In about a month, if a congressional “super committee” can’t come up with a plan to slim down the federal budget by $1.5 trillion in 10 years, the Pentagon will be facing the budget cleaver-- again.
That’s right, if the super committee can’t agree on a drastic budget diet, the 2011 Budget Control Act (the law passed this summer, raising the debt ceiling) will trigger a spending “sequestration” (automatic reduction) of $1.2 trillion, with half -- or more -- coming from defense coffers.
Team Obama has already slashed the Pentagon by some $850 billion over 10 years, including canceling some 50 major weapons programs, so this is nothing less than double trouble for our troops -- and our national security.
With the big cuts already under way, even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, previously a green eye-shade “budgeteer” himself, cautioned Congress about deeper Pentagon reductions in a recent Capitol Hill appearance.
Of course, taking another bite of the Pentagon apple looks pretty darn easy compared to the political risk of touching the third-rail of American politics: reforming the Big Three entitlement programs -- Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
But experts are also warning of dire consequences internationally and higher risks to our troops if further Defense Department draw-downs are taken. After all, it’s an uncertain and dangerous world we live in.
For instance, analysts say that axing the defense budget will shrink the Marine Corps to its smallest force in some 50 years; the Army will dwindle to pre-9/11 numbers, and the Air Force will have two-thirds fewer fighters and bombers than in 1990.
The Navy will lose one to two aircraft-carrier battle groups, reducing our flattop numbers to as little as nine. The brass may have to shrink the fleet to some 220-240 ships -- smaller than at any time since just before the First World War.
Plus, we may lose one leg of the nuclear triad of fleet ballistic-missile submarines, long-range bombers and land-based missiles silos -- discarding nuke duty for our boomers (missile subs) or bombers.
There’s also likely to be delays in fielding national and theater missile defense to protect the homeland, our deployed troops, allies and friends abroad from the growing ballistic-missile threat.
Equally important in this tough economy, Panetta told lawmakers that large defense reductions could cost 1.5 million jobs, adding 1 percentage point to the already staggering 9 percent unemployment rate.
More hacking away at the Pentagon budget could leave our military (already tired and tattered after 10 years of war) a mere shadow of what it once was -- in just a decade’s time.
This will harm our ability to deter, dissuade or deal with adversarial activities and shape world events in our favor, presaging a possible plummet in US power across the globe.
China, which has increased its defense budget by 10 percent or more each year for the last two decades, must be giddy at the prospect of the sun setting on American influence in the Pacific.
The perception of our military might in free-fall will also please Iran, which is gleeful about our Iraq withdrawal, recently promised to send warships to patrol the Atlantic coast and feels safe plotting assassinations on US soil.
You can only imagine what Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria and al Qaeda (from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia) -- not to mention our friends and allies -- must be thinking.
The Hollywood fantasy “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” was great fun, but “Honey, I Shrunk the Military” won’t prove very amusing at all.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post