In proposing to cut another $400 billion from U.S. defense budgets over the next ten years as part of his deficit reduction counter-offer, Barack Obama’s words were few. Yet they were revealing.
To begin with, he listed defense spending, along with the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid entitlements, as part of the fiscal problem. Thus he repeated the establishment mantra that “everything” the government does must be equally “on the table.” That’s appalling accounting – the unchecked growth in entitlements are already about four times more costly than defense (including war costs) and rising – and an appalling admission that the commander in chief regards that job as just one among many.
The president then went on to praise Defense secretary Robert Gates for “courageously tak[ing] on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future [Pentagon] spending.” Like Vince Lombardi with a halftime lead, he concluded, “I believe we can do that again.”
Let’s reprise Secretary Gates’s budget-cutting accomplishments. He’s cancelled the better part of an entire generation of weapons programs: the Air Force’s F-22 fighter and C-17 cargo plane, the Army-wide Future Combat System, the Navy’s Zumwalt destroyer, the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the ground-based national missile defense plan. Those not terminated outright have been reduced and delayed: the F-35 strike fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, a new tanker aircraft. Gates has also announced cuts in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, essentially eliminating the tardy and cheese-paring increases that came with the Iraq “surge” in 2007.
Indeed, it will be very difficult to ‘do it again’ on the modernization accounts; there’s not too much left to cut or stretch out. And further reductions in the size of the force, particularly among American land forces, is a way of asking those in uniform to again to more with less.
What’s also likely to be in the ‘do it again’ category is the pace of military operations. The president pretends he will conduct a “fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities and role in a changing world” as though he can alter fundamental facts about the international system – the world, for better or worse, will not function in the same way as American military power wanes – like an investment portfolio. Nor has he, in the White House, acted much differently than his predecessors.
But things that can’t go on forever don’t. Going to war one week and cutting defense spending the next week is a recipe for future tears.
House Republicans began the conversation about the future of America and its government, highlighting the road to future prosperity. Barack Obama answered by arguing the case for domestic tranquility. Who will make the case for American national security?