Author Q&A with Michael O’Hanlon

February 6, 2012

Michael O’Hanlon, author of The Wounded Giant (my thoughts), is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy. He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Books by Michael O’Hanlon

Q. Why do you refer to America as “The Wounded Giant” and do you think its fair to do so?
A. It is of course designed to be a colorful term but I think it’s accurate. The United States remains far and away the world’s superpower in military (and many other) terms. But it is badly hurting and its future dominance – as well as its ability to play a stabilizing role internationally — is in question. This is less from the rise of China (or anyone else) per se, than from the wounds (largely self-inflicted) from which it is currently suffering, starting with trillion dollar annual deficits and an eroding economic foundation.

Q. What is the most important thing you would like readers to take away from your book?
A. That the United States can still recover and still be the clear leader of the international community of nations—which needs it to play that role because there is no real alternative—but only if we get a lot more serious about our economic challenges, meaning that the military like all other major parts of the government must do its part to become more lean, efficient, and economical. That said, this process can’t be approached carelessly; I am strongly against so-called sequestration, which unless we do something about it, will kick in next year (implying a trillion-dollar reduction in base defense spending over the next decade). But something half that large, akin to what the Obama administration is now proposing, does make sense.

Q. If you were King of America, which 3 things would you cut from the military budget or change?
A. Beyond mandating fluffernutter sandwiches in all school cafeterias, as a matter of basic decency towards our kids, three major ideas in the book include:

— changing from a two-land-war capability to a one-war capability (plus some added simultaneous but smaller missions); this would allow somewhat larger cuts in the nation’s ground forces than the Obama administration now proposes;

— asking the Navy to revamp how it maintains its ships abroad and “swap crews” by airplane while leaving the ships forward deployed for a year or two (this is far more efficient and allows us to stay just as engaged with a smaller fleet, perhaps 10 percent smaller); and

— keeping our nuclear arsenal at its current size but doing so far more economically (retiring lots of ICBMs and Trident submarines while loading the remaining number, and our bombers, with greater numbers of warheads each). These are three of my five or six most important arguments.

Q. Do you think it’s feasible to make such big cuts in the DoD given the toxic climate in Washington and the inability of Congress to agree on even the definition of “vegetable”?
A. Who are you calling a vegetable? Me or Congress? Seriously, you raise a great point, and I don’t know. We have faced equally toxic periods in the past and somehow eventually recovered—in the 1950s during McCarthyism, in the 1960/s1970s during Vietnam, to say nothing of the Civil War period. That is no guarantee that we will this time, though. As such, part of my purpose in writing the book is to highlight the stakes here, and the importance of taking action, not only on defense spending but on the broader deficit. It’ll be hard, I agree.

Q. Why did you publish The Wounded Giant only in eBook format?
A. Penguin Press was great about figuring out a way to get this book out fast, once we recognized the growing urgency of the issue last spring. We wanted to have it published before the Supercommittee released its plan last November, so Congress and the public could read this book for some possible guidance on how to evaluate any such Supercommittee plan. Penguin and I did our part; alas the Supercommittee did not!

Q. Any positive/negative experiences in book promotions? What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. Frankly it’s tough. I am not sure electronic books have found their stride yet. But Penguin is publishing a limited number of paperback versions too.

Shame­less plug dis­guised as a wise ass ques­tion: Why do you love so much and often visit the web­site?
Wise Guy Answer: The six questions you raise above are serious enough, yet also crisp and entertaining enough, to settle that matter without me saying anything at all (shameless sucking up to a blogger kind enough to plug my book!)

Books by Michael O’Hanlon

Thank you to Mr. O’Hanlon for the great answer and also a very thought provoking book.

Zohar – Man of la Book

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  • JudayeFebruary 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Hanlon ideas for cutting the military costs of switching personnel in the Navy and saving money while maintaining the current nuclear arsenal are workable possibilities, but I don’t see how the U.S. can change from two land war capability to one war without knowing how to use diplomacy with perception and wisdom.

    • Zohar - Man of la BookFebruary 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      That’s one of the things the author states, that the mission has to change from a two land war one to one land war and small operations.

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