As the Supercommittee’s deadline quickly approaches and their ability to reach an agreement diminishes, a new Battleground poll reveals the public’s strong opposition to more defense cuts. Already under the gun to make $450 billion in cuts, the failure of the Supercommittee to reach agreement would mean additional across the board cuts in all areas of the Department of Defense.
When asked for their opinion about further cuts, 82% were strongly or somewhat opposed to those cuts (59% strongly opposed).
There is, it appears, a dawning realization that we as a country are again about to put ourselves in serious trouble if we don’t maintain our military edge that has served us so well since WWII.
Recently, in a reply to an inquiry into the effects of the across the board cuts that will be mandated by a Supercommittee failure, Senators McCain and Graham asked Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to detail them. In his reply he noted some very disturbing results of further cuts. The mandated cuts would amount to about an additional 20%. According to Secretary Panetta, that sort of reduction would mean major weapons systems, designed to ensure our national security for decades to come, would have to be cut:
• Reductions at this level would lead to:
o The smallest ground force since 1940.
o A fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915.
o The smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.
All exceedingly dangerous developments. All developments which would limit our ability to respond to a national security crisis and certainly effect our ability to deal with more than one. Reducing our levels to those cited by Panetta would be extraordinarily short-sighted.
For instance, reducing our tactical Air Force to record levels puts one of our major force projection (along with the Navy) means in a position of not being able to fulfill that role. Today the tactical airframes our pilots fly are decades old and worn out. They’ve reached the end of their service life. It is critical that the next generation of fighters continue to be developed and fielded. In a letter to Rep. Randy Forbes, 7 retired Air Force generals of the Air Force Association outline the risk:
The Air Force now finds itself in a situation where another acquisition deferment will lead to the eventual cessation of key missions. Accordingly, while the recapitalization list is generally considered in terms of systems, it really comes down to a question of what capabilities the nation wants to preserve. Does the United States want to retain the capacity to engage in missions like stemming nuclear proliferation, managing the rise of near-peer competitors, and defending the homeland?
Leaders need to fully consider the ramifications of the decisions they make today as they seek to guide our nation through this difficult period. Just as our legacy fleet has enabled national policy objectives over the past several decades, our future investments will govern the options available to leaders into the 2030s and 2040s. Investing in capable systems will make the difference between success and failure in future wars and between life and death for those who answer the call to serve our nation. When viewed in those terms, failing to adequately invest in the Air Force would be the decision that proves "too expensive" for our nation.
Those two paragraphs outline the criticality of the need for continuing to fund the weapons systems of the future. We may be able to get away with not doing so right now, but we guarantee that our options will be severely limited and our national security capabilities degraded significantly 20 to 30 years down the road if we do so today.
And there’s another reason to resist the temptation to make further cuts at DoD that is particularly significant at this time. Professor Stephan Fuller of George Mason University testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the cancellation of weapons systems would have a profound negative effect on both the economy and unemployment such as:
— A loss of 1,006,315 jobs (124,428 direct, 881,887 indirect)
— Raise the unemployment rate by .6% (9% to 9.6%)
— Drop GDP growth by $86.46 billion (25% of the projected growth in 2013)
No one is arguing that DoD is or should be a jobs program. But it is obvious the impact would be severe not only among DoD prime contractors but even more so downstream. Ironically, one of the reasons our politicians justified their bailout of the auto industry was downstream job losses in a time of economic turmoil. That turmoil still exists today.
If the cited poll is any indicator, the public has come to realize the dangerous waters we’re navigating with these possible cuts. They’re realizing that what guarantees our peace is our strength and our strength is maintained by keeping the technological edge over potential enemies and developing weapons systems to deploy that technology. Without that ability to guarantee our national security, all the other things we treasure are jeopardized. Additionally, our military demise will only encourage the bad actors in the world to increase activities which are detrimental to both peace and our national security.
While it is certainly a time to look for all legitimate means and methods to cut government spending, sequestration as demanded by the Supercommittee’s failure to reach agreement isn’t one of them. Mindless cuts into that which guarantees our safety today and in the future will come back to haunt us if we allow them.
This past weekend was the 6th Annual Milblog Conference. I attended and it was the best one yet. Our headliner was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and since I’d met him previously, I was asked to introduce him and facilitate the Q&A, which I was honored to do.
It was a fun 45 minutes as you’ll probably see if you’ve the time or desire to watch the whole thing. I start the questioning with the shakeup in the national security arena where Petraeus is going to CIA and Panetta going to SecDef. Secretary Rumsfeld reminded me that Ryan Crocker is also included in that as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.
He’s definitely right to point that out and it plays even more into the theory that we’re going to fight the war differently than we have. Petraeus and Crocker had a very tight relationship in Iraq and there’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship will be reestablished with Petraeus at CIA. It again emphasizes the probability of a more covert, SOF, “secret ninja” type of war in the future, vs. the way we’re waging it now.
And, with the demise of bin Laden, many are now going to call on us to pack up and leave claiming our mission is complete and encouraging us to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghanis to sort out. I see the pressure to do that building over the coming months (remember July is the month of the scheduled withdrawal from A’stan). About all that might dampen those cries is if al Qaeda strikes somewhere in retaliation for the bin Laden death (and I fully expect they will, however they may not mount any sort of reprisal in the next few months).
The recently announced moves that will see Gen. David Petraeus taking the helm of the CIA, while CIA director Leon Panetta moves to the Secretary of Defense post (replacing retiring SecDef Robert Gates), may have some interesting reasons behind them.
Petraeus is our most successful general in a generation and credited by many for turning the Iraq war around at a time when it seemed to be spiraling out of control. His ability to command troops in the field coupled with his ability to deftly handle the diplomatic side of his duties made him the most popular general our military has seen for some time. So popular, in fact, that he was eventually put in command in Afghanistan to replace President Obama’s hand-picked general there.
Petraeus will resign from the Army to take the CIA post. But many are asking, why CIA? Why not Petraeus as the SecDef?
Perhaps the reason is that, with the big drawdown scheduled in July for Afghanistan, this signals how we plan on fighting that war from then on: more emphasis on CIA and Special Operations Force activities and less on conventional forces. Or, the “Biden plan,” if you will. Many more covert operations and drone strikes than now. Less emphasis on coalition operations; more emphasis on training Afghan forces to take the security job over. Petraeus would have be the best man to make that transition a reality.
So what does the move of Panetta mean for the Department of Defense? Apparently, Panetta wasn’t particularly enthused about taking the job, but finally said “yes” this past Monday. Something obviously changed to have him accept the post. Most think the administration agreed to make it a relatively short-term appointment for the 73 year old Director of the CIA. Secretary of Defense is a post with a grueling operations tempo, with three wars going and budget battles in the offing. It’s a tough slog for anyone holding the post.
That means that Panetta will most likely be a “caretaker” SecDef, and as the president’s man, much more open to the budget cuts Obama wants from DoD than Gates. Gates did his best to protect DoD as much as he could from thoughtless or deep cuts to the defense budget. He also tried to get out ahead of the curve and nominate cuts of his own in order to avoid those that might be forced on the department by lawmakers.
With Panetta, it is more likely that he will be less of an advocate for DoD and more of a hatchet man for the administration. He’ll most likely be gone, one way or the other, when January 2013 arrives. So he has no reason not to do what he and the president agree on concerning cuts to defense. The only bulwark against administration cuts now will be the Republican House.
Keep an eye on these two appointments and the events that surround them. Both could signal profound changes in the two agencies effected.
That’s what a POLITICO is quoting from AP in a “Breaking News” tweet:
QandO isn’t normally a “breaking news” site, but this is about as fresh as it gets. I had just read this conjecture on Morning Defense, POLITICO’s morning email list all about defense (it’s a good read if you’re interested).
So what do you think? Panetta for SecDef? Why not Petraeus (retire him and move him into the job – although there may be some regulation that would prevent that – and will he retain his military status and rank at CIA)? And Petraeus to CIA? Why not leave Panetta there and give the agency some continuity?
I’ll update as more becomes available.
UPDATE: Here’s the story via USA Today. Apparently the change will take place in July just prior to the date set to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.