Reality on Sequestration and Defense Strategy

August 1, 2012

Today the House of Representatives declined again to pass tax cuts for the middle class, as House Armed Services summons defense officials to bemoan the sequester legislation that the same House passed one year ago tomorrow. So far, the debate has put bluster over solutions and millionaires’ tax cuts over funding for the U.S. military. National security leaders have called on Congress to make hard choices that will strengthen our economy – the foundation of our security – and protect civilian and defense workers alike. The public understands that defense, especially wasteful and outdated programs, must be on the table. What is needed is a strategy-led approach to the Pentagon budget that takes into account available resources – the approach that the administration has been pursuing.

Debate promotes bluster over solutions, millionaires over military. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent points out the realities behind the campaign-funded sequester tour of Senator McCain (R-AZ) and others: “Democrats can fairly point out that they already agreed to spending cuts demanded by Republicans as part of the 2011 government shutdown and debt ceiling fights. Republicans, by contrast, have not agreed to new revenues. Republicans will vote against the Dem tax cut plan in the House this week, and don’t seem prepared to support any tax hikes on the rich as part of any deal to avoid the sequestered cuts.”

Journalistic fact-checkers have dismantled Governor Romney’s claim that the administration is imposing a trillion-dollar cut on the Pentagon. The Associated Press points out, “Romney ignores the central role that Congress played last summer in setting the stage for such a massive cut in the Pentagon’s budget… It was House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who originally insisted that the increase in the debt limit be matched by deficit cuts at least as large… It was House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who originally insisted that the increase in the debt limit be matched by deficit cuts at least as large.” [Greg Sargent, 7/31/12. Associated Press, 7/25/12]

A forward-looking, balanced defense strategy will meet 21st-century challenges and conserve resources:

The military is being rebalanced for the strategic needs of the future. In January, the Department of Defense released the beginnings of a new defense strategy to rebalance the military “at a moment of transition” as “we end today’s wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan]” and move forward to “focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific.”  That transition also involves budgetary realities, especially working within “reductions in federal spending, including military spending.” [Department of Defense, 1/12]

There is a concerted effort among national security experts to further develop the strategy. For example, the Center for New American Security recently released a detailed blueprint that builds on the Pentagon’s strategy to achieve “sustainable preeminence” and “maintain America’s military preeminence but spend less on defense by operating more efficiently and effectively.” [David Barno et al., 5/23/12]

Strategy must consider available resources in meeting challenges. As Travis Sharp explains, “Some observers have criticized the Obama administration for conducting a review that was purely budget-driven. Yet this critique overlooks the rigorous review completed by the Pentagon [referenced above] and ignores the fact that bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate endorsed the Budget Control Act that forced DOD to reduce its budget. More generally, it is wrong to criticize defense reviews for incorporating fiscal constraints. A true strategy connects ends, ways and means. Any defense review that ignores real world budgetary constraints resembles a dream journal more than a military strategy.” [Travis Sharp, 2/12]

National security leaders say thoughtful Pentagon spending reform can increase our security, as our economy is the foundation of our military strength, and to be strong abroad we must be strong at home – and the public agrees.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey: “[W]e have come to grips fairly effectively, I think, with the interrelationship of the diplomatic, military and economic instruments. And if you’re wondering why this is being — our grand strategy is being renegotiated in terms of outcomes in the face of the nation’s budget crisis, it’s because, truly, we are only as strong as those three pillars — diplomatic, military and economic — can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.” [Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12]

Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ) said in today’s Armed Services Committee hearing that the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which could blow up the world twenty-four times, can be modernized and reduced, according to Nukes of Hazard. [Nukes of Hazard, 8/1/12]

New York Times editorial board: “The Pentagon, which has had a blank check for a decade, can easily absorb hundreds of billions in cuts, but using an across-the-board cleaver is the wrong way to make them. If the senators are serious about averting a problem they helped create, they can support negotiating a deficit-reduction package that includes tax revenues from the wealthy, or they can urge that both sides of the sequester simply be set aside.” [NY Times, 7/31/12]

Public opinion: Slate’s William Saletan summarizes opinion research which suggests the public believes Pentagon spending can safely be reduced. [William Saletan, 8/1/12]

What We’re Reading

The U.S. has given a Washington-based group clearance to provide direct financial assistance to the Free Syrian Army.

The law exempting ultra-Orthodox conscription into the Israeli Defense Force expired.

Two car bombs killed at least 19 people in Baghdad.

President Obama signed an executive order imposing harsher sanctions on Iran as Congress debates further measures.

Power was restored to India after over 650 million people were left in the dark from a crippling blackout.

Burmese government officials continue to persecute Muslims in the Rakhine state.

Somali leaders approved a new constitution which will lead to government elections later this month.

Russian police charged anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny with embezzlement.

The president of Belarus fired his border security and air force commanders after a Swedish plane dropped hundreds of teddy bears with signs calling for freedom.

Mexican prosecutors issued formal charges against four high-ranking military officials for maintaining links to drug gangs.

Commentary of the Day

Michael Cohen questions Romney’s recent foreign policy focus.

Thomas Friedman calls for an end to playing political football with Israel.

Barbara Slavin and Michael Singh discuss whether Iran should be included into diplomacy efforts with Syria.

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