In comments today in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is holding a hearing for Leon Panetta's nomination to be the next secretary of Defense, Senator John McCain warned against drastic Defense budget cuts and dangerous, immediate drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq.
McCain made the case for a strong, robust U.S. military. “[O]ur country faces decisions related to our national security and defense that will echo for decades to come—decisions that will determine whether we remain the world’s leading global military power, able to meet our many commitments worldwide, or whether we will begin abandoning that role,” McCain said in his opening statement.
He then warned against cutting the Defense budget, using the outgoing secretary of Defense’s recent comments to defend his position.
What will have perhaps the most impact on this outcome is the President’s stated goal of cutting $400 billion in defense spending by 2023—on top of the $178 billion in efficiencies and topline reductions that Secretary Gates already announced. In recent weeks, Secretary Gates has been sounding the alarm against misguided and excessive reductions in defense spending that cut into the muscle of our military capabilities. I could not agree with him more. Defense spending is not what is sinking this country into fiscal crisis, and if the Congress and the President act on that flawed assumption, they will create a situation that is truly unaffordable: the decline of U.S. military power.
In a recent address, Gates said, "if America declines to lead in the world, others will not."
On Iraq and Afghanistan, McCain stated:
In Iraq, the key question now is whether some presence of U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond the end of this year, pending Iraqi request and approval, to support Iraq’s continuing needs and our enduring national interests. I believe such a presence is necessary, as Secretary Gates has argued. In Afghanistan, the main question is the size and scope of the draw down of forces beginning this July. Here, too, I would agree with Secretary Gates that any draw down should be modest so as to maximize our ability to lock in the hard-won gains of our troops through the next fighting season.
Here’s the full text of McCain’s opening statement earlier this morning:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me welcome Director Panetta and congratulate him on his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense. I am grateful for Director Panetta’s remarkable career of public service and his willingness to serve in this new and important capacity. I am appreciative of your family and the support they have given to you. Let me also welcome our colleagues from California today, who will shortly underscore your extraordinary qualifications to assume the position of Secretary of Defense.
Your successes as Director of the CIA over the last 2 years – and there have been many, especially finding and eliminating Osama bin Laden – are a credit to you, and to the men and women of the intelligence community. At the same time, I know the Director would be the first to admit that he has big shoes to fill, if confirmed, in the person of Robert Gates. I have seen many Secretaries of Defense in my years, and I believe that history will long remember Secretary Gates as one of America’s finest, most effective, and most impactful Secretaries of Defense.
One of the key criteria I am looking for in the next Secretary of Defense is continuity—the continuation of the wise judgment, policies, and decision-making that have characterized Secretary Gates’s leadership of the Department of Defense.
Thanks to the good work of Secretary Gates, his team, and our men and women in uniform, the next Secretary of Defense will take office with a great deal of positive momentum. But many consequential challenges remain. Indeed, over the next several years, our country faces decisions related to our national security and defense that will echo for decades to come—decisions that will determine whether we remain the world’s leading global military power, able to meet our many commitments worldwide, or whether we will begin abandoning that role.