Some leading Republicans who should know better are signaling that they are going to join forces with the Obama administration and make significant cuts in defense spending. This is usually presented as a matter of equity: Everyone needs to make sacrifices. Democrats will have to take some hits to their social welfare priorities; Republicans will have to take some in defense. Everything has to be "on the table" when it comes to reducing our nation's red ink.
Now, no one is in favor of wasteful expenditures, in the Pentagon or elsewhere. But let's face it: There is no line item in the Defense Department's budget called "Waste, Fraud and Abuse." As a result, cuts that would eliminate unjustifiable spending by the military have to be wrung out from each and every item that actually is in the defense budget.
But most of those caviling for the budget to be balanced on the backs of our troops are not interested in such a tedious and time-consuming exercise. A much more convenient way to arrive at significant savings at the Pentagon's expense is to dramatically slow down, reduce or kill outright planned purchases of major weapon systems. Right on cue, several Washington think tanks - including the left-wing Brookings Institution and Stimson Center and the ostensibly centrist Bipartisan Policy Center - have recommended doing just that in recent days.
The sorts of cuts being proposed would decimate what little is left of the modernization of the U.S. military, a necessary reinvestment in materiel that has already been, for far too long, foolishly stretched out or thwarted in favor of some future plane, armored vehicle, ship, missile, etc. We are always assured that the latter birds-in-the- bush will be better and cheaper than the bird-in-the-hand.
Should the sorts of cuts being urged on Congress actually materialize, all of the armed services will be debilitated. The one that is arguably most feared by our enemies, the Marine Corps, could be reduced to ceremonial functions and protecting embassies. Its future means of performing amphibious assaults (the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle), its principal airborne assault vehicle (the V-22 Osprey) and the backbone of its dedicated ground-support aviation for decades to come (the F-35) would all be eliminated or rendered unaffordable. Say what you want, the people who will most immediately reap the whirlwind sown by such actions will be our troops. They may prove, as a result, unable safely and surely to meet the threats that will be given short shrift by politicians consumed with domestic considerations. They will be placed in greater jeopardy as a result, but ultimately so will be the nation they have volunteered to protect with their lives.
Lest our political leaders think our troops won't understand the nature or implications of this betrayal, they would do well to recall the closing stanza in Kipling's ode to those who fight and die for the rest of us:
"An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please; But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees."
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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