5 years, 7 months ago
Regular readers know that I have always been a proponent of wise defense spending, and cutting where there is no reasonably feasible return on investment (Brian Stewart at NRO’s Corner has similar views). For example, I have strongly opposed the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and advocated abandonment of the Marine Corps vision of sea-based forcible entry modeled after 60-year old warfare doctrine. Instead, I have recommended that the Marine Corps focus on air-based forcible entry, even if from sea-based Amphibious Assault Docks. Rapid response and smaller unit operations, modeled after Special Operations Forces, should be at least one new focus of the Corps. And the Congress appears to have cut funding for the EFV.
But this is a far cry from advocating serious slashing of the Pentagon’s budget across the board. Yet the Pentagon is preparing for such cuts as part of the current financial maelstrom.
After doubling in size during George W. Bush’s presidency, the Pentagon is about to go on a diet for the first time since 1998. Whether that means two years of skipping dessert or a 10-year crash diet depends on how Washington’s debt-ceiling deal plays out between now and December.
Two Californians will be central to the outcome.
One is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a liberal San Francisco Democrat who helped engineer a provision in the debt deal that exposes the Pentagon to nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
The other is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a former Democratic congressman from Monterey who warned in his maiden press conference Thursday that such cuts are “completely unacceptable.”
Underlying the fight is the question of whether the U.S. military should remain the world’s global police force or downsize to a less-ambitious posture that reflects a diminished financial capacity.
“The defense budget is going to be cut, whatever happens with this particular law,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy expert at Johns Hopkins University and author of “The Frugal Superpower.” The nation’s deficit problem, he said, is “so large that … in circumstances in which Americans pay more to the government and get less, they are not going to be as generous as they have been in the past in funding foreign and security policy.”
The debt deal lays out two rounds of defense cuts. The first is a $350 billion reduction in “security” spending over 10 years, only two years of which is locked in. The Obama administration had proposed those cuts in April as part of a general belt-tightening at the Pentagon.
But the second round could be much more severe. Viewed by Democrats as a way to force Republicans to accept the need for higher tax revenue, this round could force the Pentagon to share $1.2 trillion in 10-year spending cuts equally with domestic spending on such things as highways and education. These cuts could take $600 billion from the military, about a 10 to 15 percent reduction, depending on what is measured.
The cuts would take effect automatically if a new bipartisan super-committee in Congress fails to devise – or Congress fails to pass – an alternative plan that trims Medicare and other entitlement programs and raises tax revenue.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has indeed warned against sweeping defense cuts, but he is Obama’s man in this post, and the warnings are likely part of a larger strategy to increase taxes, with Panetta’s warnings being the catalyst to force Congressional Republicans to “increase revenue” rather than allow a diminution of national security.
But there is another possibility, and it is that we actually adopt a radically different paradigm for our international behavior. Support for this approach can be found among Democrats, but finds unlikely support from the Tea Party.
A 12-member bipartisan Congressional committee has until November 23rd to figure out how exactly to trim the debt by some $1.5 trillion dollars over 10 years. Then, they have a matter of weeks to sell that plan to both houses of Congress.
If no agreement is reached, automatic cuts kick in: $600 billion from the military and $600 billion from domestic programs. Both Democrats and Republicans shudder at this arrangement. But how does the Tea Party feel about steep cuts to national defense?
The Tea Party doesn’t have a central spokesman or organizing body; it’s a loose coalition of people united by beliefs in spending cuts, lower taxes, and smaller government. To try and gauge the mood of Tea Party supporters, I spoke with three people, in different parts of the country, who subscribe to their uniting principles.
“We really need across the board cuts. And nothing can be a sacred cow, nothing can be off limits. And that’s going to include defense,” said Chris Littleton of Cincinnati, co-founder of the group The Ohio Liberty Council.
Littleton said the defense budget has become bloated. (It’s come close to doubling since September 11th, 2001.) Littleton argued that’s because the military has lost sight of its Constitutional mission.
“It does not include being the world’s police, being the world’s peacemaker, or trying to advance our culture or causes around the world as a singular purpose. It’s for common defense,” said Litleton. “And so if we are not directly threatened, and we are not involved in an altercation, that we need to defend ourselves (from), then we can absolutely scale back our operations from throughout the world. So I’d be for both domestic and foreign military installations brought back, trimmed down, and hopefully many of them even eliminated.”
Support for a smaller military runs counter to what many conservative Republicans espouse. But Tea Party supporter Jason Rink – executive director of The Foundation for a Free Society in Austin, Texas – argued that’s because Republicans haven’t been acting like real conservatives.
“Traditional conservatives, they believed we should have a humble foreign policy, they believed that we shouldn’t police the world, they believed that we shouldn’t get into foreign wars, and that our defense spending needed to be something that we addressed and we were modest about,” said Rink.
But if we fail to stop Iran’s increased hegemony in the Middle East, if we fail to prevent Iran from going nuclear, if our military power and resolve isn’t sufficient to prevent Russia from invading Georgia again, if we relinquish the Pacific to growing Chinese Naval provocations, if we fail to deal a decisive blow to the Taliban and al-Qaeda aligned fighters in the AfPak region, there will be war. Israel cannot allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Eastern Europe is looking to the U.S. for direction, and our abandonment of a missile defense shield was indication that we aren’t serious about their security, much less entry into NATO. Russia is back up to their dirty tricks, and is poised to conduct yet another assault into Ossetia, and the Chinese still want Formosa.
As for homeland security, I have already describe a fairly simply assault on infrastructure that we cannot absorb. Like it or not, America has benefited from the defense doctrine of fighting our battles away from the homeland rather than allowing the threat to land on our own shores before we confront it. Troops are currently deployed in more than 100 countries, and while it may be a tantalizing prospect to withdraw from the entire world and focus inward, we should be careful what we advocate. It will be much more difficult to recreate that military presence and deterrent that it was to dismantle it, regardless of how much money we throw at the problems once they have become obvious.
Cuts are coming. That which cannot continue, won’t. That which cannot be sustained will fall by the wayside. The question is whether America will address the growing entitlement state, however painful, or retreat from the world, also painful, just in a completely different ways, and perhaps permanently.