Special Operations Forces (SOF): Since September 11, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has more than doubled in size and budget from some 30,000 troops and $2.2 billion in 2001 to 67,000 and $10.5 billion today. Overseas deployments have quadrupled and have involved more than 100 countries. Presently, 85 percent of the estimated 11,500 SOF troops deployed overseas are stationed in the Middle East with the bulk in Afghanistan, where they are projected to have an enlarged role up to and beyond the stated withdrawal deadline of 2014. Senior defense officials envision that SOF will constitute between one-third and one-half of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, pending an agreement with Kabul. Adm. William McRaven, commander of SOCOM, noted that this could include "3,000 folks deployed outside of Afghanistan."
The temptation for presidents to employ Navy SEALs and Army Delta Teams indefinitely is real, given that the media and policymakers portray SOF as possessing superhuman and infallible skills. However, as my colleague Max Boot noted in an exceptional overview of what SOF are actually intended to achieve, their uses in kinetic raids are rarely connected to any larger strategy: "From Pakistan to Yemen, there is a tendency to use JSOC, often in cooperation with the CIA, to play ‘whack-a-mole' against terrorist organizations." Gen. Pace echoed this concern in May: "I worry about speed making it too easy to employ force. I worry about speed making it too easy to take the easy answer -- let's go whack them with special operations -- as opposed to perhaps a more laborious answer for perhaps a better long-term solution."
Cyberattacks: Since 2006, according to the National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations, it has been U.S. policy that the "[Pentagon] will conduct kinetic missions to preserve freedom of action and strategic advantage in cyberspace" that "can be either offensive or defensive and used in conjunction with other mission areas." There is little clarity over many aspects of U.S. offensive cyber capabilities, including what they are, who authorizes them, and what are the rules of engagement (assuming one can attribute the source of an initial attack and identify a proportional target). A senior U.S. official recently declared: "Those are always classified things. It's not helpful to the United States to give a road map to the enemy to know when something is an attack on the nation and when it is not." Of course, "things" cannot have any deterrent effect on potential adversaries if they are secret, nor are they always classified -- see the Obama administration's Nuclear Posture Review for U.S. nuclear doctrine.
Both Presidents Bush and Obama have reportedly authorized offensive cyberattacks against Iran that had "kinetic-like" effects. In The Inheritance, David Sanger first offered clues about activities covered in a spring 2008 presidential finding that authorized covert action including "efforts to interfere with the power supply to nuclear facilities -- something that can sometimes be accomplished by tampering with computer code, and getting power sources to blow up." This past June, Sanger further revealed that Obama significantly accelerated offensive cyberattacks -- codenamed Olympic Games -- against computers that run Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities.
(In a startling anecdote about the lack of congressional oversight over such covert cyber operations, Representative Dan Lungren wondered aloud at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July: "Would it bother you to know that the detail that was described in the New York Times, if true, is a level of detail not presented to members of Congress, such as the chairman of the Cybersecurity Subcommittee on Homeland Security, that is, happens to be me.")
Supporting the increased use of drones, special operations, cyberattacks, and other covert military programs has been the tremendous growth in the size and cost of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). In 1998, the intelligence budget was $26.7 billion (based on an accidental leak from that year). In 2012, the IC will spend $75.4 billion for all of its national and military intelligence programs, the scope of which is astonishing. As Dana Priest and William Arkin reported in 2010: "1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States." This sprawling U.S. intelligence apparatus is estimated to require 210,000 governmental employees and 30,000 private contractors.
Congressional oversight of presidential war-making powers has further dwindled. There are a few libertarian leaning congressional members who raise the War Powers Resolution during hearings with administration officials, although only when the serving president is of the other political party. Sen. Byrd attempted to rally fellow legislators by waving his pocket Constitution and reminding them, "Congress is not a rubberstamp or a presidential lapdog -- obedient and unquestioning. Oversight, oversight, oversight is among our most important responsibilities." Sen. James Webb, who is stepping down in January, cosponsored a bill in May that would require the White House to formally request congressional approval before using the military in humanitarian operations (it would require a vote within 48 hours). Webb noted: "Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed, has diminished." Predictably, the bill went nowhere.