Last week, President Obama told the latest graduates of the Air Force Academy that, despite massive cuts in defense spending being made by his administration, “We will maintain our military superiority in all areas – air, land, sea, space and cyber.”
This fits the meme being pushed by Team Obama as the campaign heats up. It is of a piece with the contention that the President has been so extraordinarily successful a Commander-in-Chief as to be unassailable politically with regard to his stewardship of national security and foreign policy.
As with his commitment to the newly minted Air Force officers, in the immortalwords of Ira Gershwin, this narrative “ain’t necessarily so.”
Let’s start with the promise of military superiority. Only someone completely oblivious – or indifferent – to what it takes to achieve and maintain superiority could make such a statement under present, and foreseeable, circumstances. The fact of the matter is that the nearly $800 billion already excised from the Pentagon budgets over the next ten years have already translated into the evisceration of virtually every military modernization program previously on the books. Research and development accounts crucial to the next generation of weapons are being similarly savaged.
As a result, we will be lucky to be competitive with future adversaries who are busily upgrading their forces, often in ways specifically designed to counter such advantages as we do have. “Superiority” will, in important respects, likely be out of the question.
That is especially true if the defense budget is beset with yet the next $500 billion in cuts ordered by existing statute to start in January 2013. You might not know this trainwreck is upon us from the lack of disclosure about the impact of such reductions in Defense Department planning documents. [(You can get a sense of the effects, however, from the Center for Security Policy’s “Defense Breakdown Reports” at www.FortheCommonDefense.org).] The Pentagon understandably worries about disclosing in advance ways in which this magnitude of harm would be accommodated lest a blueprint for making it so be provided.
As of this writing, unless some deus ex machina materializes like in a Greek drama too complicated to be resolved by mere mortals, the armed forces will not be spared from what the Joint Chiefs Chairman has called “catastrophe.”
Sadly, it seems increasingly unlikely that a consensus will be found during a contentious lame-duck session to negate the effects on our national security of the “sequestration” mechanism – a legislative device Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called a “doomsday machine” since it failed to compel Congress to find other ways of reducing the deficit. To be sure, leading Republicans, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, have developed means of staving off this debacle for our armed forces. But neither President Obama nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid want any part of them.
Some would have us take comfort in the fact that, even at these reduced spending levels, the United States will expend more on defense than do our potential adversaries combined. Set aside uncertainties about exactly how much the Chinese and Russians are actually investing in amassing new weapons designed to kill Americans. (For example, does anyone really know what China has spent to build covertly 3,000 miles of hardened underground tunnels in which are concealed heavens only knows how many nuclear missiles?)
As with domestic law enforcement, the outlays involved in preserving the peace always vastly exceed the sums spent by those intent ondisturbing it. Typically, the more decisively the former is resourced relative to the latter, the more likely it is that hostile parties will be dissuaded from threatening us or our interests. President Reagan dubbed this axiom “peace through strength.”
The danger is that history teaches that the alternative – the deliberate, systematic and sustained diminishing of our defense capabilities – only invites adversaries, who might otherwise be deterred, to act aggressively. Unfortunately, the present crop of such adversaries don’t need any encouragement.
Consider just one example: Russia under Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin claims it will spend on the order of $700 billion to modernize its nuclear and conventional forces. At the same time, President Obama is actively considering eliminating up to 80% of our deterrent and ensuring that little, if anything, is done to ensure that the remaining force remains viable, let alone superior, to new generations of Russian nuclear arms.
Mr. Obama is clearly proceeding under the influence of his favorite general, former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman James “Hoss” Cartwright, who in a paper released on May 16th proclaimed that he believes we can safely eliminate one leg of our strategic triad and “de-alert” or shelve the weapons that would be left. Such notions are being promoted in the name of achieving “global zero” – a world without nuclear weapons. In practice, it will result in a world with many more such arms, including in all the wrong places, as friends and allies alike adjust to a denuclearizing America and the folding of its deterrent “umbrella.”
Last week, one of our nation’s most storied warriors, nonagenarian Major General John Singlaub addressed a Center for Security Policy event in New York City. He spoke forcefully of the need for leadership and urged all of us to settle for nothing less. We require the real deal, now more than ever, with respect to our national security. We literally can accept no substitutes.