The Magazine

No Defense

Jul 23, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 42 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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HERE’S SOME UNSOLICITED ADVICE for two old friends, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz: Resign. Right now that may be the best service they could perform for their country, for it may be the only way to focus the attention of the American people—and the Bush administration—on the impending evisceration of the American military. If our suggestion sounds extreme, consider the following.

According to well-informed sources in the Bush administration, a few weeks ago Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld went to the White House to present his Fiscal Year 2002 budget request. After some five months of review, Rumsfeld had concluded that he needed approximately $35 billion in additional funds for FY 2002, with more to come in FY 2003. Rumsfeld was not high-balling. His $35 billion was the minimum necessary to keep the armed forces in one piece in the near term and take a few baby steps toward transforming the military for the medium and long term. This was actually well below what serious studies have shown is needed, but at least it would have been a start.

Rumsfeld was mauled. The Office of Management and Budget demanded that Defense receive only a $15 billion increase over the Clinton baseline. They "compromised" at $18 billion. President Bush duly approved the halving of his defense secretary’s request and moved on to more pressing business. As for the FY 2003 budget, according to our sources, OMB has let it be known that it will oppose any increase over $10 billion.

This was the third time in six months that Rumsfeld had had his head handed to him by the White House. The first time was back in early February when White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suddenly announced that there would be no significant defense supplemental for the rest of FY 2001, and that we would live for the next nine months—the first nine months of the Bush administration—under Bill Clinton’s defense budget. No one had informed Rumsfeld of the decision; no one had even asked his opinion. If anyone had, Rumsfeld would have said the military needed at least $8 billion more for spare parts, equipment, and training—enough to keep planes flying and tanks rolling for the rest of the year.

Over the next four months Rumsfeld struggled to get some new money in an FY 2001 supplemental. According to administration sources he even got a promise from Bush that the Pentagon would get at least $10 billion. But then OMB stiffed Rumsfeld again. The Pentagon got only $5.6 billion, which Democratic congressman Ike Skelton pointed out would leave the military short of operating funds before the end of the fiscal year.

Those of us who expressed concern about the Bush administration’s shorting of the military were told not to worry. Bush had to pass his tax cut first. Then the damage would be repaired in the FY 2002 and FY 2003 budgets. But that’s not the way things have turned out. Now it’s clear that there is no real prospect for a meaningful defense increase—this year, next year, or for the remainder of Bush’s first term. And instead of repairing the damage, with each passing defense budget decision, the Bush administration has dug a deeper hole for the military.

Some may find it puzzling that Bush’s proposed $18 billion increase isn’t enough to meet our security needs now and in the future. Here’s why it isn’t even close. Half the money will go to pay for already approved pay increases, housing, and health benefits, and won’t go to weapons, training, and the like. That leaves at most
$9 billion to be spent on maintaining real defense capability.

The key word here is "maintaining." We’re not talking about building up, about improving our capabilities, about investing money to transform the military for the future. The fact is that the military lacks the funds to carry out its current missions around the world. This was a major theme of Bush’s campaign. As then-candidate Cheney pointed out in his memorable "Help is on the Way" speech, the serious "budget shortfalls" of the Clinton years were damaging troop morale, forcing the military to cut back on training and exercises, and creating dangerous "shortages of spare parts and equipment." A $9 billion increase over the Clinton budget is not nearly enough to address these shortfalls, let alone pay for anything else. In fact, last week the vice chiefs of staff of the services testified that the budget shortfall amounted to $9.5 billion for the Army, $12.4 billion for the Navy, $9.1 billion for the Air Force, and $1.4 billion for the Marines—for a total of $32.4 billion. And we repeat: This would only cover the cost of maintaining the military’s current readiness to perform its mission, not new weapons or military transformation.