by Congressman Allen West – via Facebook
Wall Street Journal Editorial
Obama’s Defense Drawdown
President Obama yesterday put in a rare appearance at the Pentagon, flanked by the four service chiefs and his Secretary of Defense. Saying that now is the time to cash in a peace dividend, he unveiled plans for a significantly slimmed-down military. This dance was choreographed to convey strength. Everything else about it showed how domestic entitlements are beginning to squeeze the U.S. military.
This self-inflicted attack on defense comes at a strange time. True, the U.S. cut deeply after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War—and in each case came to regret it soon enough when new threats emerged. But peace doesn’t characterize our time. Mr. Obama yesterday wielded his familiar line that “the tide of war is receding,” which will please his antiwar base but will come as news to the Marines in Afghanistan or the Navy ships patrolling the tense Strait of Hormuz.
The Pentagon shouldn’t be immune to fiscal scrutiny, yet this Administration has targeted defense from its earliest days and has kept on squeezing. The White House last year settled with Congress on $450 billion in military budget cuts through 2021, on top of the $350 billion in weapons programs killed earlier. Defense spending next year will fall 1% in nominal terms. The Pentagon also faces another $500 billion in possible cuts starting next January under “sequestration,” unless Congress steps in first.
Taken altogether, the budget could shrink by over 30% in the next decade. The Administration projects outlays at 2.7% of GDP in 2021, down from 4.5% last year (which included the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan). That would put U.S. outlays at 1940 levels—a bad year. As recently as 1986, a better year, the U.S. spent 6.2% of GDP on defense with no detrimental economic impact.
What’s different now? The growing entitlement state. The Administration is making a political choice and sparing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are set to hit nearly 11% of GDP by 2020. And that’s before $2.6 trillion for ObamaCare, which will surely cost more.
These entitlements are already crowding out spending on defense and thus reducing America’s global standing, following the tragic path that Europe has taken. The difference is that Europe had the U.S. military in reserve. Who will backstop America?
We’re told that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who came into office last summer, says he doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who “hollowed out” America’s military. But the security trade-offs foisted on him by the White House will leave the military a less formidable, ready and dominant force in a still very dangerous world.
Part of the problem is that military personnel costs are exploding on pace to exceed the entire defense budget by 2030, according to Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. It’s hard to make the political and moral case to reduce benefits for veterans and soldiers, but here’s where Mr. Panetta could show mettle on Capitol Hill, especially by reforming military health care. The bulk of any defense budget is better spent on equipment, training and research.
Specific cuts will be spelled out in detail in the next Pentagon budget. The Navy, Air Force and Marines are flying old planes and waiting on the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, which comes with stealth technology. Previous Pentagon chief Bob Gates justified ending F-22 purchases by pointing to the F-35. But now the F-35 will likely be further trimmed and delayed.
After a decade of war, all the services need to replace worn-down equipment. U.S. nuclear submarines, missiles and bombers purchased during the Reagan buildup are reaching the end of their service lives. They need to be replaced, but they probably won’t be soon.
Mr. Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, tried gamely yesterday to dress up these cuts not as a drawdown but as a “strategic shift.” The Pentagon will spend less on the infantry to nation-build—now so unpopular—and will switch instead to defend the Pacific and new threats from cyberwarfare and in space.
But where are the resources to match the ambitions, such as new ships to patrol the Pacific? The planned reduction in troop strength is an “acceptable risk” (in General Dempsey’s words) since this Administration doesn’t plan to fight ground wars or pursue any Afghan-style “stabilization” missions. Too bad Commanders-in-Chief don’t get to choose history’s next surprise.
The real message to the world is that the Administration wants to scale back U.S. leadership. This was part of the rationale behind the White House’s reluctance to take the initiative in the Middle East last year, as well as the attempts to mollify Iran’s mullahs and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Now the Administration plans to draw down troops and America’s profile in Africa, Latin America and Europe. The Navy can easily match Iran’s threats in the Persian Gulf now, but what about in 10 years?
President Obama ended his remarks yesterday by quoting Dwight Eisenhower on “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.” The line comes from his 1961 Farewell Address, better known as the “military-industrial complex” speech. Mr. Obama’s new defense posture brings to mind another Eisenhower line, offered two years earlier: “Weakness in arms often invites aggression.”