Danielle Brian’s blatant lies about defense spending and unjustified personal attack on Sec. Panetta

Recently, in the pages of the leftist Hill magazine, Project on Government Oversight executive director Danielle Brian, a leftist hack, launched an attack on both the defense budget and Sec. Panetta’s honesty and integrity.

This entire article is utter garbage. Why the Hill decided to publish it is a mystery. Of course, the Hill is a leftist magazine, but difference of opinion is one thing. A litany of blatant lies is another.

In this article, Danielle Brian has made a series of factually-wrong claims that betray appalling ignorance and disqualify from lecturing anyone about defense spending.

Specifically, Brian claims:

“Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s Chicken Little protestations that the sky will fall if there are further cuts to the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget are fantastically disappointing. His remarks that cuts will endanger troops and invite foreign aggression are fear mongering of the worst kind.”

WRONG. Firstly, the DOD does not have a $700 bn budget – that’s a blatant lie right there at the very beginning of the article, which gives you an idea what the article is. The DOD’s budget for FY2012, under the CR, is $647 bbn ($530 bn as a core defense budget plus $117 bn as a GWOT supplemental). The Senate App Cmte. proposes a final FY2012 budget of $630 bn. So the DOD does not have a $700 bn budget. Not even close. The DOD has never had a $700 bn budget. Not this fiscal year, not ever.

And the accusation that Sec. Panetta is guilty of “fear-mongering of the worst kind” is also a blatant lie, one which Brian should retract and apologize to Sec. Panetta for. Panetta is right – such cuts (of the magnitude of $1 trillion) would require him to close tons of crucial weapon programs (including, but not limited to, the F-35) and eliminate one leg of the nuclear triad immediately (the ICBM leg) and another one over time, through nonreplacement (the SSBN leg, since the SSBNX program would be cancelled and replaced with nothing). Such cuts WOULD gut the military and would invite Russia, which now has more nuclear weapons than the US, to conduct a nuclear first strike against the US. As as history shows, aggressors attack when America weakens its military and retrenches, not when America is strong.

Furthermore, Sec. Panetta was specifically talking about sequestration which, if it goes through, will cut the base defense budget all the way down from $535 bn to $469 bn in FY2013 – in just one FY – while the OCO budget will also get cut (and eventually disappear, as US troops leave  Afghanistan). These cuts will mean there will not be nearly enough money for the things needed to protect America – the equipment, training, fuel, operations, ammunition, proper maintenance of existing equipment and bases, etc. Under sequestration, the base defense budget would stay below $500 bn for the entire decade from FY2013 to FY2022. Look at  this graph from the CBO.

No, Sec. Panetta is not involved in any “fear-mongering of the worst kind”, he’s right to sound the alarm bell.

“Multiple military leaders have themselves acknowledged that the current national security budget, even accounting for recent promises of cuts and “efficiencies,” includes a wish list of extravagant and overpriced weapons and services.”

Garbage. Firstly, Brian has not quoted any such “military leader” by name, and I’m not aware of any currently-serving generals saying something like this. Secondly, there is no such entity as “the national security budgets”; each nat-sec agency has a separate budget. Thirdly, the claim that the defense budget contains a wish of “extravagant and overpriced weapons” is a blatant lie, although I’m aware that for Brian and other ideological opponents of a strong defense EVERY weapon system is “extravagant and overpriced”. Fourthly, cuts and efficiencies are not mere promises. President Obama has already made five rounds of cuts to America’s defense. In 2009, he closed over 30 crucial weapon programs, and in 2010 he closed several further weapons, excising over $330 bn from defense accounts. Later that year, the Senate ratified the disastrous New START treaty, which has already cut the US nuclear arsenal and the arsenal of means of delivery below minimum needed levels. In January, Sec. Gates came up with a further $78 bn in cuts and a further $100 bn in efficiencies (which the services were promised would be reinvested in military modernization, not used to pay for a budget deficit caused exclusively by runaway domestic spending). In April, the Congress passed a CR that caused defense spending in real terms – not in terms of projected growth – to 513 bn USD. And now, a SIXTH round of defense cuts is underway, with the DOD being forced to accept a budget cut of 465 bn over a decade, i.e. 46.5 bn USD per year on average. So the claim that the cuts are mere “promises” is also a blatant lie.

“Over 10 years, replacing two of three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with the less expensive and proven F/A-18 E/F’s could save $44 billion; not renewing the procurement contract for the troubled V-22 Osprey could save $12 billion. And those are just two cuts that could save taxpayers billions without putting American lives at risk.”

That’s also garbage which, by itself, proves that Brian is completely ignorant about defense issues. The Super Bug is NOT comparable to the F-35. The Super Bug is a 1990s redo of the MDD Hornet, a plane that first flew in the 1970s. It is not stealthy and not fit for anything other than benign combat environments like Afghanistan. Moreover, it has no STOVL capability, which is needed and which would be required to replace the F-35B variant. As for the supposedly “troubled” V-22 Osprey – it is no longer troubled, it is proceeding on cost and on schedule, and – since Brian likes to invoke “combat-proven” weapons – it is more combat proven than any other weapon system in US inventory, except the B-52, having been used extensively in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, where it was the only rotorcraft that could safely and quickly rescue the crew of a downed F-15E. It is the most survivable, most combat-proven, most capable, most versatile, and fastest rotorcraft ever used by the US military. It’s a must-have weapon system.

If this weren’t bad enough, note that thw two program closures Brian proposes – of the F-35 and the V-22 – would, by her own admission, save only a total of 56 bn dollars over a decade, i.e. a paltry 5.6 bn dollars per year. Not even close to come up with the 1.065 trillion dollar cuts that the DOD would have to come up with if the sequester is triggered (God forbid).

Brian further falsely claims that:

“The “cuts” Panetta fears so much are not reductions in actual military spending—they’re reductions in what the Department of Defense has planned to spend. The Congressional Budget Office has shown that even under the automatic cuts that are triggered if the Super Committee doesn’t reach a consensus (what Panetta refers to as a “doomsday mechanism”), defense spending will increase every year from 2013 to 2021. By 2021 it will be $37 billion more than it is now in 2011.”

Those are also blatant lies. Regardless of whether the sequester is triggered, the cuts will be real-term ones, not mere cuts to projected defense spending. As data cited by the Washington Times proves, the defense budget will be immediately cut to 491 bn dollars in FY2013 alone (and even more severely later) if the sequester is triggered. That will be 39 bn less than the defense budget for FY2012 (530 bn USD). (Funding for Afghanistan and Iraq would not be impacted.) So Brian’s claim is a blatant lie (like the rest of the article).

Brian then launched a factually-wrong, arrogant, uncalled for personal attack on Sec. Panetta:

“In one of his recent speeches, Panetta said: “A hollow military doesn’t happen by accident. It comes from poor stewardship and poor leadership.” On this point, Panetta is right.

A hollow military comes from poor leadership, such as that from a defense secretary who is unwilling to make hard choices and impose discipline on defense spending that is at levels higher than at any time since World War II, even after adjusting for inflation.”

Those are also blatant lies. Firstly, the DOD has been forced to accept one series of hard choices and discipline after another for the last 22 years nonstop – even during the Bush era, when Sec. Rumsfeld cancelled or cut dozens of weapon programs he deemed unneeded (such as the Comanche and the Crusader), when the DOD was forced to cut its budget by 32.1 bn in 2005 dollars in 2005, and when Pres. Bush threatened to veto the defense budget if the Congress would appropriate more money for defense than he requested. Since President Obama took office, 5 rounds of defense cuts have already been executed and a sixth one is underway. Sec. Panetta has been forced to accept the sixth one and execute it – 465 bn USD in real-term cuts over a decade – forcing him to make hard choices. And despite taking office only on July 1st, he has already managed to put the DOD on track to being capable of a full budget audit by 2014. That’s hardly a Defense Secretary incapable of imposing hard choices and discipline on the DOD. Moreover, Panetta oversaw the defense budget cuts of the 1990s – first as House Budget Cmte. Chairman and then as OMB Director – so the claim he’s not willing to cut defense spending and impose hard choices and discipline on the DOD is a blatant lie.

And what of the claim that defense spending is at its highest level since WW2? Well, like the rest of Brian’s article, it’s a BLATANT LIE. The largest defense budgets of the post-WW2 era, accounting for inflation, were Reagan-era budgets for FY1987 (606 bn USD), FY1988 (570 bn USD), and FY1989 (573 bn USD). Since the end of WW2, the US has not had higher defense budgets than these three – whether before or after the Reagan era. Remember, the defense budget for this FY is 530 bn and will be cut to 513 bn if the Senate gets its way.

Brian may, in response, invoke spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, but even that doesn’t change the fact that she’s wrong. In real terms, the current military budget is indeed slightly larger than that of FY1987, but it’s still vastly smaller as a proportion of GDP, as a share of the total federal budget, and per capita. The FY1987 defense budget amounted to ca. 6% of GDP and over 25% of the total federal budget. The total current military budget amounts to just 4.6% of GDP and less than 19% of the federal budget (17% according to one source). The current military budget is, by these measures, smaller than it was for most of the Cold War.

Throughout the entire Cold War, the defense budget accounted for a larger share of the total federal budget (24%-26% during the Reagan era) and was, until FY1975, its largest component. Under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, it constituted over 50% of the entire federal budget. Throughout the Cold War, it also had the largest share of the discretionary budget: 70% under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, over 50% under Ford and Carter, way over 50% under President Reagan, and still over 50% by the end of the Cold War in 1991 (in FY1992). It did not decline to below 50% of the discretionary budget until the mid-1990s. Throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948, and even until the late 1990s, military spending was also higher now than it was as a percentage of GDP.

“Pouring more money into the military is not the solution; it is part of the problem.”

Again wrong. Military spending is NOT the cause, nor even one of the causes, of America’s fiscal woes, as it amounts to less than 19% of the total federal budget (the core defense budget actually amounts to less than 15%). Moreover, what Sec. Panetta was talking about – and what I’m talking about – is preventing draconian 1.065 trillion cuts to the core defense budget, which will be real term cuts, not mere cuts to projected spending.

Brian then lied further, invoking familiar figures:

“One does not have to harken all the way back to President Eisenhower’s speech about the ability of the military industrial complex to oversell its value. Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the defense budget was bloated with excessive costs.”

Ideological opponents of a strong defense frequently invoke President Eisenhower and his farewell address as if it had any connection to the America of today and as if it were proof of bloated defense spending. Ridiculous. In any case, Eisenhower’s speech was not about “the military industrial complex’s ability to oversell its value”, it was a farewell address during which he talked about a multitide of different subjects. One of them was the necessity to make sure that the military and the defense industry would never be able to significantly influence the civilian US government and rig the democratic political process – a danger that never materialized. But during the same speech, he also warned that the US must maintain the strongest military in the world, saying that “our arms must be mighty, ready for constant action, so that no aggressor would be tempted to risk his own destruction.”

And his speech needs to be considered in context. When he made his remarks, defense spending consumed a full 10% of GDP and over half of the entire federal budget. It now consumes just 3.5% of GDP (4.6% of GDP if you count the total military budget) and less than 19% of the total federal budget.

As for Gates and Rumsfeld – they have acknowledged on several occassions that there are certain savings that can be made in many parts of the defense budget. But they have also cautioned people not to exaggerate these savings, and have made it clear that cutting defense spending beyond the 465 bn in cuts already scheduled and underway would gut the military. One has to look no further than the most recent article on the subject published by Mr Rumsfeld in the WSJ.

“So why is Panetta evoking Cold War warnings and trying to create hysteria with loaded rhetoric about threats of attack?”

Sec. Panetta is not trying to create hysteria – he’s merely giving people the full facts about what the consequences of triggering the sequester would be. His rhetoric is not loaded, and his “threats of attacked” are supported by history. As Ronald Reagan remarked, he saw four big wars happen in his lifetime, and none of them began because America was too strong.

“Our enemies don’t see our military in terms of how much we spend on it, they judge it by its capabilities, which remain overwhelmingly superior to all of our current and potential adversaries combined.

And, with military spending set to increase even under Panetta’s “doomsday” scenario, this power gap won’t be closing any time soon.”

Those are also blatant lies. America’s military capabilites are already decisively inferior to China’s – the USN can’t even detect Chinese and Russian submarines! Gutting the military by triggering the sequester would render the US military decisively inferior not only to the PLA, but also to the Russian, North Korean, and perhaps even French military. It would be a very small AND hollow force. Here are just some of the cuts that the DOD would have to make to meet the sequester’s cuts requirements:

– Immediately retire, without replacement, all 450 ICBMs, i.e. the entire ICBM leg of the nuclear triad, making the triad vastly smaller and less survivable and therefore inviting a Russian nuclear first strike;
– Cancel the development of new SSBNs, which are needed to replace the aging Ohio class SSBNs which are slated to retire during the next few decades, which, over time, means eliminating TWO legs of the nuclear triad;
– Cut the remaining leg of the nuclear triad – the bomber fleet – by 2/3s;
– Terminate, without replacement, the entire F-35 program, which means no replacement for any of the aircraft it is slated to replace when they retire;
– Terminate, without replacement, the Ground Combat Vehicle program, which means the Bradleys and M113 APCs it aims to replace will be neither modernized nor replaced;
– Terminate, without replacement, the JLTV program, which aims to replace several truck types, including the Humvee;
– Terminate, without replacement, all other Army procurement and RnD programs;
– Cancel any plans to deploy any missile defense systems in Europe;
– Cut the USAF’s fighterplane fleet by 35%;
– Cut the Army to its smallest since since before WW2;
– Cut the Marine Corps to 145,000 men, 41,000 men fewer than the USMC Commandant says are needed to protect the country and fight its enemies;
– Cut the Navy to 230 ships down from 282 (which is already the smallest Navy ship fleet since 1916);
– Dramatically cut all kinds of benefits for the troops, from pay to retirement benefits to health programs, thus breaking faith with them.

That much, and more, would have to be cut if the sequester is triggered.

Not only would that eliminate the few small advantages the US currently retains over its potential adversaries, it would render the US military decisively inferior to theirs, especially those of China and Russia. Brian is trying to lull the American people into a false sense of security, which is unacceptable.

Last but not least, the claim that defense spending would rise even under the sequester is a blatant lie. Under sequestration, the base defense budget would be cut from $535 bn this FY down to $469 bn in FY2013 and remain under $500 (not to mention, significantly below the current level of $535) for the remainder of the next decade, as the above graph from the CBO shows. No, sequestration would not be a mere cut to the rate of growth; it would be a real cut to defense spending.


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