The Magazine

Don’t Be Seduced by the Sequester

Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The cancelled deployment and permanent reduction in carrier presence is due exclusively to defense budget cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the defense budget. Sources on the Navy staff say that one of the reasons the Truman deployment was delayed was because it did not have the required number of trained personnel onboard. A carrier can train and conduct exercises off the American coast without a full complement of trained personnel, but it cannot deploy overseas without being fully manned, trained, and equipped. The Navy still has enough trained personnel to man the Truman, but the budgetary inflexibility prevents the service from transferring those personnel to the carrier.

The failure to deploy the Truman will greatly strengthen the argument that the U.S. is not only in retreat, but also entering a terminal decline in power and influence. Perhaps it’s because of budget constraints, but the Iranians are much more likely to see proof of their thesis that America’s power is permanently waning. That belief is likely to strengthen their recalcitrance on the nuclear program and increase their willingness to support their violent proxies throughout (and, perhaps, beyond) the region. It is likely to encourage Iranian military adventurism.

The decision not to deploy the Truman is only the tip of the sequester iceberg—an iceberg that has been building thanks to previous cuts in the defense budget. One is reminded, reading the news about the Truman, of this passage from Churchill’s great March 24, 1938, speech to the House of Commons on “Foreign Affairs and Disarmament”: “For five years I have talked to the House on these matters, not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.”

Sequester is only one step down a stairway at the bottom of which the stones will break beneath our feet. But it’s an important step. It’s too important a step for the Republican party to be complicit in. Its likely negative consequences are far more important than any possible benefit that could come from a small and probably temporary cut in domestic discretionary spending, or from the satisfaction of highlighting the hypocrisy of Barack Obama and the irresponsibility of Harry Reid. Barack Obama and Harry Reid may be willing to sacrifice the national interest for petty and temporary political victories. Republicans shouldn’t be willing to do so. A great political party, on matters of great moment, puts national defense, and the national interest, first.

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