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November 03, 2011

Your Daily Dose of Defense Drawdown Doomsday-ism
Posted by Michael Cohen

Yesterday, the military chiefs of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines testified before 52283 Congress about the impact of potential budget cuts on the DoD budget - and in the process embarrassed themselves and the good name of the US military.

As defense observers are no doubt aware, if Congress fails to come to agreement on deficit reduction measures then the Pentagon will be subjected to a series of automatic spending cuts (something to the tune of $600 billion over ten years, which is above already agreed to $450 billion in reductions). Now keep in mind if these cuts take place they will not kick in until January 2013 and even more important the budgetary hit would only send the military back to fiscal year 2007 levels.

Indeed, the cuts being discussed are less severe then those that have traditionally put in place during previous drawdowns. As Gordon Adams wrote a few days ago, "were defense budgets to decline by $465 billion from the current DoD projections, it would be the most moderate and shallow build down we have ever experienced since the end of the Korean War.  The last three build downs saw defense resources fall, on average, 30% in constant dollars over ten years."

Now granted no agency likes to take a budget hit, but with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars winding down--  and no great power rival on the horizon -- it's hard to imagine how a return to 2007 levels would represent an unbearable hit to the Pentagon's ability to keep America safe. 

But that didn't stop the the heads of the joint chiefs from offering the sort of rhetorical excess that would even make Leon Panetta blush. Here's Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno:

"Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,” Odierno told the House members. “In the case of the Army, it would significantly reduce our capability and capacity to assure our partners abroad, respond to crisis and deter our adversaries while threatening the readiness and potentially the all-volunteer force."

According to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, these cuts would cause "“irreversible damage." They would "hollow the military" and the impact on the industrial base “might be irrecoverable.”

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, claims that cuts beyond the $450 billion already agreed upon, "undermines our ability to protect the nation" and could create "dire consequences" for the nation.

I don't doubt that across the board cuts would be disruptive to the military and could possibly delay much-needed efforts to modernize the armed forces, but this sort of rhetoric - and the very idea that these cuts would be irreversible - is ludicrous.

First of all, as Spencer Ackerman points out, it's highly unlikely that most of the cuts will even occur - at the very least there will be plenty of opportunity to minimize the impact of sequestration between now and January 2013.

But what I find most fascinating is the explanation as to why these defense cuts are a bad thing:

Here's Odierno, "It would require us to completely revamp our national security strategy and reassess our ability to shape the global environment in order to protect the United States."

Why exactly would this be a bad thing?

Perhaps rather than stomping their feet and opposing a roll back of defense budgets to FY 2007 levels a period of austerity might force political and military leaders to balance various defense priorities, more rigorously assess foreign threats as well US vital interests and revamp our national security strategy for a post-"war on terrorism" era.

Of course, it must be said that it is incumbent on political leaders to make these sorts of tough national security decisions. That process becomes a whole heck of a lot more difficult when the service Chiefs are using apocalyptic arguments that warn of direct, dire and "irrecoverable" threats to national security for reducing the Pentagon's bloated budget. The message from the chiefs yesterday to the Congress that passed the legislation putting in place sequestration is 'you're putting America in danger.' 

It appears that some in the military leadership would rather act like spoiled children who can't bear the thought having a few less toys to play with then contemplate the serious steps that would have to be taken to create a more fiscally appropriate defense budget.


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Perhaps they should instead brag about how much booty they have brought to the nation, taking the position that they are a profit center instead of a useless entitlement appendage?

Maybe we should start with the idea that we’re not the world police taking on the responsibility of other countries and the bills too. How many German or any other countries have military bases in Japan protecting the Pacific? Does England maintain missile bases around the world to protect its allies? The overseas bases provide financial benefits to the foreign cities with no benefit to the US Economy. Cold War thinking needs to step into the new century . How about having a home based military with good benefits in place of making cuts to those that serve while we provide benefits to other countries.

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Cold War thinking needs to step into the new century . How about having a home based military with good benefits in place of making cuts to those that serve while we provide benefits to other countries.

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