A few weeks ago, President Obama released his much ballyhooed strategic blueprint, called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” It called for a force that would be “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced,” with “cutting-edge capabilities,” staffed by “the highest-quality, battle-tested professionals,” and with a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.” Today, the Pentagon unveiled details of the new defense budget which make clear none of these promises will be kept.
The most defensible elements of the new cutbacks are rolling back military pay increases and increasing the cost of Tricare insurance, both of which are generous by civilian standards–even if it does call into question the president’s pledge to “keep faith with our troops, military families, and veterans.” Our faith in those brave men and women is truly strained if not broken altogether by the decision to fire 100,000 of them–80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines who are being let go to find jobs in an anemic economy.
What of the promise to sustain U.S. global leadership and even to increase power projection in the Pacific? It’s hard to see how we can possibly do this when the current budget once again slows down acquisition of the F-35, the critical fifth-generation fighter needed to counter China. Six of 60 Air Force tactical squadrons will be eliminated altogether, further hurting our power projection capabilities. Also gone will be 27 giant C-5As and 65 of the smaller C-130s which are needed to move troops and materiel around the world–the centerpiece of the not-so-new “lily-pad” strategy that Don Rumsfeld had pushed and which Leon Panetta has now revived. This is premised on the idea of reducing our permanent overseas presence in favor of moving small numbers of troops for short-term exercises and Special Operations-type raids. However, with the reduction in the number of our cargo aircraft it will be harder to accomplish that.
Our fleet–already the smallest since the early years of the 20th century–will suffer more cuts, too: “To find savings,” the New York Times reports, “the Navy will retire seven cruisers, and slow work on amphibious ships and an attack submarine. Two littoral combat ships will be eliminated.” All of these cutbacks are coming, mind you, in the midst of China’s rapid military buildup which is already shifting the balance of power in the Western Pacific against the Seventh Fleet. To keep pace we need to build more ships–not mothball those we already have.
The administration claims we should not be worried about all these cuts–why, we are expanding Special Operations Forces and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Both SOF and UAVs are important capabilities, but they should be seen as supplements to, rather than replacements for, conventional forces. It appears, ironically, the Obama administration is being seduced by the same techno-utopian vision that entranced Rumsfeld–of doing more with less. The fault in that line of thinking was displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we quickly found out there was no substitute for a humble rifleman to impose our will on the enemy at bayonet point. Now the Obama administration is fooling itself into thinking we will never have to fight another major ground war again. That is a myth we have fallen prey to many times before–only to have a painful disabusing. You would think we would have learned our lesson. Apparently not.