In Defense, Recognizing “Fiscal Reality”; In Domestic Spending, Not So Much

Yesterday Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled plans to reduce the size of the U.S. military. The plans were motivated, Hagel said, by the need to recognize “the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges.”

Hagel’s plan includes cutting the size of active duty forces, changing pay structures, benefits, and housing allowances, eliminating certain weapons programs, and potentially closing military bases. Obviously, the proposals will need to be carefully considered to ensure that we are fair to the women and men who have served so capably in our military, but I have no problem with the concept of reducing the footprint of our military and modifying its focus. The world has changed since our forces were actively fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; those changes inevitably will affect our defense planning. If bases or weapons programs are no longer needed, they should be ended, and our focus should be concentrated on the weapons programs and forces we truly need to respond to the threats posed by the current, fractured, dangerous world.

I am struck, however, by the difference between our approach to defense spending and our approach to other parts of the federal budget. The “reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges” obviously doesn’t exist just with respect to the military budget, it exists with respect to every dollar spent by the federal government. Where is the careful evaluation of whether other federal programs are no longer needed, as the Pentagon apparently has decided with respect to the U-2 spy plane? If we are willing to cut 80,000 active duty personnel from the military rolls — about 15 percent — why should we hesitate to cut a similar percentage from the non-military federal government payroll? If we are willing to close military bases, why shouldn’t we end federal programs, like those that fund advertisements to use your seat belt, that have long since served their purpose? Of course, there has been no such reevaluation of the true need for the morass of seemingly permanent federal programs and federal employees in the non-defense area.

During his campaigns and during his presidency, President Obama has talked a good game about fiscal prudence, but the actual evidence of his commitment to rational federal spending and deficit control has been lacking. Now his Defense Secretary has recognized the “reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges” and has used that reality to justify proposed reductions to the arm of the federal government that protects us from peril. If President Obama doesn’t use the “reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges” to make similarly significant reductions in domestic spending, he will lose whatever remaining credibility he may possess on budget control issues.

You can’t cut the jobs of soldiers and sailors, but continue to spend like a drunken sailor on every federal program we’ve inherited from the New Deal onward.

Ohhhhh No – Not More Defense Spending

Please – I just don’t get it !!! Mitt wants more defense spending ! This last month the big question in Money magazine to subscribers was How would you balance the Federal Budget – 43% of which I was one who said yes to cutting Defense Spending – 29% said raise taxes, 15% said cut Medicare and 13% said cut Social Security.

The difference between the president and Mitt Romney is $2 trillion dollars, Mitt wants us to build more aircraft carriers and he wants to add 100,000 more conventional forces. Do we really need this ? Today close to 16% of the federal budget is spent on defense and the United States accounts for about 41%  of the worlds current military expenditures. President Obama wants to put the brakes on defense spending.

Mitt wants to make sure that we have a military so strong that no one wants to test it. A large military simply makes no sense in this day and age, we need a military that is leaner more agile and more efficient. It’s only my humble opinion, but I am bothered by Mitt’s military eagerness and it reminds me quite a bit of George Bush. Does this bother anyone else, am I wrong ?

Who Is This Guy? (The Defense Side)

The second part of President Obama’s fiscal policy speech on April 13 addressed the defense budget.  He dealt with that issue in two paragraphs.  In the first, he assured us that he would “never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world,” but noted that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said that “the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt” — so just as “we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense.”  In the second paragraph, he stated:

“Over the last two years, Secretary Bob Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending.  I believe we can do that again.  We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but we’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.  I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.”

There are some politicians who seem to resist every effort to streamline the defense budget or cut any weapons program.  In my view, we cannot afford that attitude.   According to a schematic from the Office of Management and Budget, in the President’s proposed 2012 budget just under 20 percent of spending would be for various defense-related matters.  Such a large portion of the federal budget cannot be “off limits” if we mean to achieve serious deficit and spending reductions. I therefore think the President is right in saying that we must look to the defense budget for cuts.

I also think the defense budget raises much larger strategic and societal issues.  In fact, I wonder whether our focus on defense spending hasn’t encouraged generals and Presidents — including this President — to be more internationally adventurous than they should be.  At present America has troops in Iraq, troops fighting in Afghanistan, and troops participating to some extent in the NATO mission in Libya.  We seem to be involved, to some extent, in activities in Pakistan, Yemen, and other parts of the world.  We have military bases spread across the globe.  In the years since World War II — when our country was responding to a direct attack from one country and a declaration of war from another — has the United States ever tried to do so much militarily in so many far-flung places of the globe at the same time?

The nature of our military capabilities also has had an impact, I think, on our willingness to engage in some form of military action.  We have unmanned Predator drones and missiles that can inflict havoc from far away and planes that can help to discipline the outgunned ground forces of dictators like Qaddafi from a (usually) safe distance.  When you are the President and have such capabilities at the ready, isn’t it awfully tempting to agree to participate to some extent in the latest UN peacekeeping mission to help burnish your international rep, or to just lob a few cruise missiles at the distant bases of terrorist organizations and call it a day?

Obviously, it is a dangerous world, and we need a strong defense — but we also need to reevaluate what that means in a time of rapid changes.  In this instance, too, I wonder what President Obama really thinks.  His Administration has been very willing to use missiles and unmanned drones, and I’m not sure that someone who thinks we need to carefully reconsider our military role in the world would have become involved in the current Libyan venture.  I haven’t seen anything from this President, frankly, that gives me confidence that he should be the ultimate decisionmaker on how to reduce and reorient our military spending.

Who Is This Guy?  (The Spending Side)