Foreign Policy Blogs

Excuse Me Mr. President…

“The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.”

— Thomas Jefferson

 Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on winning your second term in office. I wish you the best as you work with your team, and the Congress, to chart a course to strengthen our economic and national security in the years to come.

Mr. President, I am a retired military officer, and I represent no political action or special interest group. What I am about to share concerns our national security, specifically, your administration’s proposed approach to addressing the defense spending challenge. Now I know you have many astute advisors from both the civilian and military sectors who are far more qualified than I to address these matters, however, I have something to say.

Since 1992, I have participated in multiple military campaigns to include interventions in Somalia; the Persian Gulf; Afghanistan; Colombia; and even counter-insurgency operations in the Philippines. I was  just one committed member of this generation’s All-Volunteer Force – a force that has endured the constant stress and strain of supporting peacekeeping and humanitarian “fires”, as well as executing post-9-11 “kick the door in —  fight and stay” operations.

Since the fall of the Twin Towers in New York, more than 46,000 of our military men and women have been wounded, and still others – more than 6,200 members of the military have lost their lives in climes and places alien to our own  (Source of data: White House –  Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership).  Mr. President, we rely far too much on the military hammer for overseas conflict resolution and mitigation. Since WWII, our government has picked up the military hammer far too many times and for far too long a time.

As you well know, the practice of national security is a multidimensional one and requires that other tools of national power ,as well as multilateral approaches, be employed to mitigate and resolve crisis. For a country that touts diplomacy over conflict and engagement over military encirclement the quantity of national resources spent on domestic defense, and the “underwriting of global security”, is obscene. What message are we sending to our children, when your administration continues to spend fourteen times as much on defense as you do on diplomats and when our defense spending accounts for 42% of total global arms spending?  (Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Another concerning aspect of our over-the-top defense spending habits is our nuclear  arsenal.

Despite being a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons –– an agreement requiring that we pursue the ultimate elimination of our nuclear arsenal,  you requested $7.6 billion in funding for nuclear weapons – a five percent increase from the 2012. Further, in the next four years your administration will spend $9.6 billion on maintaining and modernizing the nuclear stockpile. How can we tell “non-compliant” nations not to pursue their nuclear weapons ambitions when instead of downsizing our own we maintain a super-sized arsenal at levels totally decoupled from any concept of proportionality?

Mr. President, we can do a much better job rightsizing military spending.  One of your key advisors, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey hit the mark when he stated recently that “Capability is more important than size.”   I ask that you consider making moves aimed at downsizing military expenditures to achieve the Joint Chiefs’ stated objective to “develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives”.

Peace in our time will not come principally through the persistent projection and application of military might, but through our commitment to dialogue (even with bad guys), trade, and multilateralism. Yes, our military needs to be capable, well-equipped and credible, but there should be no doubt that with the right adjustments, tremendous cost savings can be achieved without comprising security — enhancing economic security along the way.

Keeping  factory lines open, and stimulating the private sector should not trump our moral and economic obligation to maintain military spending at sensible levels. And by the way Mr. President, we still DO buy bayonets.

Very Respectfully,

Oliver-Leighton Barrett


  • Kathleen Millar

    Perhaps we should ask our NATO partners to begin paying more for their own defense and causes (Libya?) On another front, the US (ask Hillary Clinton) has already chipped in more than 23 million of US taxpayer monies to support the motley assembly of Sunnis, jihadists, and foreign insurgents in their sectarian, anti-Assad (anti-Shiite/Alawite) campaign–‘freedom fighters’ (again, sigh), each with a different agenda, who will immediately turn on one another if they achieve success, initiating a newer and truer brand of internecine slaughter. Why are US taxpayers funding the efforts of the Gulf states and the Arab League to achieve a Sunni ascendency across the mideast? Take a minute. The Saudis & Co give the Sunnis religious clout in exchange for a steady flow and hands-off control of oil production and export–and the Royal Family (and other ‘moderate’ mideastern bigwigs) live wherever they want to–NYC, Switzerland, Paris, Los Angeles, Aspen….out of the reach of the religious police who dominate every aspect of daily life for the ordinary guy (not to mention the ordinary woman). So the proponents of ‘diplomacy’ might ask themselves this question. Might our corporate alliances be shaping our political and foreign policies? Why do we think Morsi, after his first few moments of ‘Mother-of-all-battles madness,’ sat down so docilely next to that woman, Hillary Clinton, in her ankle-revealing pants suit, and nodded when she encouraged this big dog in the Muslim Brotherhood to act as an ‘honest broker’ in the Israeli-Gaza mess? Did she instruct someone on her staff to slip a big dose of diazapam into his fruit juice, or did she point out that Egypt is getting lots of USD and maybe, just maybe, could get even more? The demonstrators across the mideast after the Benghazi debacle who chanted “We don’t want your democracy…we don’t want your freedom’ while burning the US flag said it best…will we listen? ‘Soft power’ means money. Diplomacy, for the US (as well as the EU), starts in the boardroom. Is this the correct alternative to military involvement? Is this the choice–bribes versus bombs?


Oliver Barrett
Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).