Commentary Magazine


Topic: defense cuts

Obama’s Afghan Strategy Helps Putin

Vladimir Putin is Machiavelli. He waited until he had a strong hand and he played it. President Obama and his European counterparts might hem and haw, but the worst Putin likely expects from them is being put on double secret probation. Europe has always been mercantile, unwilling to give up short-term profit for the sake of long-term security, hence the constant efforts by countries like Germany and Italy to dilute Iran. Putin, however, also has leverage over Europe because many European countries depend on Russian pipelines for their gas.

Such leverage is bad enough, but Obama has enabled Putin to turn his full house into a royal flush. By imposing a political timeline for withdrawal on Afghanistan, Obama has given Putin sway over the ability of American forces to withdrawal their equipment from Afghanistan. Obama now faces a choice: Risk American equipment transiting Russia, or succumb to Pakistani blackmail which can be just as costly. There will be many reverberations and second order effects because of Obama’s shortsightedness. Emboldening Putin is only the first.

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Vladimir Putin is Machiavelli. He waited until he had a strong hand and he played it. President Obama and his European counterparts might hem and haw, but the worst Putin likely expects from them is being put on double secret probation. Europe has always been mercantile, unwilling to give up short-term profit for the sake of long-term security, hence the constant efforts by countries like Germany and Italy to dilute Iran. Putin, however, also has leverage over Europe because many European countries depend on Russian pipelines for their gas.

Such leverage is bad enough, but Obama has enabled Putin to turn his full house into a royal flush. By imposing a political timeline for withdrawal on Afghanistan, Obama has given Putin sway over the ability of American forces to withdrawal their equipment from Afghanistan. Obama now faces a choice: Risk American equipment transiting Russia, or succumb to Pakistani blackmail which can be just as costly. There will be many reverberations and second order effects because of Obama’s shortsightedness. Emboldening Putin is only the first.

Of course, just as Putin has called Obama’s bluff, it is possible that Obama could call Putin’s. Rather than withdrawing from Afghanistan in the midst of an election when security is most needed, and rather than slash defense to pre-World War II levels against the backdrop of international chaos, Obama could reconsider the investment needed to secure America’s place in the world and, indeed, to secure greater peace in the world. If Obama altered his arbitrary deadline in Afghanistan, he would instantly undercut Putin’s leverage. That would assume, however, that Obama cared about America’s place in the world or the freedom of its allies. That he does not—and that he gratuitously increases the power and position of American adversaries—is becoming hard to deny.

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Obama Can’t Escape Share of Responsibility for Sequestration

One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”

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One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”

As for the second part of Obama’s statement—that sequestration will not happen—this claim was greeted with befuddlement on Capitol Hill since lawmakers are nowhere close to a deal to stop sequestration and time is running out. The White House, it should be noted, has been entirely AWOL in this effort. What does Obama know that everyone else in Washington doesn’t? Nothing, it turns out. For immediately after the debate White House aides rushed to walk back the president’s remarks, saying, as David Plouffe did, that “everyone in Washington agrees that sequester ‘should not happen.’” From “will not” to “should not” is a big change—and one that confirms that there is a very real danger that sequestration will  happen.

If that were to happen, Congress, including Republicans who voted for the budget deal last summer, will certainly be complicit in the outcome, but Obama will not be able to escape his share of the blame for cuts that his own defense secretary has said would be “devastating.”

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Will Congress Avert Defense Cuts?

Both parties have good reason to avoid another government shutdown standoff this fall, as the fiscal year ends a little more than a month before the election. Any hint of Republican obstructionism in the House will be used in anti-Romney attacks, and Senate Democrats won’t want to rock the boat so soon before Election Day. Roll Call reports both sides are nearing a compromise on a continuing resolution to fund the government for another six months, which they’ll vote on before the Sept. 30 deadline:

The announcement of a House-Senate deal to fund the government for the six months after Sept. 30 appeared imminent this afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that any spending agreement would have to be at the $1.047 trillion level established by last year’s debt limit law. Current funding runs out at the end of the government’s fiscal year Sept. 30, and without new appropriations or a stopgap continuing resolution, the government would shut down. …

The continuing resolution could not be considered by either chamber until after the August recess, sources said, because the Congressional Budget Office would need time to score the proposal. In addition, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget will need to provide Appropriations Committee staffers with lists of changes from the current spending levels called “anomalies” for inclusion in the measure.

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Both parties have good reason to avoid another government shutdown standoff this fall, as the fiscal year ends a little more than a month before the election. Any hint of Republican obstructionism in the House will be used in anti-Romney attacks, and Senate Democrats won’t want to rock the boat so soon before Election Day. Roll Call reports both sides are nearing a compromise on a continuing resolution to fund the government for another six months, which they’ll vote on before the Sept. 30 deadline:

The announcement of a House-Senate deal to fund the government for the six months after Sept. 30 appeared imminent this afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that any spending agreement would have to be at the $1.047 trillion level established by last year’s debt limit law. Current funding runs out at the end of the government’s fiscal year Sept. 30, and without new appropriations or a stopgap continuing resolution, the government would shut down. …

The continuing resolution could not be considered by either chamber until after the August recess, sources said, because the Congressional Budget Office would need time to score the proposal. In addition, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget will need to provide Appropriations Committee staffers with lists of changes from the current spending levels called “anomalies” for inclusion in the measure.

It’s not exactly happy news that Washington is going to take up another short-term spending agreement, but there really isn’t an alternative. Congress can’t even agree on an actual budget during a non-election year, and there’s no way anything is going to be accomplished in the politically-charged two months leading up to the election.

But there is one important provision that Congress can add to the continuing resolution, which could avert the automatic defense cuts under sequestration. Defense News reported on the option during the weekend:

Increasingly concerned that time is running out for the U.S. Congress to avoid $500 billion in automatic defense cuts, the Pentagon is assessing all options, including the possible implications of a one-year, $100 billion government-wide, “mini-sequester” deficit-reduction deal, Defense Department and industry sources said. …

Congress inserts language into a continuing resolution that delays sequestration another year or two when there is a less-heated political environment, but the government implements the first and perhaps second year of cuts, which some refer to as the “mini-sequester.”

The $100 billion in government-wide cuts seem far preferable to $500 billion in defense cuts alone. The one- or two-year window would also give Congress more time and a less-politicized atmosphere to come up with a plan to replace the automatic cuts.

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Finding an Alternative to Defense Cuts

With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:

“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.

Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.

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With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:

“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.

Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.

Democrats are demanding some sort of revenue-increasing measure to offset the defense cuts. Some possibilities that may not violate the anti-tax pledge could include fees related to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and an increase in TSA fees — but Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, told The Hill that it would need to see the specific legislation before deciding whether it violates the pledge.

There are also some actions Congress can take in late September, when last year’s continuing resolution funding the government expires. As the Bipartisan Policy Center has pointed out, Congress could pass another continuing resolution to exempt war funding from the defense cuts — though that could also mean that other defense programs take a bigger hit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has suggested that Congress could increase war funding this fall to a level that offsets the sequestration cuts, which is an interesting idea but would result in no real-life reductions. If it comes to that, then Congress should obviously do everything in its power to save defense; but considering our fiscal situation, it would be preferable to find other non-defense cuts to offset it, if possible.

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The Damaging Sequester

If you missed Thursday’s Wall Street Journal editorial on defense sequestration, go back and read it. It’s as powerful a case as I’ve seen about the damage that mindless budget cutting will do to our nation’s defense. It also makes a powerful case that President Obama is being negligent for refusing to get together with concerned lawmakers to stop the deep slashes in defense spending that are due to begin in January. Instead, the president and Sen. Harry Reid are using the threat of sequestration to try to pressure Republicans into agreeing to tax increases.

Of course, the fault is not entirely the president’s. Hill Republicans also bear part of the blame, as the Journal notes, for accepting “the sequestration deal while leaving entitlements off the table, thus handing Mr. Obama more leverage.” That Republicans voted as they did last summer, despite the misgivings of many members, was understandable given that the federal government faced the threat of default if the budget ceiling wasn’t lifted—but nevertheless, the vote was a mistake and one that may come back to haunt the country.

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If you missed Thursday’s Wall Street Journal editorial on defense sequestration, go back and read it. It’s as powerful a case as I’ve seen about the damage that mindless budget cutting will do to our nation’s defense. It also makes a powerful case that President Obama is being negligent for refusing to get together with concerned lawmakers to stop the deep slashes in defense spending that are due to begin in January. Instead, the president and Sen. Harry Reid are using the threat of sequestration to try to pressure Republicans into agreeing to tax increases.

Of course, the fault is not entirely the president’s. Hill Republicans also bear part of the blame, as the Journal notes, for accepting “the sequestration deal while leaving entitlements off the table, thus handing Mr. Obama more leverage.” That Republicans voted as they did last summer, despite the misgivings of many members, was understandable given that the federal government faced the threat of default if the budget ceiling wasn’t lifted—but nevertheless, the vote was a mistake and one that may come back to haunt the country.

The good news is it is not too late to prevent these devastating cuts from taking place—but to achieve anything we will need to break through the partisan gridlock. At this point, that looks like a long shot.

 

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Defense Cuts Would Spike Unemployment

There’s no question the automatic budget cuts set to take place next January will have major national security implications, but what about the economic fallout? Sequestration doesn’t just mean a reduction in military readiness, it also means reductions in defense and non-defense jobs. According to a new study by the Aerospace Industries Association, the unemployment rate would reach 9 percent or higher under these cuts (h/t Rob Bluey):

“The results are bleak but clear-cut,” said [Dr. Stephen S.] Fuller. “The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds. An already weak economy will be undercut as the paychecks of thousands of workers across the economy will be affected from teachers, nurses, construction workers to key federal employees such as border patrol and FBI agents, food inspectors and others.”

The analysis concludes that the automatic spending cuts mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011 affecting defense and non-defense discretionary spending in just the first year of implementation will reduce the nation’s GDP by $215 billion; decrease personal earnings of the workforce by $109.4 billion and cost the U.S. economy 2.14 million jobs.

This is about more than national security. A sudden reduction in defense-sector jobs could devastate whole communities, flooding the already-oversaturated job market with masses of newly unemployed. These aren’t unnecessary or obsolete jobs, they’re ones that are still critical for national defense.

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There’s no question the automatic budget cuts set to take place next January will have major national security implications, but what about the economic fallout? Sequestration doesn’t just mean a reduction in military readiness, it also means reductions in defense and non-defense jobs. According to a new study by the Aerospace Industries Association, the unemployment rate would reach 9 percent or higher under these cuts (h/t Rob Bluey):

“The results are bleak but clear-cut,” said [Dr. Stephen S.] Fuller. “The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds. An already weak economy will be undercut as the paychecks of thousands of workers across the economy will be affected from teachers, nurses, construction workers to key federal employees such as border patrol and FBI agents, food inspectors and others.”

The analysis concludes that the automatic spending cuts mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011 affecting defense and non-defense discretionary spending in just the first year of implementation will reduce the nation’s GDP by $215 billion; decrease personal earnings of the workforce by $109.4 billion and cost the U.S. economy 2.14 million jobs.

This is about more than national security. A sudden reduction in defense-sector jobs could devastate whole communities, flooding the already-oversaturated job market with masses of newly unemployed. These aren’t unnecessary or obsolete jobs, they’re ones that are still critical for national defense.

The Obama administration and Congress may not be able to avoid dealing with this issue for long. As Dov Zakheim wrote last month at Foreign Policy, employers will be required to inform their employees of the possible termination 60 days before the sequester goes into effect — which just so happens to be Nov. 2, 2012:

 In addition to its impact on the government’s budget, the sequester will also trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to give a minimum of sixty days notice to private and public sector employees whose jobs are being targeted for possible termination. Those politicians seeking re-election to national office should take note that Nov. 2, 60 days before Jan. 2, when the sequester comes into force, is just four days before election day. They may find it very uncomfortable having to explain to potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have been given WARN Act pink slips why they deserve to be returned to office after they did nothing about the sequester.

Can you imagine massive layoff warnings a week before the election? How has the Obama administration failed to address this issue so far?

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U.S. Troops Needed in East Asia

For most Americans, World War II is distant history–a setting for adventure films such as “Captain America,” History Channel documentaries, and not much more. It is startling, then, to be reminded of the virulence of historical memory in Asia.

Only two years ago, there were substantial anti-Japanese protests in China. The ostensible cause was a  clash between Chinese fishing vessels and a Japanese patrol boat in the East China Sea, but it was really a revelation of the deep emotions that remain from the Japanese occupation of a large part of China during the 1930s-40s which included the infamous Rape of Nanking. Now in South Korea, a top national security official has had to resign because of his temerity in negotiating an accord with Japan to share intelligence over a mutual threat–North Korea.

You would think this pact between two pro-Western democracies would be a no-brainer, but as the New York Times account notes, “After the Lee government announced the deal last Thursday, accusations flew that the government was ‘pro-Japanese,’ a far worse charge in South Korea than being ‘pro-North Korean.’” Hatred of Japan is of course explained by the brutality of Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century, which included the sexual enslavement of Korean “comfort women.” Emotions remain raw in no small part because Japan, unlike Germany, still has trouble fully acknowledging the wrong it has done. I recall a few years ago visiting the Yasukani Shrine in Tokyo, whose museum continues to glorify the actions of Japan’s war criminals.

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For most Americans, World War II is distant history–a setting for adventure films such as “Captain America,” History Channel documentaries, and not much more. It is startling, then, to be reminded of the virulence of historical memory in Asia.

Only two years ago, there were substantial anti-Japanese protests in China. The ostensible cause was a  clash between Chinese fishing vessels and a Japanese patrol boat in the East China Sea, but it was really a revelation of the deep emotions that remain from the Japanese occupation of a large part of China during the 1930s-40s which included the infamous Rape of Nanking. Now in South Korea, a top national security official has had to resign because of his temerity in negotiating an accord with Japan to share intelligence over a mutual threat–North Korea.

You would think this pact between two pro-Western democracies would be a no-brainer, but as the New York Times account notes, “After the Lee government announced the deal last Thursday, accusations flew that the government was ‘pro-Japanese,’ a far worse charge in South Korea than being ‘pro-North Korean.’” Hatred of Japan is of course explained by the brutality of Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century, which included the sexual enslavement of Korean “comfort women.” Emotions remain raw in no small part because Japan, unlike Germany, still has trouble fully acknowledging the wrong it has done. I recall a few years ago visiting the Yasukani Shrine in Tokyo, whose museum continues to glorify the actions of Japan’s war criminals.

For the United States, this is a vexing challenge because it makes it more difficult to marshal the kind of united front among our allies we would like to see. As a practical matter, it may be easier to try to create a more multilateral security alliance in East Asia rather than trying to force countries such as Japan and South Korea into bilateral pacts that will be contentious among their populace.

The larger message, though, is about just how necessary America remains to preserving security in this region which will be the biggest source of wealth in the world in the 21st century. Too many Americans do not see the importance of stationing U.S. troops in South Korea, Japan, or other countries. They are, after all, wealthy and powerful. Why do they need American help? In large part because the U.S. remains the most trusted power in the region, and one that other countries depend on to keep the peace and to repress not-so-buried national rivalries. If we are unable to perform that role in the future because of Draconian cuts in our defense budget, the consequences for regional security and prosperity–and hence our own security and prosperity–will be dire.

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Congress Must Act Soon on Sequestration

The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

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The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

Yet Harry Reid and John Boehner, the two leaders of Congress, seem to be engaged in a game of budget chicken, which makes it increasingly unlikely that the sequester will be turned off before the end of the year. The former wants tax increases; the latter doesn’t–and the two seem to be ignoring the damage their standoff is doing to the men and women in uniform. I talked to one Hill staffer last week who thought there was a 90 percent chance the sequestration would go into effect on Jan. 1; the best hope of stopping it, he argued, would be early in 2013 if President Romney is in office by then.

Whatever the prospects of turning off the sequester in a Romney administration, the reality is that if Congress doesn’t act soon, its harmful effects will be felt not only in the Department of Defense but in companies across the country that are defense contractors or sub-contractors.

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Partisan Gridlock Could “Devastate” Troops

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”

And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.

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Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”

And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.

Moreover, the contingency funds are also used to support Afghan security forces. A 15 percent cut in their ranks—soon to be 350,000—could result in the layoff of 52,000 soldiers and police. That is a huge number and could tilt the balance of power in favor of the Taliban in critical areas even as Afghan security forces are being asked to step into the lead. One consequence would be that the remaining U.S. troops still in Afghanistan would be in greater danger and could suffer higher casualties.

It is hard to imagine a more ill-advised idea than cutting funds for troops in combat—yet that is what will happen unless Congress can somehow agree on an alternative before Dec. 31. That seems increasingly unlikely to happen, however, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems intent on extracting big tax increases from Republicans in return for turning off the sequester. Partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, therefore, has the potential to “devastate” our fighting men and women even as they are on the frontlines.

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GOP Seeks to Avert Defense Cuts

I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.

The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

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I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.

The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

As the sequestration cuts fall disproportionately on defense (half the cuts slash defense spending even though it’s less than 20 percent of the overall federal budget), Democrats have every reason to sit back and allow the cuts to hit–unless Republicans cave on higher taxes, which they are unlikely to do. Thus, the odds grow of a “perfect storm” that will devastate the defense budget.

I am in the process of touring West Coast military installations–I was just in San Diego where I met with Navy SEALs and toured an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a Navy aviation maintenance plant, and Camp Pendleton, the West Coast home of the Marine Corps. Everywhere I saw what I have come to expect when visiting our military installations–superbly trained and motivated men and women doing incredible, often dangerous, and usually unheralded work to defend our republic. It  would be a tragedy not only for the U.S. but for the entire world if this first-class military, developed over decades and committed to expanding and preserving freedom around the globe, were to be wrecked overnight through a lack of political will in Congress. But that, alas, appears to be increasingly likely.

 

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Rep. Ryan: “I Misspoke” About the Generals

In an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Rep. Paul Ryan backed away from his comments that questioned whether generals were being honest with Congress by supporting the Obama administration’s defense budget proposal.

Ryan told Crowley that he “misspoke” last week, and said he has called Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and apologized:

“Yes – no, I really misspoke, to be candid with you, Candy. I didn’t mean to make that kind of an impression. So I was clumsy in how I was describing the point I was trying to make. And the point I was trying to make – and General Dempsey and I spoke after that. And we – I wanted to give that point to him, which was, that was not what I was attempting to say.

What I was attempting to say is, President Obama put out his budget number for the Pentagon first, $500 billion cut, and then they began the strategy review to conform the budget to meet that number.

We think it should have been the other way around. What is the best strategy for our military and so we have a strategy driven budget. Now the result of our review of the president’s budget on the military was we should cut $3 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years instead of the $500 billion.”

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In an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Rep. Paul Ryan backed away from his comments that questioned whether generals were being honest with Congress by supporting the Obama administration’s defense budget proposal.

Ryan told Crowley that he “misspoke” last week, and said he has called Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and apologized:

“Yes – no, I really misspoke, to be candid with you, Candy. I didn’t mean to make that kind of an impression. So I was clumsy in how I was describing the point I was trying to make. And the point I was trying to make – and General Dempsey and I spoke after that. And we – I wanted to give that point to him, which was, that was not what I was attempting to say.

What I was attempting to say is, President Obama put out his budget number for the Pentagon first, $500 billion cut, and then they began the strategy review to conform the budget to meet that number.

We think it should have been the other way around. What is the best strategy for our military and so we have a strategy driven budget. Now the result of our review of the president’s budget on the military was we should cut $3 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years instead of the $500 billion.”

This should put that matter to rest, though it was an unfortunate unforced error for Ryan to make the same week he rolled out his budget plan. The proposal is enough of a magnet for criticism on its own without the additional controversy. Ryan wasn’t necessarily wrong in his assertion, but putting the generals on the spot like that is unhelpful, and of course they’re going to stand by their original testimony. Whatever military brass is telling Ryan behind the scenes, and I don’t doubt it’s critical of the president’s proposals, this was a losing way for him to frame the argument.

But Ryan was right to steer the conversation back to the real issue, which is that the president wrote down a budget cut number and asked the Pentagon to meet it. As Republicans have been arguing, that’s a risky way to handle reductions. Few would say the defense budget should be exempt from scrutiny and potential cuts, but they should be with security as the priority, not an arbitrary number handed down by the administration.

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The Dangers of Sequestration

Robert Samuelson has a typically excellent column in the Washington Post today where he points out the dangers of looming sequestration–the requirement, enacted by Congress last summer, that more than $500 billion in defense spending will be cut next January along with the nearly $500 billion that has already been cut this year. Many lawmakers are talking as if it’s a done deal that sequestration will be put off at least for one year, but Samuelson isn’t so sure and neither am I. He writes that in November,

[o]ne party and perhaps both will be embittered by the election’s outcome. Congress will face two and possibly three highly contentious issues: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 at year-end; the looming start of the sequester; and, possibly, the need to raise the federal debt ceiling (the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates this could occur in November).

The confluence of so many big issues — with timetables — could inspire a grand compromise. It also could produce chaos. The sequester could take effect by default and confusion. The Obama administration’s continuing embrace of the sequester as a political lever, when it clearly hasn’t worked, makes this outcome more, not less, likely.

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Robert Samuelson has a typically excellent column in the Washington Post today where he points out the dangers of looming sequestration–the requirement, enacted by Congress last summer, that more than $500 billion in defense spending will be cut next January along with the nearly $500 billion that has already been cut this year. Many lawmakers are talking as if it’s a done deal that sequestration will be put off at least for one year, but Samuelson isn’t so sure and neither am I. He writes that in November,

[o]ne party and perhaps both will be embittered by the election’s outcome. Congress will face two and possibly three highly contentious issues: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 at year-end; the looming start of the sequester; and, possibly, the need to raise the federal debt ceiling (the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates this could occur in November).

The confluence of so many big issues — with timetables — could inspire a grand compromise. It also could produce chaos. The sequester could take effect by default and confusion. The Obama administration’s continuing embrace of the sequester as a political lever, when it clearly hasn’t worked, makes this outcome more, not less, likely.

That’s exactly right. Add in the fact that defense companies will have to start cutbacks this year to meet the projected budget shortfall next year, and you have all the makings for an only-in-Washington disaster. Congress cannot wait until after the election to fix this mess. Action is needed now, and President Obama must lead the way, or else he will be remembered as the president responsible for the dismantling of the world’s greatest military.

 

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