No one “plans” to lose, and Mr. Obama may be headed to a win over Congress, meaning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will become operational. However, it’s far from apparent that the White House has a Plan B thought out for either the vote or for the day after, an essential tool for ensuring the safety and security of the United States and its interests abroad.
What if the Iranians cheat or there is at least mounting evidence of malfeasance? What if President Hassan Rouhani is overthrown and his successor is even more anti-American? Well, what if? What if the next crisis isn’t even in the Persian Gulf?
Regardless of the fate of the Iran agreement, America needs Plan B to reverse the most egregious effects of military decline, restore America’s global capabilities, and assure both allies and adversaries that the United States has not gone on permanent hiatus. Sequestration, Congress‘ option for restraining spending, was enacted in 2011. As Congress prepares the 2016 defense spending bill, the services have spent five years deferring training and maintenance, and watching troop levels decline. Long-term planning in the absence of a long-term spending plan has become almost impossible.
In a recent hearing, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, said it would take “eight to 10 years to return the Air Force to full readiness.” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said it would be 2018 before the delayed maintenance on ships is complete, and an additional two years is needed to perform all deferred maintenance on aircraft. During that time and beyond, said Republican Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, “We can lose, people will die, and people will be injured,” as a result of decreased readiness.
It isn’t just money. “Our requirements have been more unexpected, our enemies more unpredictable, and our ability to handle multiple simultaneous situations more uncertain,” said Army Secretary John McHugh.
An informal poll of priorities among experts in the services — most of whom preferred to remain anonymous — elicited the following:
For one retired Marine major general, it was funding the soon-to-be-selected new Amphibious Combat Vehicle. “We are at least a decade behind in ground vehicle modernization in general, and a new ACV in particular. Another priority should be new amphibious shipping. The joint USN-USMC power-projection requirement is for at least 38 amphibious ships; we have 29.”
For the Navy, a civilian analyst responded, “Congress should raise the number of carriers that the Navy is legally required to have from 11 to 12 and pay for Ohio-class replacement submarines over, above, separately and independently of the Navy’s [already insufficient] shipbuilding budget.”
A retired Coast Guard admiral wanted accelerated ship replacement, specifically offshore patrol cutters and Polar-class icebreakers. “Funding has been limited so far resulting in loss of capability as old ships break and significant reduction in being able to take advantage of production efficiencies and savings.”
One Army answer focused on Iran: Special Forces “to go one-on-one against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps worldwide,” cyber capabilities to “make sure Iran needs to worry about our ability to completely turn off the grid in Iran,” and advanced upper-tier missile defense, “to ensure that if Iran develops a ballistic nuclear capability, it doesn’t get beyond Iranian territory before being shot down.”
Not everyone was service-specific. While noting problems with flying hours, aircraft maintenance and pilot retention, a retired Air Force general pointed to a comment by a Marine as the chief challenge for all the services. “The fundamental job of the military, ‘kill bad people and break things,’ has become critically hampered by ‘rules of engagement’ [and policies] whose guiding logic is political outcome, not successful combat.”
A stronger American approach to NATO, including more forward-deployed troops would help the Baltic States and Poland, both increasingly unnerved by Russian cyber-attacks and adventurism in Ukraine. The United States should also revisit installation of the missile defense radars in Poland and the Czech Republic that were approved in the George W. Bush administration but canceled by President Obama.
In the Pacific, Australia has been increasing its defense budget in light of Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. The U.S. has allies and friends in the Pacific and should be leading an effort to better define boundaries and resource rights — with China, if China wants to be cooperative; without it, if necessary.
With these priorities and others, it is time for the United States to embark on a serious program to find, fund and execute Plan B to defend America, its allies and its interests.