The Defense Drumbeat Blog

After cutting $400 billion in defense programs since taking office, President Obama is now targeting more defense cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling in his negotiations with Congress. These proposed cuts follow a similar Obama Administration tactic of naming an arbitrary number to cut without regard to our national security.

A Washington Post Opinion piece by Marc A. Thiessen, “No defense cuts or tax increases in debt deal,” highlights this developing push by the President.

“The president knows full well that Republicans are not backing down on taxes — but he is using the issue to extract other concessions, such as getting the GOP to back his plan for massive and irresponsible reductions in defense spending.”

There appears to have been no consideration by the White House of threats, of deterrence, of logistics, or capabilities — or even the effect such cuts would have on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the third war the President committed us to in Libya, our troops, or our national security in these debt ceiling talks; just an arbitrary dollar amount of $300 billion from security spending put forth by the President.

Theissen correctly points to what the President’s own former Defense Secretary has said about deep cuts in defense spending: “In November, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that even a 10 percent cut from the Pentagon budget, roughly $55 billion, would be ‘catastrophic’ to the U.S. military. Obama has already cut more than $400 billion in defense programs since taking office, and he has proposed an additional $400 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years.”

Defense Cuts for Entitlement Spending
Does Congress really want to go along with the President and further pilfer our national security budget to pay for more entitlement programs, the President’s failed stimulus and irresponsible social spending? Unfortunately, it appears that some in Congress are considering that option despite the fact that the U.S. Military is fighting three wars and has numerous commitments abroad.

A Weekly Standard piece by Max Boot makes the point clearly: “The reality is that there is no way the armed forces can perform all, or even most, of their current missions with less money. In fact, despite the growing spending of the past decade for contingency operations, the military has already cancelled a number of important procurement programs. These include the Army’s Future Combat System and the Air Force’s F-22, the best-in-the-world stealth fighter that was canceled just before China unveiled its own stealth fighter.”

The Obama Defense Department has already cut back or canceled more than 20 major military modernization systems and slashed our strategic nuclear deterrent — all while opening a third theater of war in Libya.

Can We Defend America and Our Interests?
As President Ronald Reagan noted “There is no logical way that you can say, let's spend ‘x’ billion dollars less. You can only say, which part of our defense measures do we believe we can do without and still have security against all contingencies?” When presenting further defense cuts to Congress, the President should specify which parts of our national security he thinks we can do without. Should we have a fewer aircraft carriers, fewer planes, reduce our cyber warfare efforts, cut special forces, reduce the size of the Marine Corps? Where would the President propose we make these cuts?

Boot also floats the following real world scenarios: “Perhaps we should stop fighting pirates off the coast of Africa? Stop fighting in Libya so that arch-terrorist Muammar Qaddafi can claim a victory over the West? Stop targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere? Stop deterring China, North Korea, or Iran? Stop patrolling the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil flows? Stop fighting cyberattacks emanating from China and Russia? Stop developing missile defenses to protect the American homeland? Stop supporting Mexico and Colombia in their fights against narcotraffickers? Stop holding military exercises with friendly armed forces from Egypt to the Philippines—exercises that allow us to exert soft power at low cost?”

If the President is correct about the national debt ceiling, then he cannot afford to allow the United States to default and pass the August deadline to pass without an increase. Congress should take note and not allow our nation’s defense and national security to become a pawn in the Washington game of negotiations for a debt ceiling increase. Members of Congress should ask themselves this question: What do we need to successfully defend America, our interests and our allies? This fundamental question should be the heart of our defense policy discussions.

There are reasonable ways to eliminate waste in the defense budget. Oversight and acquisition reform can help us spend defense dollars smartly. But carving out critical capabilities while our nation is in three wars is simply wrongheaded. And using defense cuts as a bargaining chip and setting arbitrary amounts to cut without consideration of our nation’s threats is worse: it is irresponsible. Any and all cuts should be seen through the lens of national security strategy, not politics.