Leon Panetta Is Losing It
Posted by Michael Cohen
As regular DA readers are no doubt aware Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been saying some rather outlandish things about the impact of across the board defense cuts on the Pentagon . . . but on Thursday he went completely off the deep end.
Lawmakers, Panetta said, needed to understand that U.S. troops “are willing to put their lives on the line to sacrifice for this country; you sure as hell can sacrifice to provide a little leadership to get the solution we need in order to solve this problem.”
He went even further on Thursday, using arguably the strongest rhetorical weapon in his arsenal. Mandatory defense cuts, he warned, would weaken the armed forces to the point that enemies would be emboldened to attack the U.S.
“In effect, it invites aggression," Panetta said during the new conference, just his second since taking office in July . . .
Panetta said those cuts would leave the military "a hollow force" which "retains its shell but lacks a core."
“It’s a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air wing without enough trained pilots,” Panetta said. “It’s a paper tiger.”
There are a few problems with this argument. First of all, cutting defense spending is a form of leadership. it's just not the kind Panetta prefers. Instead he'd rather see cuts in the "two-thirds of the federal budget that still has yet to be considered for deficit reduction" along with some higher taxes. Apparently in Leon Panett's world nothing says leadership like cutting services for older and vulnerable Americans so that the Pentagon doesn't have to make tough choices about spending priorities.
Second, as Ben Armbruster points out, the cuts being considered would not leave the US a hollow force . . . unless one believes that the US military circa FY 2007 was a hollow force because those are the spending levels that the Pentagon would be returned to if budget cuts go into effect (and let's again remember that those cuts wouldn't begin until January 2013 which would give Congress plenty of opportunity to reverse them).
Lastly, the notion that cutting defense spending back to 2007 levels would "invite aggression" is beyond ludicrous. Aggression from who? Al Qaeda; the same organization that Panetta declared over the summer to be practically kaput? How about China, which has shown no inclination to be anything but a regional power and has a defense budget that even after cuts would remain far smaller and less dynamic than the US force? Or maybe Panetta met Russia or Venezuela or the Taliban or North Korea or
who knows what country - after all Panetta doesn't bother mentioning what unspecified country would view US defense spending as a reason for unchecked aggression. He just throws it out there to frighten people into believing that large, but reasonable cuts to a bloated Pentagon budget will "invite aggression."
I understand Panetta's driving impulse to protect his agency from big cuts. I suppose any agency head would do the same thing; but the arguments and language that Panetta is using are completely out-of-bounds; represent the worst sort of national security fear-mongering; are indicative of the overall insecurity on defense matters that defines a generation of Democratic politicians; and are divorced from any sort of larger reality about US defense needs and the threats facing the United States in the 21st century. In short they are a bunch of bull.
But look, the President was warned.