Pentagon Budget Cuts: A Cause For Concern?

By Jay R.

What does a ‘leaner’ American military mean for the Middle East? In a word: Proxies. 

President Obama addresses reporters from the Pentagon.

On January 5, President Barak Obama announced from the Pentagon that the American defense budget was going to see significant cuts – approximately 500 billion dollars over the next ten years. The announcement sounded alarms both at home and abroad, with many concerned that the United States would surely lose its military superiority and squander its influence in the Middle East. However, such concerns are baseless and unfounded as the United States will continue to maintain a military budget that is greater than the next top ten military spenders combined.

Over the last decade, the United States has been involved in two counterinsurgency wars – Iraq and Afghanistan – totaling a cost of nearly 1.3 trillion dollars. Participation in the Iraq conflict has ended and the US is slowly drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in anticipation of a 2014 exit. The ending of these two wars will significantly absorb the budgetary cuts that the Obama administration is planning. Furthermore, the United States government and citizenry alike have lost all appetite for any military commitment that would result in the deployment of its troops to the Middle East again, therefore diminishing the likelihood for their reappearance anytime soon.   

Some have opined that the United States is transferring its focus from the Middle East to the Far East as the country begins to strengthen its counterbalance to the ever-growing Chinese military. This was evident with Obama’s November 2011 announcement regarding the stationing of United States Marines in Australia.

Despite growing fears of Chinese influence in the Far East and the resulting troop commitments, the United States is working towards securing its regional influence in the Middle East more than ever. The United States has not taken its eye off its prime target in the Middle East region: The Islamic Republic of Iran.  The US has been meticulously planning its departure from Iraq while securing deals with the Persian Gulf’s Sunni kingdoms to ensure there is a sufficient counterbalance there as well. The Sunni Gulf Kingdoms fear Iran as much or even more than the United States. As a result, these oil-rich nations have been quick to appropriate funds and buy up American military technology, training, and weaponry amounting to tens of billions of dollars in decade-long contracts.

The recently mounting tensions in the Strait of Hormuz served as the starkest reminder of the United States’ military commitment to the region. Iran’s 10-day war games highlighted America’s willingness to send its Bahrain-based fifth fleet into action without hesitation, should Iran make a move in closing off the strategic waterway. In addition to Bahrain, the United States still maintains military bases in nearly every state in the Persian Gulf opposite Iran.  Outside of the Persian Gulf, the United States has worked to secure an effective missile shield for its allies, installing advanced radars in Turkey and Israel.

While efforts continue to strengthen Sunni allies in the Gulf, many have also questioned whether America’s pledge to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge will be compromised. The United States’ actions in this regard indicate that there is little cause for concern. Firstly, even with the recent budget cuts, the approximately three billion dollars in aid to Israel will not likely be affected. In addition, the United States and Israel are now in the midst of planning unprecedented missile defense exercises involving thousands of troops from both countries.

Given this nearly holistic effort to strengthen its regional allies against Iran, it remains clear that the United States aims to preserve the balance of power in the Middle East, despite the looming defense budget cuts. Indeed, given the decade-long investment of blood and resources in the region, it seems only rational that the United States would ensure that these efforts were not committed in vain.

For this primary reason, the US will continue to enlist proxies for the needed counterbalance in the region to Iran and will not hesitate to ensure that they are sufficiently armed. That said, the leading Western power will hardly vanish from the Middle East, continuing to keep a watchful eye on what remains the world’s most strategic region.

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