It's hard to imagine Panetta and Dempsey's hard truth's being welcomed in the West Wing, but it's refreshing to hear nonetheless. For months, administration officials and too many in Congress have been quoting outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen's claim that "the biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt."
Notably, this "threat assessment" justified major cuts in defense by the Obama administration in the fiscal 2011 budget. Ballistic missile defense, the F-22 fifth-generation fighter, the Marines' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the Army's Future Combat Systems, new C-17 cargo aircraft and the Navy's next-generation nuclear submarine all got the ax. It didn't matter what risk these cuts imposed; all that mattered was cutting.
Since then, the Iranians have accelerated their quest to acquire nuclear weapons. China's new assertiveness in the Pacific now alarms our allies in Tokyo, Seoul and Manila. Russia's oil and natural gas-fueled modernization of its nuclear arsenal and intercontinental ballistic missiles has expanded -- even as Vladimir Putin describes us as "parasites."
For the record, the Obama administration's original fiscal 2012 request for our military -- made in February by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- was for $553 billion. The Pentagon now is planning to fight 2.5 wars, replace worn-out equipment and retain the world's brightest, best-educated and most combat-experienced military force on less than $520 billion. Though Congress is now on recess and the president is playing golf, the new fiscal year starts in less than eight weeks -- and there still is no defense budget.
When our elected officials finally get back to work in Washington, it would be nice if they would recall a few of their responsibilities. First, what we spend on defending ourselves should be based on the risks we face if we don't buy what we need. Second, "provide for the common defense" is an essential function of government. Third, the word "entitlement" does not appear in our Constitution. We the People regard failure to heed these admonitions as nothing less than dereliction of duty.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.