Two weeks ago the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a report entitled "Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand U.S. Engagement in a Competitive World Order." It could just as easily have been entitled "What Hillary Should Do When She Gets Elected, and Why She Should Hire Us to Do It." The report's authors run the gamut from interventionist Republican neocons like Robert Kagan to Democratic hawks like Michele Fluornoy, the co-founder of CNAS and a possible candidate for Secretary of Defense in a Hillary Clinton administration. There is not a fresh or independent voice in the lot. As Stephen Walt rightly points out in his take-down of the report in Foreign Policy, this is at best a status quo document, and at worst a doubling down on the failed policies of the past two decades. And why should we expect otherwise? After all, as Walt notes, "the report's signatories helped create many of the problems they now seek to fix, so you'd hardly expect them to cast a critical eye on their own handiwork."
Although the CNAS report bills itself as "rough blueprint for several crucial aspects of American foreign policy, which we believe the next occupant of the White House should adopt no matter what party he or she represents," it is in essence a transition memo for Hillary Clinton. The document is far too interventionist for Bernie Sanders. And even if he were to agree with the report's recommendations, Donald Trump doesn't have the impulse control to follow a plan of any sort.
The CNAS report is breathtaking in its scope. As Daniel L. Davis has noted, "The theme of the policy options and recommendations throughout this paper reflect the ambitions of an imperialist, domineering and expansive global power." Davis further notes that if the authors were to "describe their aspirations in those unpalatable terms" no one would support their approach. So instead we get rhetoric about the need for "American leadership" to enforce a "rules-based international order." There is little discussion of who makes the rules, or how they should be made, but the underlying assumption is that they should be made in Washington. In fact, the CNAS document crystallizes the kind of thinking that Andrew Bacevich roundly criticizes in his 2010 book "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War."
Let's get down to cases. What, exactly, does the CNAS report recommend? Once you strip away the rhetoric about America being the indispensable nation and the need to strengthen "all aspects of American power," the core of the document is about the use and threat of use of military force. "Extending American Power" calls for a steep increase in Pentagon spending along the lines recommended by the 2014 National Defense Panel. Adopting the panel's proposal could result in an increase in Pentagon spending of up to $1 trillion over the next decade. The report contains no similarly detailed recommendations for increasing spending on diplomacy, or economic assistance, or alternative energy, or rebuilding infrastructure, or disease prevention, or any number of other investments that have as much or more to do with keeping the world safe as would spending more on an already amply funded U.S. military. This is the report's fatal flaw - contrary to its claims, lavishing more money on the Pentagon will not make us safer.
The Pentagon and related agencies already receive over $600 billion per year. This is more than the next seven nations in the world combined, and more than was spent at the peak of he Reagan buildup. If the Pentagon can't defend the country for well over a half trillion dollars a year, something is seriously wrong. And it is. Part of what's wrong is that the Pentagon wastes money hand over fist, and can't even keep track of the funds it is receiving now. It is the only major federal agency that can't pass an audit. The other part of what's wrong is that the Pentagon's goal of being able to go anywhere and fight any battle anywhere in the world on short notice is both ill-advised and unrealistic. Unfortunately, the CNAS report reinforces this tendency. For example, its explanation of why the United States needs to spend more money on its military than other nations is as follows:
"U.S. interests require the American military to be deployed globally rather than generally concentrated in one region like Russia or China. The adversary's job is easier than the U.S. task of projecting military power a half a world away."
The CNAS argument for why the United States should outspend its potential adversaries by such a wide margin makes two questionable assumptions. First, it assumes that relatively prosperous allies in Europe and Asia can't be the primary providers of their own defense - or that it should even be a goal for them to do so.
The second problem with the CNAS vision is that it assumes that the kinds of things the United States has sent forces "half a world away" to do - like the interventions in Iraq and Libya - make sense in the first place.
If we were to follow CNAS's lead by stepping up the U.S. military presence in Europe, increasing training for Ukraine, sending more bombs and more troops into Iraq and Syria, and increasing the U.S. naval presence in the Pacific as the primary way of addressing China's activities in the South China Sea, it would indeed be costly. Of particular concern is the proposal - mirroring the position taken by Hillary Clinton - to use U.S. military forces to enforce a "no-fly zone" in Syria. This would result in a direct injection of U.S. forces into the middle of the Syrian civil war, with potentially disastrous consequences.
It's no secret that Hillary Clinton is more hawkish than President Obama, or that she is the favorite of the foreign policy establishment. But if she gets the Democratic nomination and wins the November election, she would be well advised to seek broader counsel in constructing her foreign policy. Not only is the CNAS report not the answer - it is part of the problem.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.