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The budget is policy

The budget is policy

"The budget is policy," my former boss Don Rumsfeld once told me. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2013 defense budget demonstrates just how right the former "SecDef" was.

The new defense budget is more than about mere dollars, though its cuts are certainly serious. More important, however, is the programmatic content of those cuts and their implications for our credibility overseas.

The administration has made much of its so-called "pivot" toward Asia. But the budget does no such thing. Apart from the rotation of some 2,500 Marines to Australia, hardly the heart of the region, the budget actually represents a step backwards. Eight thousand Marines will move further away from the mainland as they redeploy from Okinawa to Guam. Missile defense funding, a critical component of any credible American defense posture in Asia, is being cut back. So too are shipbuilding and tactical aviation programs, though maritime and tactical air forces are meant to be the backbone of America’s Asian posture.

With respect to Europe, however, the administration did not disappoint. As promised, two brigades will be withdrawn from Europe. The cutback in missile defense funding will inevitably affect the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach, which was meant to be a more credible, and supposedly less costly, way of addressing the Iranian threat.

As for the Middle East, it is clear that notwithstanding administration protestations to the contrary, the decline of America’s posture in the region will not be limited to land forces and Marines. The cutback in the shipbuilding program ensures that Iran will face a less powerful American presence over the next few years.

Even as it has cut back on weapons procurement, the administration has done nothing about the bloated defense civilian force, other than to give them a pay raise. Defense civilians, whose numbers are rapidly approaching those of uniformed personnel, are consuming ever larger portions of service budgets. The Defense Business Board has argued that as many as 110,000 civilians could be removed from the rolls with no harm done to DoD efficiency. Needless to say, the DBB’s advice has fallen on deaf ears, even though civilian personnel reductions would release funds for weapons system programs.

The administration vigorously protests assertions that it is presiding over America’s decline. The defense budget tells another story. It is not a matter of Washington leading from behind. Instead what is becoming clear is that Washington is not prepared to lead at all.