Boy do I miss Leon Panetta. That’s no knock on his successor as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, who has done a better than expected job. At least he hasn’t done anything that has triggered much controversy. But Panetta has a well-justified reputation for plain speaking, and his voice is now worth listening to, more than ever, because he is one of the few people in Washington still reminding us of the continuing costs of budget sequestration.
The rest of the political class has moved on: the subjects du jour are the aftermath of the government shutdown and yet another looming fight over yet another deadline to raise the debt ceiling yet again. But sequestration–which amounts to $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, half of them hitting the armed forces–remains in effect and the negative consequences continue to pile up.
On “Meet the Press” last Sunday; Panetta reminded viewers “our readiness has been badly damaged.” Earlier, in the Washington Post, he elaborated on the impact:
Fewer than half of the Air Force’s frontline fighters are combat-ready; 12 combat squadrons have been grounded; key Combat Training Center rotations have been canceled; multiple ship deployments, including the USS Truman carrier strike group, have been canceled; and furloughs for 650,000 civilian employees continue, resulting in a 20 percent pay reduction during every furlough week. These and other effects of sequestration are weakening the United States’ ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world beyond the war zone in Afghanistan.
Panetta concludes correctly: “To have this happen under any circumstance is irresponsible. To have it happen as the result of a self-inflicted wound is outrageous.” He notes that every member of the Congressional leadership he has talked to, whether Republican or Democrat, agrees with his analysis yet they tell him to give up the fight because “Congress is resigned to failure.”
But while the failure may be Congress’s–and the president’s–the consequences will be borne by the entire country. If the armed forces are not ready for future emergencies, the impact on America’s standing will be dire–and, even worse, good men and women in uniform will die needlessly. That is the direct consequences of Washington’s shameful failure to turn off sequestration. That some on the right are now touting sequestration as a major Republican Party achievement shows how far the GOP has lost its way.