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Panetta Warns of Hollow American Military Force

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Defense Department "Sequester" – a budget gimmick originally described as "ridiculous" by Harry Reid and the President's Chief of Staff – has become a Gordian Knot that the White House and Congress have so far failed to unravel.  Originally scheduled to be force implemented on January 1, 2013, it escaped solution during the New Year's Eve fiscal cliff fiasco.  Instead, the problem was just kicked down the road a few more weeks with a new drop-dead date of March 1. 

Rather than providing relief, the legislative inaction accentuates uncertainty and compresses even further the time frame in which the Pentagon would be forced to implement $45 billion of immediate cuts and $500 billion over the longer term.

It's no way to run an Army…or Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard for that matter.  

Last May, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that the $500 billion of DoD cuts would be "disastrous" to national security, hoping to get the attention of Congress and the White House for a timely solution.  Eight months later, the Pentagon is still waiting.

On Thursday, Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey provided an ominous assessment of the consequences of inaction.  Below are some key excerpts from the briefing and a link to an expanded report. 

No one seems to like or be willing to take responsibility for the sequester.  But neither has anyone figured out how to avoid it. 

During the third Presidential debate on October 22, 2012 Barack Obama lied when he said, “The sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.”  But, as Bob Woodward documented in "The Price of Politics" the idea came right out of the White House. 

Further, Jack Lew, President Obama's Chief-of-Staff who yesterday was nominated to be the next Treasury Secretary, is "credited" with selling the sequester idea to Harry Reid on behalf of the White House.  Reid originally called the idea "ridiculous" when Lew and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors first introduced it to him.  "That's the beauty of a sequester, they (Lew and Nabors) said, it's so ridiculous that no one ever wants it to happen," according to the account of events in Woodward's book.  Reid then said, "I get it." 

Now the ridiculous is threatening military preparedness and national security to the point that Obama's own Sec-Def says "we have no idea what in the hell is going to happen."

Apparently, when you're responsible for selling a really bad idea to Congress on behalf of the Obama Administration you get promoted instead of fired.

Following are key excerpts from  Full report available here.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday he has ordered the Pentagon to begin planning now for the triple crisis facing the government this March, telling reporters it was a “perfect storm” that could leave the military with a worst-case outcome: a “hollow force.”

Panetta and the nation’s top uniformed officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in a briefing that March’s potential across-the-board budget cuts, the expiration of the continuing spending resolution that now pays for the government and the potential that the U.S. could default on its debt all were too serious not to begin immediate preparations.

“The fact is, looking at all three of those, we have no idea what the hell’s going to happen,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. “All told this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness.”….

“I’d like to believe that ultimately, Congress will do the right thing,” Panetta said. Now, however, “my fear in talking to members of Congress is that this issue may now be in a very difficult place in terms of their willingness to confront what needs to be done to de-trigger sequester. So all those reasons, plus the uncertainty about what happen on the CR, the debt ceiling, put all that together, and we simply cannot sit back now and not be prepared for the worst.”….

(Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said,) “If we’re required to do these cuts, suddenly we’ve got to achieve these levels of savings, how do you protect the war-fighters, those involved in Afghanistan, those areas that are critical to our national defense? So where do you go? You go to readiness, you go to maintenance, training, this is where the cuts are ultimately made, and when that happens, it make us less ready.”

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