon 22 Dec 2008 at 11:18 pm 21

    I’m listening. Can’t wait to get my copy of the book. So long as AWO school doesn’t completely consume my time, I should be able to read up and learn a thing or two.

    Currently stitching ideas together haphazardly for a post called, “The Air Force and OODA.” Once again, so long as I got time…

  22. Rob Pon 23 Dec 2008 at 11:47 am 22

    Started reading through the Higgs paper. I am not of big fan of “unorthodox” economic computing methods (the Kuznet series) especially when trying to make a point that refuts a common conception. Using methods not accepted by both sides means his point will be accepted by those who are inclined to agree with him only. I’ll keep reading though…

    Dr Thomas Sowell just wrote a column that addresses the Great Depression directly as well. This column does not address what ended the Depression just what government policies did to exacerbate it. I strongly believe he is one the smart people who believes WWII ended the Depression vice the New Deal.


    By the way, I do agree that loggies helped end WWII and that they are “sad and embittered.” ;-)

    Now to get back to how to get destructive politics out of the military defense procurement system (called shopping by everyone else).

    Happy Holidays!


  23. loggie20on 23 Dec 2008 at 8:29 pm 23


    Imagine the stuff the taxpayer can buy to replay the Battle of Britain over Formosa.

    Do you think the Navy studied how the Brits used (or did not hazard) their aircraft carriers in defending Malta?

    If China wishes to tilt with the US they can stop recycling greenbacks and not buy any T Bills for a week or so.

    Their general staff knows Sun Tzu.

  24. Maxon 24 Dec 2008 at 10:32 am 24

    When Boyd goes bad.


  25. loggie20on 24 Dec 2008 at 8:35 pm 25


    “Now to get back to how to get destructive politics out of the military defense procurement system (called shopping by everyone else).”

    Excellent problem statement.

    At one point, a couple of decades ago, in my career I considered getting into “industrial mobilization” planning.

    Happy Holidays!