My take on the Obama Administration’s new Defense Strategy and Defense Budget Decisions

Yesterday, on November 5th, 2012, the Obama Administration held two press conferences at the Pentagon related to the supposed “defense strategy” that the Administration unveiled yesterday. One was conducted by President Obama (who delivered introductory remarks), Secretary Panetta, and General Martin Dempsey (Chairman of the JCS). During that conference, Panetta and Dempsey answered a number of questions in a generalistic and avoiding manner. Then, another, longer press conference was heled by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, USD(P) Michele Flournoy, and Vice Chairman of the JCS Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld. I’ve watched these two conferences/briefings live on the Penatagon’s Internet TV channel, so I saw them first hand and can comment authoritatively on them.

What is my opinion on the “strategy”? It’s negative. But before I begin commenting on it, let me first say that the briefings badly disappointed me. I expected the Administration to finally reveal the details, and instead it revealed only the general contours of the strategy and threw in some generalisms.

The “Defense Strategy” unveiled on Thursday was not really a strategy, rather a propaganda document designed to give Obama political cover so that he can cut defense spending deeply and transfer that money into welfare programs. The DOD claims it has achieved $465 bn in cuts based on a strategy and that it would’ve done these cuts in any event, with the budget cuts being only an additional impetus, but the fact is that if it hadn’t had to cut $465 bn from its budget over a decade, it would’ve never done it, and many of the decisions they’ve made or are likely to made would’ve never been made.

In short, Obama put a cart before the horse. The DOD had to figure out how to conform to his directive and find that $465 bn in cuts.

Few details were announced on Thursday, but most of those that were are troubling. The Administration wrongly believes that America can be protected with an even smaller nuclear arsenal than the small, inadequate arsenal America has today. Conventional ground troops (the Army and the USMC) will be cut to pre-9/11 levels. The Air Force will lose, without replacement, 200 aircraft, on top of all the aircraft retired without replacement during the last few years or crashed. Among these aircraft may be B-1 bombers – priceless assets.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any good parts that were revealed or are publicly known:

  • The President himself acknowledged the need for 11, not 10, aircraft carriers and made sure their numbers would not be cut.
  • The Pacific and the Middle East, where the majority of the threats confronting America are located, received utmost priority status.
  • Confronting the Chinese threat (without naming it) was given priority status.
  • Access-denial weapons have been classified as one of the gravest threats that must be confronted.
  • The F-35 program will be continued and will likely not be cut. Orders for F-35s will be delayed but not cancelled.
  • The nuclear deterrent, including presumably all three legs of the nuclear triad, will be modernized.

However, although few details have been revealed to date, we can already foresee that these defense cuts WILL do significant damage to the military. Firstly, they are to an even larger tune than what the Administration earlier said they would be – not $450 bn or $465 bn as was stated and reported earlier, but $487 bn, i.e. almost half a trillion dollars! Cuts of these magnitude will unavoidably do significant damage to the military, because of their magnitude. There’s no way you can save $487 bn at the DOD solely through efficiencies.

Secondly, as stated above, the nuclear arsenal may be cut further, even though it is already too small and woefully underfunded. The Administration has left the door open to such cuts. The Heritage Foundation fears that the Administration intends to adopt a “minimal deterrence” posture.

Thirdly, as stated above, ground troops will be cut below pre-9/11 levels. Even if it doesn’t happen before American troops leave Afghanistan, and even though the American public has no appetite for another ground war, the enemy may one day force the US to wage one. America doesn’t get to choose who challenges it and who forces it to fight.

Yes, a large-scale ground war seems very unlikely now, but let’s remember that, as the DOD acknowledged in its 2010 QDR, “the wars we fight are seldom the wars we expected to fight.” The US often finds itself fighting wars it did not expect to fight, or tried to avoid, just a few years earlier.

In March 1989, as Dick Cheney was undergoing his confirmation hearing for SECDEF, no one even mentioned Iraq or alluded to it. In 2001, prior to 9/11, no one even asked Secretary Rumsfeld or any other DOD officials about Afghanistan, except in reference to the Soviet intervention there from 1979 to 1989. Yet, by October 2001, the US found it necessary to intervene in Afghanistan.

In the face of the budget cuts that Leon Panetta is facing – $467 bn to $487 bn over a decade – it might be prudent to cut ground troops in order to have enough money for military modernization. A smaller military is preferrable to a large but hollow one. However, smaller military can go to fewer places and do fewer things at the same time.

But these cuts are not motivated by a desire to reduce the budget deficit or to update America’s defense posture, contrary to the claims of the Obama Administration. Quite the contrary, they are purely politically motivated.

Obama doesn’t want to (and knows he can’t politically afford to) cut entitlements or discretionary domestic spending, because he knows his constituencies – the dependency class, unions, federal workers, and liberal states – depend on them. At the same time, Obama knows that the military remains staunchly pro-Republican, as do America’s veterans.

So what does Obama do? He proposes to cut defense spending by $487 bn – and lay off tens of thousands of troops and close crucial weapon programs – on top of all the defense cuts he has already administered or ordered! This will hurt Republican constituencies (including states where there are many military units and bases). J. Robert Smith explained it well here:

Military veteran Jim Yardley explained it in his words (albeit not fully correctly) here:

But my question to those who are outraged now that Obama is cutting defense, my question is: where the hell have you been for the last 3 years? Obama ran on an explicit platform to cut defense, close dozens of crucial weapon programs, and give up America’s nuclear arsenal, yet few of you even bothered to protest. For the last 3+ years, I’ve been waging a lonely fight against all kinds of defense cuts almost singlehandedly, almost alone.

To close, let’s listen to the wise words of Dr Charles Krauthammer:

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And as was stated in the video by Bret Baier at 00:42, 93% of those who voted in Fox News’ unscientific online poll on its website believe that the cuts Obama has ordered the DOD to make – $487 bn – are too deep and detrimental to US national security. I agree with those people.


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