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Guest blogpost by William Rixon: Spencer Ackerman caught lying about the sequester

Posted by zbigniewmazurak on November 23, 2011


Hi folks,

A friend of mine has read two ridiculous blogposts by Spencer Ackerman (a leftist hack) in the Danger Room blog, has researched the facts, and sent Ackerman a comprehensive rebuttal by email. He has asked that his rebuttal be published here, as a guest blog post.

- Zbigniew Mazurak

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Guest blogpost: Spencer Ackerman caught lying about the sequester

By William Rixon
Below is an email rebuttal I have sent to Ackerman in response to two cretinous blogposts he wrote earlier this month about the impact of the debt ceiling deal (and in particular, the sequester) on the core defense budget. Here it is in full:

Dear Mr Ackerman,

You are receiving this email in reply to your ridiculous, completely wrong Danger Room blogposts regarding the defense spending cuts underway in Washington, and in particular the following two:
You are not known for being credible and politically neutral, and neither is the Danger Room blog, where, as I’ve noticed over the last several months, much garbage gets published routinely. Yet, until recently, I didn’t deem it necessary to respond to that garbage. However, because your most recent rubbish is extremely ridiculous even for you, I believe a response is necessary.
You claim that:
“[Panetta] and his congressional allies will set to work ensuring that those automatic cuts never happen. (…) Panetta has described the automatic cuts, known as “sequestration,” as “this goofy meataxe scenario.” They’ve made the corporate defense giants sputter with rage. The military services predict disaster. And it’s all kabuki. As Danger Room explained earlier this month, the “automatic” cuts don’t go into effect until January 2013. That gives the Pentagon and its allies on Capitol Hill a full year to stop those cuts from happening…”
This is garbage. The sequester will actually kick in at the start of FY2013 – on Oct. 1st, 2012 – long before the next President and Congress will be seated, or even elected. The oft-repeated date of January 2nd, 2013 is incorrect – but even if it was correct, it would still be before the next Congress and 18 days before the next President will be sworn in. Which means that, in any case, this will be an issue for the current Congress and current President to resolve (or not resolve). Secondly, despite your selective quotes of just a few HASC hawks, you can bet that once the sequester makes the cuts it promises to make, the Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) will fight like two alpha male cats in a bag to keep those massive defense cuts. After all, the DOD is the easiest target to cut, as has been proven during the last 2.5 years. Cutting spending on pet projects such as agriculture subsidies and entitlement spending is much harder than cutting defense spending. Moreover, those who believe the Congress will overturn these massive defense cuts only needs to consider the (in)competence of this Congress as exemplified by the Super Committee. They were supposed to do the job (of cutting the deficit) this time. They failed to do it. How can anyone believe they will do the job (of saving the military and finding savings elsewhere) the next time?
Then, you ridiculously continued:
“… all against the backdrop of a presidential election in which no one is going to want to be pegged as soft on defense. Tuesday night, the Republican presidential candidates will debate national security on CNN. Just watch them step over each other to denounce the cuts and pledge to roll them back.”
As President Obama has repeatedly proven, he doesn’t care if he is, and possibly even wants to be, portrayed as weak on defense (which he indeed is), and is in any case attempting to appease his hard-left base. As for Republican presidential candidates, where are those supposed defense hawks? Ron Paul has embraced the sequester’s defense cuts and hopes they will be made. Gary Johnson supports defense cuts beyond those the sequester would make. Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann also support large defense cuts. Herman Cain says that as President, he would order every department without exception to immediately cut its budget by 10% and then by another 10%. Rick Perry’s stance on the sequester is unknown. So that leaves us with only 3 candidates who oppose defense cuts, and of those three, to my knowledge, only Gingrich has publicly denounced the sequester. So this claim of yours is a fantasy. It is true that if Obama doesn’t roll back these defense cuts, he will be portrayed as weak on defense – but he doesn’t care, and even without the sequester, there is much incriminating evidence that proves how weak on defense he is.
Then, you claimed that
“And it’s probably going to be one of the few bipartisan affairs left in Washington. “Arguing for strong defense is a battle-tested mantra for Democrats ever since Clinton was elected,” says Gordon Adams, a former Clinton White House budget official and advocate of steep defense cuts”
This is a lie. The Democrats have already announced they will block any attempt to reduce, let alone completely roll back, the defense cuts the sequester would make. Furthermore, the Democrats have, since the Clinton times, never been arguing for a strong defense. Already during his 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton promised deep defense cuts, and he was elected only because of a split in the GOP, and never won the majority of the popular vote. He, like Obama in 2008, was elected on the basis of economic, not defense, issues (does the “it’s the economy, stupid!” mantra ring any bells?). In 2000 and 2004, Democratic candidates lost the presidential election. The Dems are known as the party of a weak defense, and they deserve that reputation. Furthermore, Adams, who is an utterly-discredited and biased anti-military hack, must believe (as apparently do you) that the American people are idiots who will just buy the “I’m strong on defense” mantra without verifying such a claim and looking at a politician’s record. President Obama’s pre-sequester defense record is enough to portray him as the weak defense President – provided that the GOP nominee will be willing to do that.
Then, you cited Heritage Foundation analyst Mackenzie Eaglen, who is more credible than Adams but nonetheless erred:
“Not every defense hawk thinks avoiding sequestration is the easiest political lay-up. Mackenzie Eaglen, an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, thinks letting the cuts go through might help President Obama’s reeelection. “He could run against sequestration and say the ‘Republican Congress’ did it,” Eaglen says. “Something like: ‘See? Look what they made me do!’ President Obama has already gone on record saying he doesn’t support defense cuts at a sequestration level so he can say Congress is hurting the military, not him.””
This is clearly wrong. Obama has already stated he supports the defense cuts the sequester would make as a “poison pill” for the Super Committee and a punishment for that Committee for not reaching a deal. He has promised to veto any attempt to abolish the sequester or at least to protect defense from its impact. Moreover, as most people know, the reason why the Super Committee failed is because the Democrats demanded a massive $1 trillion tax hike, as did President Obama, knowing full well that Republicans could not accept it (because it would gut the economy). He won’t be able to blame Republicans credibly. If the sequester is triggered, he will get the blame – and deservedly so. The question is whether the eventual nominee will be willing to exploit that.
You then commented:

Maybe. But that would require congressional Republicans to acquiesce to the cuts, which is unlikely. The Armed Services Committee chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon, took his gavel by swearing that defense cuts were a “red line” for him. And that was before the Pentagon’s chorus of outrage over sequestration.”
Oh, really? Really unlikely? Congressional Republicans have already accepted six rounds of defense cuts since Obama has taken office (including the New START treaty, which 13 Republican Senators voted for).

“All of which likely means that massive defense cuts were never really on the table anyway. Even in the face of giant deficits, cutting the defense budget requires debating what U.S. national security strategy ought to be, not shoehorning defense cuts into a political bargain that doesn’t materialize.”

Wrong. Massive defense cuts have already occurred. They began with the closure of over 50 weapon programs in 2009 and 2010, a decision which then-Secretary Gates cut $330 bn from defense budget projections. Then there was the New START treaty, which is cutting America’s nuclear arsenal while allowing Russia to add nuclear weapons. Then there were the $78 bn cuts of January 2011, despite your denials that they took place. Then there was the debt ceiling deal of April 2011, which cut defense spending in real terms. And the first round of the defense cuts ordered by the BCA will excise $465 bn from the defense budget over the next 10 years, i.e. $46.5 bn per decade, starting this fiscal year. By the Heritage Foundation’s count, defense has been cut by $754 bn since President Obama took office. If those are not massive defense cuts, then the term has no meaning.

And as your update proves, even Sec. Panetta has now begun to weaken. As it turns out, he doesn’t oppose the sequestration mechanism… just the cuts that it would make to defense… but even now, he opposes attempts to undo the sequester or at least protect defense from its impact. President Obama’s pressure is evident.

You advertise your previous blog post, which calls the sequester a “myth”, wherein, in one of the first paragraphs, you claim “there are lots of ways the Pentagon can still save its bloated budget, much like the kids on Elm Street always stave off Freddy Krueger.”

That claim is a blatant lie, just like the vast majority of what you write on the DR blog. The defense budget is not bloated by any objective measure. In raw dollar numbers, it is currently $530 bn under the CR, but will have to be cut to $513 bn as a consequence of the first part of the debt ceiling deal. The former figure amounts to 3.50% and the latter to just 3.49% of America’s GDP (which is $14.66 trillion), and both are therefore microscopic. These are the lowest shares of America’s GDP devoted to defense since FY1948 (excluding the late 1990s, a fact Gordon Adams is desperately trying to hide). Throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948, defense spending consumed a higher share of GDP, so by your own standard all defense budgets of the Cold War (including that for FY1948, which was also 3.50% of GDP) were bloated. The core defense budget also amounts to less than 15% of the total federal budget, a share even smaller than it was during the Clinton era. Even counting spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the DOE’s defense-related programs won’t help your claim – the corresponding figures for it are, respectively, $630 bn (per the Defense Appropriations Bill passed by the SAC), 4.6% of GDP and 18-19% of the total federal budget. And no, the DOD won’t save its budget, even if the sequester is not triggered. As stated above, the core defense budget will be cut in real terms even without the sequester. With the sequester, of course, the cuts (in real terms) will be much deeper.

Then, after presenting Adams as some ultra-credible source, you claimed that:

““But the sequester itself — the act of lowering available resources — won’t happen until January 2013. It’s justannounced in January 2012, but it doesn’t actually happen until January 2013.””

That lie has already been dealt with, but it should also be noted that the DOD operates on the basis of long-term plans, which means that every step and every decision – budgetary, programmatic, or otherwise – is planned years in advance. Therefore, as soon as the deadline passes (tomorrow), the DOD will have to start planning for a post-sequester military, i.e. begin making all the cuts it will have to make under the sequester – close programs, reduce weapon arsenals, pink-slip troops, cancel contracts, and so forth. And once these cuts are made, they will be hard, and in some cases impossible, to reverse (e.g. a shipyard, once closed because of a lack of orders, will not reopen itself when the DOD will finally get enough money to buy ships). So, the oft-repeated claim (which you have repeated on your blog multiple times, and which Adams is also propagating) that defense cuts will wait until January 2013 is a blatant lie. The DOD will have to close programs and pink-slip troops at the beginning of the next calendar year.

You then invoked the upcoming presidential election as supposed “proof” that sequestration will not happen, but that fantasy has already been dealt with above.

Then, you quoted Adams’ lies that

““In those circumstances, I don’t think the sequester will ever happen,” says Adams — even if the Supercommittee fails and sequester becomes allegedly “automatic.” Congress and Obama will have a full year to change the law, something that many in Congress already want to do.”

But that is only his opinion – the opinion of an utterly discredited, biased, anti-defense leftist from an utterly discredited Administration. So it’s irrelevant. Furthermore, the sequester is not “allegedly automatic”,it is automatic as per the BCA. That is the law of the land. Congress and Obama will have less than a year to change the law, and Obama has already promised to veto ANY attempts to change it, and in particular, to eliminate the sequester or at least spare defense from its impact.

You then lied that

“Think about it. In order for sequestration to happen, both history and the current political environment would have to be defied. (…) In other words, for the Defense Department to really face its nightmare scenario, the laws of political and legislative gravity would have to be suspended.”

This is clearly wrong. The history of America’s defense spending – since you’ve invoked it – speaks against you. Defense spending was cut severely in the 1940s, in the 1970s, in the 1990s, and – less severely, but nonetheless significantly – in the 1950s and under President Obama. If Washington could gut the military three times, it can surely do so now, as I saw first-hand when I served in the military in the 1970s, during and after the Vietnam War. The current political environment consists of President Obama, Democrats zealous to protect domestic programs and cut defense, and Congressional Republicans who routinely capitulate to Obama’s demands.

Your invocation of Congressional Republicans and of defense industry lobbyists in the paragraph are omitted is so pathetic and so desperate it’s not even worth quoting. They have a 0-6 record of losing against President Obama and the Democrats. It’s unlikely they will win this time.

You also claimed that:

“Those cuts, you’ll recall,made outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates uneasy almost as soon as Obama announced them in April — and Gates was the guy who had to experience kabuki Congressional angst that his “efficiencies initiative,” which cut no money out of the defense budgetwas itself too big a “cut.” That all seems like a fading dream. The Budget Control Act and the Supercommittee it created changed the terms of the debate. The ten-year, $450 billion (or $463 billion, or $350 billion, depending on whose numbers you trust, the Pentagon’s or Congress’) in cuts it imposed turned into a baseline. The prospect of sequestration became the bigger danger: cuts that would add another $500 billion or so on top of the existing ones. That’s why McHugh now tells defense reporters “we’re pretty confident we can accommodate” the $450 billion cut.”

Evidently you never bothered to listen to Gates. Gates was always of the opinion that the $400 bn cut (which Obama announced in April, when no one was even thinking about a debt ceiling deal), which later grew to $450 bn as a result of the debt ceiling deal, was painful, hard to execute, and necessitating tough choices, but nonetheless survivable, whereas the sequestration would gut the military. His successor, as well as the Service Chiefs, have been saying the same all along.

Taking cues from Adams, who seems to be your only source, you further quoted him as saying

“A $450 billion cut “is an eight percent projected decline over ten years,” Adams explains. “That’s laughably easy to live with. That’s absurd. You know what a trillion dollars would be? [A decline of] 17 percent of projected resources. Even $1 trillion — a ‘doomsday, oh my God, security will fail all over the map’ [scenario] — is just 17 percent of projected resources.””

Both of his claims are lies. Firstly, the $465 bn cut will not be “absurd” nor “laughably easy to live with”. What is absurd and laughable is making claims like those Adams makes. The $465 bn cut, as testified by Panetta, will impose real pain on the military, and reportedly, more than half of that cut will come from weapon programs. But defense cuts will not stop there. The sequester is now guaranteed to kick in, which means that defense will be cut by another $600 bn, in other words, by $1.065 TRILLION over the next decade, and contrary to Adams’ claim, this will be more than 20% of the core defense budget. (GWOT spending will be unaffected, but is slated to shrink automatically as US troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan). So Adams’ claims are, as always, blatant lies.

“The generals aren’t stupid. Neither is Panetta. Neither is McHugh. By publicly warning that sequestration would be “catastrophic,” they’re increasing the pressure on Congress to roll back sequestration in 2012 if it does occur. For the Pentagon, it’s not a budgetary nightmare. It’s a dream that’s very likely to come true.”

It’s hard to see how sequestration would be a dream. And if by the “dream” you meant rolling back sequestration, you’re wrong again, for the reasons stated above.

So each of your lies, and those of Gordon Adams, have been debunked. You are as ignorant as you are arrogant. Do you realize that you discredit yourself and DR with every ridiculous blog post you write? You would be well advised not to write about defense issues any longer. Further garbage posts about these issues will only serve to discredit you further.

Sincerely,

William Rixon

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COMMENT BY ZBIGNIEW MAZURAK: Rixon send his letter to Ackerman before the debate. The debate has now been held, and Ackerman was utterly disproven, as usual. Not one candidate, not even one, pledged to undo the cuts that the sequester could make, although Rick Perry and Mitt Romney – alone among the 8 Republican candidates on stage – did criticize them in deservedly harsh terms. But even they didn’t pledge to undo these defense cuts.

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