Pentagon Hits Panic Button


Pentagon Hits Panic Button

Feb 22nd, 2012 2 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

Washington is about to hand America’s enemies — at least, the ones who want to do us harm — a gift. It comes in the form of deep, reckless cuts to the military budget.

Both the White House and congressional leaders agreed when they signed off on the Budget Control Act of 2011 that if its automatic cuts went into effect they would compromise national security. Under the law, unless Congress can agree on budget-cutting guidelines, every federal agency, including the Department of Defense, gets across-the-board cuts.

For the Pentagon, the prospects of the carpet-bombing approach to spending cuts are doubly troubling. The armed forces are already slotted to absorb 50 percent of the cuts in government spending, even though military accounts for less than 20 percent of the budget. The act would double these cuts.

There are a host of arguments for just going ahead and cutting spending. For example, the military can get rid of excess bases. Unfortunately, the Pentagon has already done that. It shed all kinds of bases the world over after the Cold War. In fact, the last time it closed bases, in 2005, it cost the military more than $30 billion to do so.

More ships, planes, people

If the United States starts closing more bases around the world, it’s going to need twice as many ships, planes and people and take twice as long to accomplish the same tasks. It would be like being on vacation in Florida and, instead of using an ATM to get cash, running back to New York to take money out of your piggy bank.

Using austerity to force the armed forces to be more efficient doesn’t hold much promise, either. It’s easy to assume that the Pentagon has a lot of money floating around. The Defense Department said it spent about half a billion to help oust Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, but it only requested authority to reprogram about $80 million in spending. Where did the rest come from?

It didn’t come from any slush fund. The Pentagon robbed training, maintenance and operations accounts to pay for Libyan expenses, and that resulted in shortfalls that directly reduce military readiness. It is like shorting the mortgage payment to pay your credit cards.

We should wring inefficiencies out of Pentagon spending, but we should make sure we don’t compromise national security in the process.

Finally, there is the argument that if America has a smaller military it will just do less and we will have a less zealous foreign policy. The problem with that approach is the enemy gets a vote, and it usually votes to exploit our weakness. That is why Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz as soon as our aircraft carrier left the Gulf — because we don’t have enough carriers to keep one there permanently.

Of course, President Obama rushed two carriers back. It was part of his global Ponzi scheme to make it appear as if the armed forces are strong enough to cover all the bases. They are not. Leaving Afghanistan and Iraq won’t help address the balance, either. Those forces are being cut — to save money.

Big tax hikes

Even the White House acknowledges that the additional cuts imposed under the Budget Control Act will endanger national security. They, however, want a long-term budget deal that includes big tax hikes. Many in Congress won’t go along. Holding national security a hostage over tax policy is just unacceptable.

Two bills have been introduced in Congress, one in the House and one in the Senate, that offer Washington a way out. They would offer a one-year fix to get the issue beyond election-year politics. Under their proposal, those additional cuts to the Pentagon would be offset by targeting spending reductions elsewhere in the federal workforce.

Finding alternatives to cutting essential military capabilities, without raising taxes or further ballooning the federal deficit, is prudent and necessary. It is the kind of next step we ought to demand from Washington.

James Jay Carafano is deputy director of the Institute for International Studies and director of the Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Youngstown Vindicator