Advancing a Free Society

What's the price of an apology?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Department of Defense’s reprogramming request -- the appeal to Congress to allow  the Pentagon to move money among its accounts -- reveals the Pentagon failed to anticipate $8 billion they have spent since the 2012 budget went into effect.  While that sounds like a lot, DOD has actually come within 1.2% of its anticipated needs, which is solid performance for any organization.  What is worrisome about the reprogramming request is not the overall number, but the needlessly inflicted $100 million every month we are paying because President Obama cannot bring himself to apologize to Pakistan for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Reprogramming is a rite of summer in the Pentagon budget, the Secretary asking the authorizing committees (Armed Services) and appropriating committees of the House and Senate for the latitude to readjust its spending.  Reprogramming does not add money to the budget, it reallocates already appropriated money to different uses.  It is not a means for implementing new policies; it shifts money between accounts to pay for agreed activities that prove costlier than predicted, identifying the lower priority activities that will have money taken.

This year’s reprogramming request totals $8.2 billion, which is pretty close to the mark in an overall defense profile of $703 billion for the year (this counts both the DOD baseline budget, as well as war funding, nuclear programs, and support to other agencies’ programs that are paid for by DOD but not strictly defense activities).  In general, reprogramming shows the professional competence of the Pentagon’s budget staff: they’re mighty good at their work to come within 1.2% of their spending plan, especially given the number of variables affecting their budget.

Also as usual, the changing cost of fuel is the main driver of reprogramming.  What the rest of us have experienced at the gas pump the Pentagon, as the world’s largest consumer of fuel, experiences to an even greater degree.  This is all business as usual.

What stands out in the reprogramming request is the unanticipated $772 million needed to reroute supplies going to Afghanistan.  Until October of 2011, the majority of supplies for coalition military forces fighting in Afghanistan came through Pakistan.

That relations with Pakistan are difficult is an understatement.  It is a country struggling to democratize and modernize simultaneously while under the stifling grip of corrupt political elites and a military still dominant over civilian institutions.  Finding mutually beneficial approaches with Pakistan to the problems we are concerned about would be difficult even under a diplomatically adept U.S. administration.

But President Obama and his team are most definitely not diplomatically adept.  They crafted a war strategy fundamentally dependent on Pakistan’s support, but have neither found a means of delivering that support nor changed their strategy so that it is unnecessary.  The Administration has vacillated widely in its policy toward Pakistan, aggravating that country’s (accurate) concern about abandonment by us.  The petulant comments of Secretary Panetta -- while in India, no less -- stoke resentment in Pakistan over the high-handed unilateralism of our military strikes inside their country.

The proximate cause of Pakistan cutting off transshipment of our military supplies is the unwillingness of the Obama Administration to apologize for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers last fall.  The circumstances of the firefight are murky, evidently with wrong on both sides.  Our side has admitting wrongdoing, the Pakistani’s have not; this may have to do with the military’s humiliation at the Osama bin Laden raid, or their attempts to retain control over civilian choices in Pakistan’s domestic politics, or the withholding of information by the Pakistani military from its civilian “masters,” or crass political calculations by the civilian leaders.

What matters from the U.S. point of view is that 74% of Pakistani’s view the United States as their enemy, according to the new Pew poll of public attitudes.  Pakistan’s parliament and its President have repeatedly called for an apology and said shipments could resume.  President Obama is only willing to go so far as to “express regret.”  Secretary Panetta says it’s time for Pakistan to move on; but the Pakistani’s are actually the ones who get to decide when they move on.

The Obama Administration’s choices -- drone strikes, exasperated public comments, unwillingness to apologize -- are entrenching opposition to us in the very country essential to our war efforts.  Are we really so brittle that the world’s strongest country cannot bring itself to apologize to a weak country even if we are only partly in the wrong?

This is not to defend Pakistan so much as to point out that the Administration’s choice not to apologize to Pakistan is costing American taxpayers $100 million a month directly in costs of supplying the war effort, and much more indirectly because the Pakistani government perceives our efforts as both an insult and a threat to their interests.  That cannot be a winning strategy for the United States.  President Obama should apologize.