At the risk of backtracking on the earlier Libya/Guantanamo post, one of the propositions the Obama administration has at stake in the Libya war is that the burden of global security can be equitably shared across other nations as authorized by legitimate international institutions. Hence hanging back from the strike missions after the first 10 days of the war. (That turns out to be harder to do than it might first appear, owing to criticism about the efficacy of allied militaries; but that's a point favor of the post, I hope.)
Meanwhile, when Obama announces that he wants to cut a meager-but-not-nothing amount of money out of the defense budget for deficit reduction ($400 billion over 12 years in anticipated cash), he does so by announcing those cuts will follow a "fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world." This hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. All of a sudden, the prospect of scaling back U.S. military commitments is on the table. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warns that cutting the defense budget could be "math, not strategy"? Here's the strategy guiding the wrath of the math. Gates is pretty cool with it.
So where might that scaleback occur? One-man-QDR Mark Thompson of Time points to a study suggesting that the 30-year commitment to securing the flow of Mideast oil is a giant waste. You'd have to be absolutely out of your mind to believe the U.S. would ever propose scaling back from the Middle East before we learn how to power our daily lives from Energon Cubes. But this is still worth reading:
Do the math: the U.S. is spending trillions to protect the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, when last year it received less than 10 percent of that oil. So even -- if the heavy U.S. investment in protecting the Persian Gulf pipeline makes sense -- why is it shouldering close to 100% of the cost of protecting it while countries (and commercial competitors) like Japan, China, India and South Korea get a free ride?
Now: an administration unwilling to bear the political risks of closing Guantanamo is never going to propose shifting the protection of Mideast oil to China. (In the next couple of weeks, I'll be interviewing several senior Navy officials, and I look forward to hearing them chortle over that proposition.) But we've never encouraged our allies to, say, build the sort of navies that would take on these burdens. If the U.S. really means to scale back its global commitments, it needs to engage in rather thoroughgoing efforts first to convince its allies that they ought to take on these missions, and that they need to build the sorts of militaries that can. That's going to be a cataclysm: can you imagine the fear inspired in east Asia if the U.S. says that Japan ought to build a blue-water Navy?
Burden-sharing: harder to pull off than it may appear.