Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Crying wolf

In the course of Congressional testimony this week supporting the Obama administration’s $525 billion defense spending request for FY 2013, the Pentagon leadership was dire about the consequences of any further cuts to defense. In particular, Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey are seeking to prevent the law going into effect that would require an additional ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In the course of Congressional testimony this week supporting the Obama administration's $525 billion defense spending request for FY 2013, the Pentagon leadership was dire about the consequences of any further cuts to defense. In particular, Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey are seeking to prevent the law going into effect that would require an additional $500 billion to be cut across the coming decade.

The Pentagon leadership professes itself fine with this year's cuts. Panetta has said "the United States military will remain capable across the spectrum. We will continue to conduct a complex set of missions ranging from counterterrorism, ranging from countering weapons of mass destruction, to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. We will be fully prepared to protect our interests, defend our homeland and support civil authorities." General Dempsey fully endorsed the new guidance. Yet they both insisted no further cuts were possible without grave damage to our national security.

In seeking to persuade members of Congress to repudiate the 2011 Budget Control Act that established the topline spending levels, Panetta's tactic was to shame: "We have made no plans for sequester because it's a nutty formula, and it's goofy to begin with, and it's not something, frankly, that anybody who is responsible ought to put into effect." To be clear, he is declining to comply with the law.

In the course of Congressional testimony this week supporting the Obama administration’s $525 billion defense spending request for FY 2013, the Pentagon leadership was dire about the consequences of any further cuts to defense. In particular, Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey are seeking to prevent the law going into effect that would require an additional $500 billion to be cut across the coming decade.

The Pentagon leadership professes itself fine with this year’s cuts. Panetta has said "the United States military will remain capable across the spectrum. We will continue to conduct a complex set of missions ranging from counterterrorism, ranging from countering weapons of mass destruction, to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. We will be fully prepared to protect our interests, defend our homeland and support civil authorities." General Dempsey fully endorsed the new guidance. Yet they both insisted no further cuts were possible without grave damage to our national security.

In seeking to persuade members of Congress to repudiate the 2011 Budget Control Act that established the topline spending levels, Panetta’s tactic was to shame: "We have made no plans for sequester because it’s a nutty formula, and it’s goofy to begin with, and it’s not something, frankly, that anybody who is responsible ought to put into effect." To be clear, he is declining to comply with the law.

Dempsey’s tactic was to cry wolf: he said that if the sequestration cuts went into effect, "we would not any longer be a global power." This is nonsense. The Budget Control Act necessitates a 15 percent cut to DOD spending across ten years, in a budget that has doubled in the past decade. A budget that constitutes 42 percent of the entire world’s defense spending, in a world in which all but two or three of the other big spenders are friends and allies likely to support our endeavors. A budget that after sequestration takes effect will hover at 2004 spending levels — and the year 2004 was a profligate one in defense spending.

The United States has eleven aircraft carrier battle groups; no other country in the world sails more than one. We have three times as many modern battle tanks, four times the number of fourth-generation tactical aircraft (and are already fielding the fifth generation), more than three times as many naval cruisers and destroyers, 19 times as many tanker aircraft and 48 times as many unmanned aerial vehicles as any other country. The additional public investment since 2001 has also allowed the U.S. military to develop and use cutting-edge equipment such as drones, better body and vehicle armor and more precise bombs. We have an operational and technological edge that is literally pricing our allies out of participation, and that leaves our adversaries incapable of winning so long as we are willing to pursue our objectives.

Secretary Panetta is right that our national interest would be best served by the president submitting a budget that reforms entitlements to put our country on a sustainable spending path. The president has not done that. Secretary Panetta might perhaps take his concern about the devastating effects of sequestration to the president, who has committed to veto any relief for DOD from the Budget Control Act.

But that General Dempsey would project American power as so fragile — at a time when our strength is being tested on several fronts — is incredibly injudicious. If he cannot maintain America’s ability to operate military forces throughout the world on an annual budget equivalent to our spending in 2004, he does not deserve to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Mullen was right: Our military has lost the ability to budget. We have a whole generation of military leaders with no experience operating cost-effectively. This, too, is a serious deficiency in our defense.

Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake

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