Zbigniew Mazurak's Blog

A blog dedicated to defense issues

Rebuttal of Micah Zenko’s lies

Posted by zbigniewmazurak on August 29, 2012

On his blog on the website of the Council of Foreign Relations, extremely leftist hack Micah Zenko – who has proven himself to be as utterly ignorant as he is ideologically biased – has posted yet another piece of garbage, this time, downplaying and minimilizing the impact of sequestration and accusing defense experts (including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the SECDEF) of “fear-mongering”.

That he has written such ridiculous (and libelous) garbage is not surprising; what is surprising is that some putative right-wing analysts, such as the respected Mackenzie Eaglen of AEI, have retweeted/reposted his garbage.

But at least Zenko has made it clear what he thinks: that the Joint Chiefs are lying to deliberately scaremonger the public. As readers of this blog should know by know, with sequestration, there are only 3 possibilities: a) that the Joint Chiefs and other generals are blatantly lying to scaremonger the American people; b) the Joint Chiefs are ignorant hacks who don’t know what they’re talking about; or c) the Joint Chiefs are actually right to sound the alarm. Zenko has just accused the Joint Chiefs of lying.

In addition, Zenko, in order to downplay sequestration, has stated a number of blatant lies. Let’s first deal with his stand-alone lies before we proceed to his mockery of the Joint Chiefs’ justified warnings.

Zenko falsely claims that:

“The BCA sequestration mechanism requires automatic reductions of equal cuts for defense and nondefense programs from fiscal years 2013 through 2021. For the defense budget, sequestration would mandate $492 billion in reductions, or roughly $55 billion per year.”

But that is far from being true. Firstly, the required cuts for defense would amount to $551 bn, not $492 bn, over the next decade (here, Zenko shows that he can’t even do simple math, because if the required cuts are roughly $55 bn/year, simple math tells us that the total amount has to be close to $550 bn/decade). Moreover, it is completely untrue that sequestration requires “equal cuts” for defense and nondefense programs. Sequestration would, in fact, make the vast majority of its cuts in the defense budget: 60.1% over the entire decade window, and no less than 56% in any FY of that decade.

As data given in the Paul Ryan Budget Plan, in Table 1 of Appendix II (on page 96 of the full report), proves, defense would bear far more than half of the burden of the sequester’s budget cuts. The numbers, as the table states, would be as follows:

Category/FY13–14–15–16–17—18—19–20—21—22–TOTAL CUT OVER THE DECADE

Sequester  -­‐98 -­‐93 -­‐92 -­‐91 -­‐91 -­‐90 -­‐89 -­‐88 -­‐88 -­‐90 -­‐913
Defense —-­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐56 -­‐551
Non-­‐Def. -­‐43 -­‐38 -­‐38 -­‐37 -­‐36 -­‐36 -­‐35 -­‐33 -­‐33 -­‐34 -­‐362

As these numbers prove, defense would bear far more than half of the spending cuts burden. In the first year (FY2013), it would be 56%; in FY2014, 59%; in FY2015, 59.78%; in FY2016, 60.43%; in FY2017, 60.43%; in FY2018, 61.11%; in FY2019, 61.79%; in FY2020, 62.5%; in FY2021, 62.5%; in FY2022, 61.11%.

Zenko also blatantly lies that

“Within forty-eight hours of the BCA becoming law, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta began a sustained campaign against sequestration, by inflating and expanding the range of national security threats facing the United States.”

But Panetta has not inflated nor expanded the range of threats facing the US. The DOD has long talked about a wide range of threats from terrorists, to rogue states, to rising powers (codespeak for China and Russia). And the DOD has, for years, vastly UNDERSTATED the threat from China and Russia, according to independent experts. This year’s DOD report on China not only understates what little it mentions about the PLA, it leaves out entire key topics (e.g. China’s 5000 kms of tunnels for BMs and nukes) unmentioned.

Zenko also falsely claims that:

“Perhaps one explanation is that public opinion polls consistently demonstrate that most American citizens believe defense spending should be cut, roughly to the level mandated by defense sequestration. In one April survey,a representative sample of Americans was given information about the defense budget and arguments for and against reductions. Overall, 76 percent called for reducing defense spending: 67 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents, and 90 percent of Democrats.”

But opinion polls do not demonstrate that, let alone consistently. The single poll that Zenko claims – by CPI and the NPR – was rigged. An unrepresentative sample (more Democrats than Republicans) was selected, and respondents were fed utterly false information about defense spending. Moreover, there have been at least two polls this year – one by Gallup and another one done for OpenCongress – which say that most Americans OPPOSE defense spending cuts.

So opinion polls don’t demonstrate what Zenko claims – certainly not consistently.

Even if Zenko’s claim were true – which it isn’t – even if most Americans supported deep defense cuts, that would be totally irrelevant, because the Congress is supposed to do what is right for the country and what the Constitution requires, NOT what the people want. America is a REPUBLIC, not a democracy. The Founding Fathers despised democracy and majority rule. Although they recognized that “the people are the fountain of all power”, they knew that people cannot be trusted to govern directly because they are too easy to manipulate and fool. Today’s Americans, who are the worst educated generation of Americans ever, 30% of whom don’t even have a HS diploma, and most of whom don’t even believe in evolution, are a textbook example of that. In today’s America, you just have to be a nicely speaking charlatan and you’ll gain a lot of supporters.

The Constitution REQUIRES the federal government to provide for a strong national defense. Logically, anything short of that is a dereliction of that duty. And in America, politicians are to follow the Constitution, NOT the people’s wishes.

Zenko also claims that:

“Interestingly, the Bipartisan Policy Center projected that defense sequestration, if triggered, would lower the Pentagon’s budget (excluding war costs) for fiscal year 2013 to $498 billion.”

But the truth is that, as the CBO has outlined in this report on page 11 in Table 1-4, sequestration would cut defense spending (excl. war costs) down to $469 bn in FY2013, and then, it would grow so slowly that even by FY2022 – the end of the sequestration decade – it would not reach $498 bn. So Zenko’s and the BPC’s projection is utterly false.

Furthermore, the BPC itself has warned that if sequestration proceeds, defense will be cut from an precedented low to an even lower one.

Zenko quotes the disgraced former SECDEF Robert Gates (himself the author of many of Obama’s defense cuts):

“If the Department of Defense can’t figure out a way to defend the United States on half a trillion dollars a year, then our problems are much bigger than anything that can be cured by buying a few more ships and planes.”

But a $498 bn (or $500 bn) defense budget would be inadequate – inadequate to pay for all the things needed to protect America (the people, their equipment, their training, their bases, etc.) – ESPECIALLY now that the vast majority of the military’s equipment – as Gates himself admitted in May 2011 – needs to be replaced. The 23-year-long procurement holiday begun in 1989 is coming to an end, and the bill for it is coming due.

And Gates was the worst SECDEF America has ever had, so I would advise against quoting him. Speaking of him, even he thinks that sequestration (or cuts on a similar scale) is a foolish and disastrous idea. As he has himself repeatedly warned the nation:

“In recent weeks there have been calls from various quarters for major reductions in defense spending – to include substantial cuts in modernization, force structure, troop levels and overseas bases.  I consider such proposals risky at best and potentially calamitous.  For more than 60 years the United States, backed up by the strength, reach and unquestioned superiority of our military, has been the underwriter of security for most of the free world.  The benefits – in terms of stability, prosperity, and the steady expansion of political freedom and economic growth – have accrued not only to our allies and partners, but above all, to the American people.  We shrink from our global security responsibilities at our peril, as retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later – indeed as they always have in the past.  Surely, we should learn from our national experience, since World War I, that drastic reductions in the size and strength of the U.S. military make armed conflict all the more likely – and with an unacceptably high cost in American blood and treasure.”

But as an anti-defense hack, Zenko likes to quote people selectively to suit his agenda.

Now to the quotes themselves. Zenko is not only utterly ignorant, but also extremely arrogant, thinking that he knows better than America’s top defense experts – the Joint Chiefs – who, collectively, have ca. 223 years of experience under their belts, while he has not a single day of service on his record. Zenko questions Gen. Odierno’s warning that sequestration would be catastrophic, claiming that

“It is implausible that the entire U.S. military would be unable to function with just under $500 billion in taxpayer funds.)”

But that is only Zenko’s theory. The facts say otherwise: sequestration’s cuts would be so disastrous that they would produce these results. Moreover, the HF has done its own review of the military’s needs and found that an under-$500 bn budget would be woefully inadequate.

“Defense sequestration would reduce defense spending to 2007 levels (adjusted for inflation). Presumably, Panetta believed that the U.S. military was “a paper tiger” five years ago.  Furthermore, the size of the military in 2007 did not invite aggression.”

But sequestration would actually take defense lower than that, to FY2006, and 2006′s world was far different than today’s. Back then, China and Russia were not as strong and as aggressive as they are now, and the military had yet to undergo another 6 years of intensive combat in three different countries. The threats to America are far graver now than they were in 2006, while the military has been completely exhausted by the wars and the bill for new equipment is coming due. One cannot defend America in 2012 with a budget from FY2006.

“It is a sad reach for the Secretary of Defense to compare the firepower of naval platforms today, with those from 97 years ago.”

Zenko is so ignorant that he’s unaware of even the basic fact that a ship, no matter how advanced it is, can be in only ONE place at any time.  High tech will never compensate for this. Yet, the world is far more dangerous than 97 years ago, and the Chinese navy already has more ships than the USN. Moreover, while even the current Navy is inadequate – and Panetta’s first tier BCA-mandated cuts would shrink it even further – sequestration would cut the Navy down to 230 ships, a woefully insufficient number. With that, the USN would be smaller than and inferior to the Russian Navy (not to mention the PLAN) and be utterly unable to deter enemies and keep sealanes open for all. The world’s oceans are so vast that they can’t be patrolled/defended with a tiny 230-ship Navy. Two independent nonpartisan panels – the Hadley-Perry and CNAS panels – have independently concluded that the Navy needs 346 ships – a far cry from 230 – based on the needs of today and the future, not past force levels.

“Even with defense sequestration, the Pentagon would spend more on research and development alone (approximately $70 billion) than every other country spends on their entire military, except China.)”

That is also a lie. Russia already spends ca. $100 bn a year on its military according to Global Security, and Putin plans to increase that. Furthermore, $70 bn would be woefully inadequate for R&D – to develop the high-quality weapons America needs – based on America’s needs, not goofy comparisons to other countries’ defense budgets, which are irrelevant.

“Section 255 of the BCA allows the president to exempt military personnel accounts from sequestration, and Obama has said he will do this.”

Technically true, but that means the DOD can now only cut four things – training, O&M, procurement, and R&D – and do so deeper than if personnel spending weren’t exempted. This, according to Gen. Dempsey, would produce “the definition of a hollow force.”

“The notion that defense spending should be arbitrarily tied to whatever the U.S. gross domestic product is for a given year is an even worse idea than defense sequestration.”

No, it isn’t. Both ideas are foolish. But sequestration would cut defense to woefully inadequate levels. Hence, it is worse. Moreover, sequestration would also tie defense down to a completely arbitrary figure – although, in this case, a dollar one, not a %age of GDP.

In any case, the WSJ was not saying that defense should be set at an arbitrary percentage of GDP, merely pointing out that sequestration would bring down defense spending to a level not seen since before Pearl Harbor.

Here Senator Chambliss compares what was bipartisan legislation to, say, the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.”

But he’s right. Sequestration, by making deep defense cuts, would give America’s rivals and enemies a concession they could not win at the negotiating table. Ronald Reagan said the same of the deep defense cuts proposed during his time.

“The U.S. Navy has 283 ”deployable battle force ships.” Although it is true that they do not operate by wind power, they are actually quite capable of sailing.”

Only on paper. In fact, a large percentage of USN’s ships – ca. 20% according to the HF – cannot sail due to poor material condition. An example is the USS Essex, whose maintenance cutbacks have prevented it from being deployed twice this year.

As you can see, not only are all of Zenko’s claims blatant lies, he’s totally ignorant on defense issues. He doesn’t even know the basic facts, such as the depth of sequestration, its disproportionality, or its disastrous consequences. But what truly angers me is that he’s so arrogant he believes he knows defense issues better than America’s top defense experts, the Joint Chiefs – all of whom were commissioned before he was born and who have a combined 223 years of military experience under their belts – the equivalent of America’s entire history since 1789.


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