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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 01/14/2011

Cut defense, ask questions later

By Jennifer Rubin

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.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 14, 2011; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

You lose credibility for your argument the minute you quote America's Biggest Wussy, Bill Kristol.

Chickenhawk + Nepotism = Bill Kristol.

Posted by: danw1 | January 14, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Umm ... yeh, Obama will come around merely in response to reality and in the absence of virtually any counter argument from Reps. Why even new CATO darling T-Paw (when pressed with considerable intensity by Joe Scarborough about the need to cut the budget) said he though the Secretary Gates had it about right (not that this position, on this issue would hurt him with CATO).

Posted by: cavalier4 | January 14, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm willing to bet that virtually every expert in a particular field would say pretty much the same thing about cutting $xx from the yy budget (fill in the blanks as you see fit). That the cuts are 'risky and not necessary.'

Given that everyone will protest and point to the risks of cutting funds from her/his pet area, how would Ms. Rubin suggest Congress and the President proceed?

Posted by: MsJS | January 14, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Let's look at this point by point shall we?

"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."

Well, if you plan on being in Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely, as apparently you do, then troop reductions are a bad idea. So the longest war in our nation's history continues. Also, since you plan on going to war with Iran, we actually would have to INCREASE troops by the order of several hundreds of thousands.

"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 J-20 is not designed to fight WW III, but to gain supremacy in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Seas. Ultimately it's there to take back Taiwan. Nothing can stop this development, so we should trade Taiwan for a unified Korea now, if we can make the deal, because sooner or later we can't stop the Chinese from either taking Taiwan or destroying it.

"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."

Hmmm, how could such a thing have happened? Oh wait I know the answer, and so do you!

From the Kagans:

"Success in Afghanistan is the establishment of a political order, security situation, and indigenous security force that is stable, viable, enduring, and able--with greatly reduced international support--to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for international terrorists:

By this standard we will be there until the end of time, because such a situation has never existed in Afghanistan before, nor has it been the result of any of our various "nation-building" efforts anywhere in the world since South Korea in the 1950's.

"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"

A myth that Donald Rumsfeld was the leading proponent of in his re-organization of the Pentagon BTW.

" . . . 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."

Hard to know if he's talking about sea lines or sea lanes, very poorly written sentence. If he's talking about sea lanes and the ability of countries to move goods, then the LEAST likely scenario is a disruption since the Chinese benefit MOST in the whole world from open sea lanes, and the only nation that is even threatening such a conflict is Chinese client state North Korea.

Finally, as always, Kristol, Schmitt, all three Kagans, and of course Jennifer herself, are experts, think tankers, who have never joined the military and never would.



Posted by: 54465446 | January 14, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Well, except that much of the domestic stuff is at least useless and often harmful (in those instances where it is actually you know, constitutional). Providing for the Common defense is one of the limited number of items the Federal Government is permitted to do, and one of the very few it is requited to to do. The economic benefits mentioned by Jennifer are considerable and entirely indisputable - in not in every case precisely quantifiable.

However, there are too many domestic patrons and proteges to feed at the public trough, too much green-eye shade budgeting entirely inapplicable to defense among Republicans, too much delusional appeasement, principally among Dims but many Rs as well.

Posted by: cavalier4 | January 14, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

To 54465446:

Your need to personally attack Jennifer and others is juvenile and pathetic. They miss you over at Huffington Post.

Posted by: MartinChuzzlewit | January 14, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

544:
"Finally, as always, Kristol, Schmitt, all three Kagans, and of course Jennifer herself, are experts, think tankers, who have never joined the military and never would."

Since, by your criteria, Pres. Obama has no military experience, he should make no decisions regarding the military.

BTW, Fred Kagan was a professor of military history at West Point for ten years, and is currently working for General Petraeus in Afghanistan. I think he is much more qualified to make military decisions than you are.

Posted by: OldeDog | January 16, 2011 12:11 PM | Report abuse

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