Cut defense, ask questions later
Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced substantial defense cuts. This week, two of the premises for these cuts dissolved.
On the troop reduction, we are supposed to believe that we will be out of Afghanistan and Iraq by 2014. Vice President Joe Biden said this week that's not necessarily true. So how are we going to absorb the troop reductions? Just extend the deployments? I don't think it is good politics or good policy to put the burden on those fighting for our country.
On the cancellation of the F-22, we were told there was no need to worry about China. Oops, now we know China has a stealth fighter.
The Obama team is cutting by numbers, not by assessing our defense needs. It isn't supposed to work that way. There's a Quadrennial Defense Review that is supposed to assess our threats and help to determine our spending. But the process has devolved into a simple numbers game. Gates is told to cut $150 billion. He does. Now, a new number comes, not based on any strategic assessment, but because the White House budgeters are looking for another $100 billion in cuts. Gates gave them $78 billion.
Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt wrote last May:
The president's proposed budgets call for an ever-increasing piece of the federal pie to go to domestic programs and a decreasing amount to national defense. The Obama administration has already flattened out the defense budget this year, while domestic spending has exploded; in last year's stimulus, virtually every federal program got significant additional money except defense. . . .
We have today an aging and shrinking Air Force and Navy, an Army that is overstretched, reserve forces that are far too "active" in their rate of deployment, and too few dollars to rebuild and modernize. And if the Obama domestic agenda is implemented, discretionary funds available to fund those who "fight our country's battles/ In the air, on land, and sea" will shrink to a level at which maintaining the dominant military we have become accustomed to since the end of the Cold War will almost certainly be a thing of the past. Indeed, the Obama administration's projected budgets have the defense burden shrinking to less than 3 percent of GDP in the decade ahead. A level not seen since before World War II.
That is even more compelling today.
Obama has come quite a way in tossing aside liberal sophistry on national security. Guantanamo is open. We continue to help with the transition to democracy in Iraq. The president has rebuffed his base and decided to commit considerable forces and money to Afghanistan. (Fred and Kimberly Kagan give thumbs up in their assessment of progress we are making.) But if Obama is going to give up on many liberal policy myths (e.g. a defeat in Afghanistan wouldn't be so bad), then he also has to give up on the myth that we can do more with less. We need a robust defense budget to go with the robust national security plan that Obama is grudgingly moving toward.
At a Brookings Institute panel discussion last December, Bob Kagan (Fred's brother) had this admonition:
I would argue that the great, almost miraculous prosperity of the 40 years after the end of World War II and on was very much a product of a liberal world order that American power was preeminent in supporting. If we are talking about a reduction of America's capacity to support that liberal world order -- and, by the way, that may be inevitable no matter what we do -- it will certainly be hastened by our weakening, by our ceding power to countries like China and -- not particularly China, but maybe also Russia, that there will be a cost and possibly even a direct financial cost to our inability, for instance, to make sure that the sea lines of communication are always open and won't be closed by conflict.That's one of the great public goods that we provide but which we also benefit from. So that, it seems to me, also has to be brought into the calculation. So, you know, it's extremely unfortunate that we happen to have an economic crisis at a time when the international scene is getting more crisis prone.
So, you know, as I see it, saving 55- or $60 billion a year so that the defense budget can make its fair share of the sacrifice is too risky and not necessary. We do have to solve our budget crisis, but we will be fooling ourselves and taking grave risks if we try to solve it by cutting the defense budget.
But that number is now $78 billion.
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