Congress has now passed a bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement that seems to please no one, and there is the usual who-won-who-lost parlor game that preoccupies the inside-the-Beltway crowd. But far more serious is the fact that one of the biggest potential losers in this deal is American national security.
Under President Obama, the Defense Department’s budget has already been reduced by some $430 billion. Now, thanks to this “compromise,” the securityportfolios will be reduced by a further $350 billion in the first round of cuts.
Then, in the fine print of the debt-ceiling deal, a twelve-member bicameral “super committee” will recommend a second round of cuts, to be voted up or down by the House and Senate. Call this the “player to be named later.” Here’s the worst part: As an incentive for the honorables to take action before Christmas, failure to enact budget reductions will automatically “trigger” a fresh round of cuts totaling $1.2 trillion — with half of it coming from defense-related accounts.
In this scenario — hardly unlikely given the ongoing food fight on Capitol Hill — the Pentagon, which accounts for only one-third of annual federal outlays, would have to absorb half the reductions, with military pay exempt. This would translate into deep and devastating cuts to military muscle. Modernization of aging inventories of aircraft, ships, and armored vehicles, ballistic-missile defense, and overall readiness would all be seriously affected.
Army general Martin Dempsey, President Obama’s nominee to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified, during his confirmation hearings on July 26, that cutting $800 billion from the military in twelve years would be “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” It must be asked: Would cutting $600 billion in eight years — on top of the nearly $800 billion already or prospectively cut in Phase I of the new plan — be any less difficult or risky?
Offering up America’s national security on the altar of fiscal responsibility would be short-sighted and foolhardy. According to a recent study by the Heritage Foundation, by the end of this year, the U.S. Navy will be smaller than at any time since 1916. The Air Force has the smallest number of aircraft and bases since its founding in 1947. This sorry state of affairs has come about even as we are engaged in ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and waging a “war on terrorism” on a global scale.
History demonstrates that previous military drawdowns invited aggression by our enemies. After World War I, America drew down forces until the U.S. Army had fewer than 100,000 men in uniform. That weakness invited Nazi aggression in Europe and the imperial Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The post-Vietnam drawdown invited the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and proxy wars for Communist domination from Central America to Angola. After America won the Cold War, some believed we had come to the “end of history,” and budget-cutters celebrated the so-called “peace dividend.” As a result, we ignored the toxic mixture of militant Islam and terror that ultimately led to 9/11.
Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, conservatives have succeeded by adhering to a platform that rests firmly on three legs: smaller government, faith and family, and a strong national defense. These three legs do not merely represent a political coalition; they are three necessary components of a strong and secure America. The absence of any one of the three would diminish our national strength and increase our vulnerability to enemies, foreign and domestic.
The fiscal profligacy of President Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill may tempt Republicans in Congress to agree to deep — and, in General Dempsey’s words, “high risk” — defense cuts today in exchange for long-term reductions in entitlements down the road. This would be a mirage.
America’s defense is too important to become a political football in the budget battles. Rather, any cuts in defense spending should be the result of a careful, dispassionate assessment of the risks we and our allies face. A global risk assessmentshould inform a defense strategy that adequately manages those risks, and such a strategy should lead to a budget that can keep America safe.
Making portentous decisions on any other basis risks gravely weakening our defenses and demonstrating to foes and friends alike a lack of resolve that ensures we will face more of the former with fewer of the latter. As history has repeatedly shown, such weakness only serves to invite aggression. The mortal threats that result would certainly prove far costlier than the defenses that would have prevented them.