Lib­er­als see op­por­tu­nity for big cuts in de­fense

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The po­lit­i­cal left is press­ing the White House and Congress to in­flict a wave of Pen­tagon bud­get cuts not seen since the post-Cold War 1990s.

Lib­er­als are cit­ing the debt cri­sis and troop draw­downs from Iraq and Afghanistan to ar­gue that now is the time for the De­fense Depart­ment to shed peo­ple, mis­sions and weapons af­ter a decade of dou­bling arms spend­ing af­ter the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

The pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing one from the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, go well be­yond Pres­i­dent Obama’s call in April for $400 bil­lion in de­fense cuts over 12 years. The cen­ter, run by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, wants that much in re­duc­tions over the next three years and $1 tril­lion from what had been pro­jected in­creases over the next decade.

Some House Democrats, led by Rep. Bar­ney Frank of Mas­sachusetts, also have called for $1 tril­lion in cuts.

“I think this is the time be­cause of a com­bi­na­tion of the deficit and the chang­ing way in which we’re go­ing to deal with threats from groups like al Qaeda,” said Amer­i­can Progress’ Lawrence Korb, a long­time de­fense an­a­lyst in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Korb said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has dumped Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s over­all war strat­egy of pre­emp­tive at­tacks against ter­ror­ist states, and he cited just-re­tired De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ warn­ing against any fu­ture land wars in the Mid­dle East.

The bot­tom line is that the cen­ter wants pro­jected in­creases ended and the over­all arms bud­get re­duced to $500 bil­lion by 2016, which would be $111 bil­lion be­low the Pen­tagon’s al­ready pared-down pro­jec­tion.

“Gates said we don’t have to go back to Cold War lev­els,” Mr. Korb said. “Well, we’re above Cold War lev­els. And that’s part of the prob­lem.”

Gor­don Adams, a de­fense bud­get of­fi­cial in the Clin­ton White House, told the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee this month that Mr. Obama’s $400 bil­lion num­ber “is a very small step.” He en­dorsed more than dou­bling that fig­ure.

The Pen­tagon has not heard such rhetoric since the Ber­lin Wall fell and Pres­i­dents Clin­ton and Ge­orge H.W. Bush squeezed as much as 35 per­cent out of in­tel­li­gence and de­fense spend­ing.

Af­ter al Qaeda’s at­tack on the United States, de­fense pro­po­nents said such a deep down­turn had been a mis­take, leav­ing in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and some as­pects of the mil­i­tary not ready to fight a global war against ter­ror­ists. Now, they say, Amer­ica is about to re­peat the mis­take, as China and Iran flex their mus­cles and rad­i­cal Is­lam re­mains a global threat.

Daniel Goure, an an­a­lyst at the pro-busi­ness Lex­ing­ton In­sti­tute, said the left has it all wrong. The Pen­tagon needs more money, un­less it aban­dons or cur­tails its pres­ence in Europe, the Mid­dle East and Asia, he said.

“You’d bet­ter change our mil­i­tary ap­proach to the world,” said Mr. Goure. “If you do what we did the last time, which is es­sen­tially salami slice, take bits and pieces from ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­body, then you are es­sen­tially go­ing to back where you were af­ter Viet­nam and at the end of the Cold War draw­down. Too many mis­sions. Too many de­ploy­ments. Not enough stuff. Not enough peo­ple.”

The Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress also pro­poses a list of weapons ter­mi­na­tions and troop cut­backs.

The num­ber of V-22 tilt-ro­tor air­craft would be stopped at about 150. The next-gen­er­a­tion work­horse jet fighter, the F-35, which is mired in big cost over­runs, would be bought only for the Air Force, not the Navy or Marine Corps.

The Navy’s 11 car­ri­ers, a key way Amer­ica projects im­me­di­ate air power over­seas, would be not do.”

How­ever, re­duc­ing the num­ber of ac­tive car­ri­ers to nine means only three typ­i­cally would be de­ployed at one time, pos­si­bly leav­ing the Pa­cific with­out a sur­face ship strike force.

“If the Chinese are go­ing to threaten Tai­wan, they’re go­ing to do it with short-legged stuff, short-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles, right from shore,” Mr. Korb said. “We can’t do it that way. If the threat were Mex­ico, not to worry. We build diesel sub­marines and short-range fight­ers, and we’d call it a day.”

Daniel Goure, an an­a­lyst at the pro-busi­ness Lex­ing­ton In­sti­tute, said the left has it all wrong. The Pen­tagon needs more money, un­less it aban­dons or cur­tails its pres­ence in Europe, the Mid­dle East and Asia, he said. “You’d bet­ter change our mil­i­tary ap­proach to the world,” said Mr. Goure. “If you do what we did the last time, which is es­sen­tially salami slice, take bits and pieces from ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­body, then you are es­sen­tially go­ing to back where you were af­ter Viet­nam and at the end of the Cold War draw­down. Too many mis­sions. Too many de­ploy­ments. Not enough stuff. Not enough peo­ple.”

trimmed to nine, and with it other sur­face ships. A full third of 150,000 troops in Europe and Asia would be or­dered home.

“You may not be able to keep as many car­ri­ers for­ward-de­ployed,” said Mr. Korb. “You would have to surge them, but I don’t see any mis­sions you could

Such dras­tic cuts would face strong Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion.

A spokesman for Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said the GOP would never ap­prove cuts of $1 tril­lion.

House Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, re­leased a de­tailed bud­get plan that calls for mod­est de­fense draw­downs over five years. He ar­gued that the De­fense Depart­ment’s to­tal bud­get share al­ready has de­creased from 25 per­cent to 20 per­cent.

A smat­ter­ing of con­ser­va­tives are ad­vo­cat­ing more shrink­age. Some Repub­li­cans on Mr. Obama’s deficit com­mis­sion sup­ported cuts above $400 mil­lion.

With all troops due to be pulled out of Iraq this year and Afghanistan by 2014, the Pen­tagon could save $100 bil­lion an­nu­ally on those two ac­counts alone. Mr. Gates in­sti­tuted more than $100 bil­lion in sav­ings, al­though some of that money was redi­rected into other arms pro­grams.

The next phase is likely to be re­vealed in Mr. Obama’s fis­cal 2013 bud­get in Fe­bru­ary or in some grand deficit-re­duc­tion agree­ment be­tween him and Congress.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this year: “We can’t hold our­selves ex­empt from the belt­tight­en­ing. Nei­ther can we al­low our­selves to con­trib­ute to the very debt that puts our longterm se­cu­rity at risk.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta, who proved a hawk­ish di­rec­tor of the CIA, vowed to Congress that he would not let the mil­i­tary go hol­low as it did in the late 1970s.

On July 8, he urged the White House and Congress to base cuts on a strat­egy. He ex­pressed his concern about ne­go­tia­tors who would just “just pick a num­ber and throw it at the De­fense Depart­ment with­out re­ally look­ing at pol­icy, with­out look­ing at what makes sense.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mis­sion Afghanistan: U.S. Marine Capt. Mark Paige, 26, of Port Jef­fer­son Sta­tion, N.Y. (cen­ter) points out a tar­get to Lance Cpl., Derek Green, 26, of Jack­sonville, Ala. (left) as they look for in­sur­gents July 21 in the vil­lage of Si­raqula in Hel­mand prov­ince, Afghanistan.

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