Preparing for Defense Budget Cuts

BY Herschel Smith
3 years 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.

See also:

Rapidly Collapsing Foreign Policy III

Rapidly Collapsing Foreign Policy II

Rapidly Collapsing Foreign Policy



  • TS Alfabet

    Great points, Captain.

    I am all in favor of spending cuts for the federal government, but to blindly advocate cuts for defense is nothing short of madness.

    Let’s look at it this way. The world is a very tough neighborhood to live in right now. And we no longer have the luxury of putting a high fence around our property and shutting the neighbors and bad guys out. In fact, in a world of easy, international travel and communications and commerce, we now live in one, large apartment building. We may occupy the top floor (for now) but the neighbors are all around us and cannot be shut out. The Ahmadinejad Crime Family has moved in 10 floors down and they have lots of thugs in their employ. There is talk that they may soon have a bomb that can bring down part of the building and the other neighbors are scared and want to know what we’re going to do about it. Same with the Putins on the 10th floor, pushing around neighbors and threatening to cut off the heat to large sections of the building. What do we say? “Sorry, we’re not interested in what happens to the rest of you people, everything is fine on our floor, but, by the way, could you send up some more pizza and beer? We’re running low.” Sure. We could say that, but it would be incredibly stupid and dangerous.

    Another thing that people advocating cuts to Defense ignore in this debate: since the New Deal appeared, the federal government has acted far outside the scope of the Constitution. The so-called Entitlements are nowhere in the Constitution as an obligation of the federal government. The provision for health and education is a State responsibility, not federal. The Heritage Foundation has released a plan that transitions these programs back to the States and gets federal spending under control and balanced in 10 years, without gutting national security.

    The real choice here is restructuring social welfare programs to meet the legitimate needs of those who cannot care for themselves versus leaving those bloated programs untouched and sacrificing everything else (including our national security) to a limitless appetite of social spending.

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    Every time I hear discussions concerning the gutting of defense spending, I wonder what the CIA isn’t reporting. You do realize the CIA has been tracked up until about the mid 1990′s and went totally dark budgeted after that. Not even members of congress know the full CIA source of funding. Is it really too compromising to our national interests to work towards at least quantifying the funding of secret government without necessarily parsing their budget into missions?

    While we conduct honest, well intended, democratic discussions on funding, what we seem only to be doing is comparable to squeezing a balloon. Squeeze the military public budget tighter here, and it just grows bigger in the dark over there.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    But Rich, I don’t know that. I don’t know that one part of the security budget grows bigger when we squeeze another part. What we do know is that the entitlement part grows bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and on and on the sad story goes. That part is clear.

    TSAlfabet, your counsel should be heeded, your analogy is appropriate. And note two things below. First, recall the article Sustainable Defense Task Force and related conversation with the authors we had here.

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2010/07/13/sustainable-defense-task-force/

    The opposite side of the Isle knew more than a year ago that the level of spending couldn’t be sustained, and were already prepping the ground for the debate, pointing to “sustainable” levels of spending for the country. You know, “sustainable” in light of the all the spending we wanted to do on entitlements.

    Finally, note what National Defense Magazine says:

    http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=487

    “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is giving America an ultimatum of sorts: You can have a strong national defense, or you can have generous social programs, but you cannot have both unless you pay more taxes.”

    Just like I said.

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  • http://umc-unofficiallaymanopenforum.ning.com/ Warbucks

    Respectfully, “But Rich, I don’t know that,” is the point. Is our Constitutional Republic qualitatively highly likely to be hurt by enabling you to know?

    The Cold War mind set coupled with MAD-mentality strategy will never end, as long as our Western religious definition of God remains unchanged in its apparatckik operational mode of dualism which seems to create fear as well as perpetuate fear apparently deemed essential to its perpetual maintenance.

    So my questions are simple. Are we a free people? If so, do we self-destruct if financially informed?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    I’m not sure what you mean about “Western religious definition of God,” but the best short definition can be found in the larger catechism:

    Question 7: What is God?

    Answer: God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

    And of course, this definition is the correct one. Now then. That is clearly and manifestly outside the scope of this article. If you want to know what the CIA budget is, that’s fine with me. For the most part we have jettisoned our HUMINT, and thus the CIA is much more ineffective than they were, say, 20 or 30 years ago. Whatever their budget is, it should probably be less until we force ourselves to face head on the security risk in today’s world and then decide to rebuild our intelligence assets and capabilities. It’s a question of will.

    But this isn’t the point either. The point, sir, is that none of this can possibly account for trillions and trillions in money printing and spending. Only entitlements can address the problem. Not defense spending cuts, not CIA (a fraction of defense), nothing. Only in dealing with our entitlement mentality and society can we save our financial infrastructure. We are doomed as a country if we do not cease and desist money printing, confiscatory and entitlement monetary policies.

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    “Now Then.” LOL…. I love your humor. Good one chief.

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    You are of course always right, boss.

    My personal catechism apparently is in the process of shifting over more to Joseph Campbell, “Mythos I” and “Mythos II” full series, download from Netflix… laced with a mystical wisp of collective consciousness ala Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller, gnostic, and merged scientifically and metaphysically with new age dimensional travel via Thomas Campbell http://vimeo.com/11005286 … yet you are of course, always right, nonetheless.

  • TS Alfabet

    Although it is a bit off topic, as far as the CIA goes, I think the pseudonymous Ishmael Jones had it right in his book, “The Human Factor”: the CIA needs to be re-invented– abolished probably and re-started in order to kick out all the careerists who have turned the Agency into a cumbersome, ineffective, treacherous hive and bring it back to actually serving the security interests of the nation. This will not happen, of course, until the roof caves in and we are forced to reinvent our nation by putting the pieces back together. I hope I am wrong on that.

  • http://umc-unofficiallaymanopenforum.ning.com/ Warbucks

    TS, Good and worthwhile point you make concerning the remaking of the CIA. Your reasoning is certainly one path, first triggered by some national calamity. My own approach does not require such a trigger.

    A President (strong or weak) appoints a popular, very high ranking General who has national bipartisan respect. That General then reviews all CIA operations including all above top secret deep Black Ops. He prepares a report for public release in a nationally broadcast press conference under the Chair of the President, at a politically opportune moment. The presentation lays out the following (1) Complete amnesty and full protection for all whistleblowers operating ex-constitutionally (2) Complete amnesty for all who are exposed by the whistleblowers who come forward. (3) A commitment to the American people to annually provide an annual dollar figure for all CIA operations.

  • http://dad29.blogspot.com dad29

    My first reaction to your essay was along the lines of Warbuck’s, but not quite the same. Frankly, I don’t really care what CIA’s budget numbers are, so long as the CIA is actually effective (which would go a very long way toward discombobulating Iran and other similar troublemakers.)

    Similarly, emplacing a shield for Eastern Europe is fine, if that means we could seriously reduce troop-and-equipment levels in Europe. IOW, there are probably useful trade-offs which while economizing do not cripple our projection.

    We could also face the fact that trouble emerges where one doesn’t expect it (if the troublemakers have an IQ above room-temperature.) So being prepared with a garrison in every Lower Slobbovia is a nice thing, it’s also a helluva expensive thing.

    Perhaps Europe could watch its own back?

    Finally, as stated above, we are NOT the cop-shop to the world. Clearly, we’re not the cop-shop in Detroit–nor Philly–nor, far more important, on the Mexican border.

    First things first.


You are currently reading "Preparing for Defense Budget Cuts", entry #7360 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Department of Defense,Featured,Foreign Policy and was published August 7th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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