Don’t Count on Obama’s Defense Cuts

The “lamestream media,” which often parrots what government officials blather, has touted the approximately $480 billion in promised savings to the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) budget over 10 years as “defense cuts.” Instead, these should be termed “Washington cuts” or “imaginary cuts” or even “fraudulent cuts.”

First, the national budget is usually legislated each year, so projected defense spending over a 10-year period is a mere chimera. The internal American political or external strategic landscape could change dramatically even from one year to the next. For example, the 2012 presidential election could bring a new person to the White House or significantly revise the priorities of the winning incumbent. Thus, the only real budget number that counts is what is being legislated for the next year compared to the current year’s total.

Second, the approximately $480 billion in defense “cuts” is obtained by subtracting from projected defense spending for the next 10 years. Naturally, the DoD projects its budget to increase over time. This is similar to when retailers mark up prices before a sale or measure savings against a suggested retail price, rather than the price they usually charge for the item — so that they can claim they are giving the consumer greater savings. President Obama even admitted to this subterfuge when he said that even with such cuts, the DoD budget would grow slightly over time — about the rate of inflation — thus maintaining the same real value of spending. So in Washington, touted cuts in government budgets are not really cuts at all, but the media repeatedly buys into the fraud.

Third, given the history of Washington budget gimmicks and smoke and mirrors, the second round of $500 billion in added defense “cuts,” triggered by the failure of the congressional supercommittee to find alternative spending cuts or tax increases, probably will never happen. If the past is any guide, when Congress puts itself in a budget straightjacket, it’s usually just for public consumption. Legislators, under intense pressure from defense lobbyists, including the military services and their members, will likely find some way to weasel out of such cuts, which don’t take effect until January 2013.

And Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the military brass already have been laying the groundwork to help these lobbyists by using such phrases as “doomsday scenario” to describe the second round of cuts. But that future is not so bleak if the United States alters its thinking about its security, strategy, and overseas commitments.

The new military strategy is merely a reordering of priorities and an incremental scaling back of goals to reflect the rising costs of military personnel and weapons thanks to gross inefficiencies in the Pentagon system. Much has been made of the DoD paring back its goal to possess enough forces to fight two regional wars to having only enough to fight one war and deter or disrupt an enemy in a second conflict. Yet this change had been in the works for some time. The Army and Marine Corps will be reduced, because the U.S. will allegedly no longer get ensnared in long-term nation-building quagmires, such as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But again, the cuts will occur from pumped- up levels. Currently, the Army plans to “cut” from 570,000 to about 520,000 troops, but in the last 10 years, the Army has ballooned to its current strength from 482,000 troops.

Also, the Obama administration plans to cut back deployed long-range nuclear forces, which the New START Treaty signed with Russia requires. These cuts could also be illusory, because many times, such warheads are taken off deployment under treaties only to incur costs sitting in storage.

The new strategy sets the goal of lowering military personnel costs, which are a huge and growing chunk of the DoD’s budget. Congress, however, always in a fervor to slather more pay and benefits on the troops, especially when wars and elections are afoot, has nixed even small cuts in these areas.

Lastly, the new strategy actually will expand the huge U.S. military presence in Asia — to counter the rise of China — by removing some of the 80,000 ground forces stationed in Europe.

And yes, any second set of cuts would likely necessitate a further reduction of all these goals, but that would not be catastrophic. In fact, U.S. security would be enhanced. If the United States significantly reduced its overseas military presence and concomitant meddling in other nations’ affairs, the greatest current threat to America — blowback terrorism — would likely diminish greatly.

Thus, the United States should bring home all troops deployed on foreign soil. To hedge against a rising China, the United States would still have a large military presence in Hawaii, Guam, and Alaska, which is less provocative to China than the current American posture far forward, including forces in Japan, Korea, and Australia. Army and Marine Corps forces should be cut back to those needed to fight one regional war, with most heavy forces for that conflict being transferred to the National Guard and Reserve, which are less costly. The Air Force and Navy should also be cut back, but less than the ground forces. As for nuclear weapons, the United States should reduce forces to a minimum deterrent of 500 long-range warheads based only on submarines, thereby eliminating the bomber- and land-based intercontinental missile portions of the nuclear triad.

In this time of fiscal meltdown, the United States can no longer afford a Cadillac military that spends annually what the next 10 countries combined spend on defense, especially when the intrinsic security of the United States is so good — absent making unnecessary enemies with unwarranted overseas meddling.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.