Missed in all of the self-congratulatory rhetoric and noble promises to put military veterans to work rebuilding our "crumbling infrastructure," create "clean energy jobs" and spur "innovation" are the drastic cuts being planned in our overall national defenses. On Tuesday evening, Obama urged Congress, "Take the money we're no longer spending at war (and) use half of it to pay down our debt and ... the rest to do some nation building right here at home." Two days after the applause from that line died, we learned just how severe the cuts are going to be.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Panetta announced that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps would be cut by more than 100,000 personnel -- 20,000 fewer Marines and 80,000 fewer soldiers. The U.S. Air Force will lose six of its 60 tactical fighter/attack squadrons and somehow "reduce, streamline and standardize" its airlift capabilities -- the means by which we rapidly move men and materiel to trouble spots. Our Navy will "retire" aging cruisers without replacement, cut the number of fleet logistics and support ships, and delay building a new generation of ballistic missile submarines -- an essential leg of our "triad" of aircraft, land-based missiles and submarines that serve as our nuclear deterrent. The cuts don't stop there.
Procurement of the F-35 joint strike fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marines is being delayed for an unknown period of time. And perhaps most telling of all, the new budget promises that those who volunteer to serve in the most difficult and dangerous places on the planet will do so with reduced pay, unaffordable housing and reduced medical and retirement benefits.
According to the accountants now running the Pentagon, this will yield a "smaller, leaner" military that is "agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced." Apparently, we can afford an unspecified "slight increase in risk" because of the "changing nature of conflict" and the "innovative partnerships" and "key alliances" that we supposedly have forged "elsewhere in the world."
Unfortunately, neither the SOTU nor the defense budget proposed two days later identifies any adversary against which we must be prepared to fight. The president waxes eloquent about taxing the "rich" and the need to control defense spending, but he blusters about the effect of "sanctions" on Iran's nuclear weapons program -- and is mute on the rise of Islamist radicals in Egypt, horrendous drug-fueled violence in neighboring Mexico, and Venezuela's threat to democracy in Latin America.
It's important to continue building special operations capabilities. But doing so through Draconian across-the-board cuts in the rest of our defenses is pre-emptive surrender to an enemy who will pick the time and place for our next fight.
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.
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