Shadow Government

Why the president’s proposed defense cuts are bad for the country

Cuts of an additional $34 billion a year in a baseline budget of $533 billion will not destroy America’s defenses. If enacted by the Congress, such cuts would amount to about a 3 percent real decline in defense spending. But that’s not why the president’s budget proposals are so problematic. The president claims his budget ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Cuts of an additional $34 billion a year in a baseline budget of $533 billion will not destroy America’s defenses. If enacted by the Congress, such cuts would amount to about a 3 percent real decline in defense spending. But that’s not why the president’s budget proposals are so problematic.

The president claims his budget "puts every kind of spending on the table." But, in fact, it only puts one kind of spending on the table: defense. The FY 2012 budget produced by the administration (the one disavowed by the president’s new, new approach) contained cuts in only one federal department: defense. The budget outline presented by President Obama on Thursday contained gauzy figures for cuts in health care; among agencies, only defense was targeted for reductions.

By singling out defense as the sole bill payer for debt reduction, President Obama has reinforced the impression that he views defense as a bank account to pay for other, preferred, programs: government-sponsored medical research and clean energy, expanded broadband, etc. 

Gates said when he produced the last round of defense cuts for the Obama administration that any further reductions would severely impair our military’s ability to protect and defend our interests, so he clearly does not share the president’s confidence that "we can do that again."

And recall that neither Secretary Gates nor Admiral Mullen will be at the helm of the Defense Department when this review is conducted. The administration will surely means test the candidates for both jobs: agreeing to wring an arbitrary $400 billion from Defense will be a precondition for either position.  

President Obama’s program for producing these cuts is to "conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete."

It’s as though the Obama administration had never conducted a year-long evaluation of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. And yet, the White House released its National Security Strategy less than a year ago, and the Department of Defense conducted just such a Quadrennial Defense Review in 2009-2010.

This is Mao’s permanent revolution: DOD is to be involved in a constant strategic review to justify ever-shrinking resources. The White House seems not to realize the Department of Defense does not exist to produce budget reports. It exists to protect and advance our national interests, to fight and win the nation’s wars, to deter threats from potential adversaries, to train the military forces of friendly countries so they are better able to control the territory of their countries, to kill terrorists that pose a danger to America and its allies around the world. That the president doesn’t seem to realize what DOD actually does really is bad for the country.

Kori Schake is the deputy director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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