President Obama is determined to have national security on the cheap. Or to put it more accurately, he is willing to pare back defense spending to dangerously low levels so he can keep spending like there’s no tomorrow on the domestic side.
The Obama administration on Thursday unveiled a new military strategy that shifts the Pentagon’s focus towards Asia and says the country’s dire budget problems necessitate a more restrained use of military force and more modest foreign policy goals.
The strategy will almost certainly mean a smaller Army and Marine Corps as well as new investments in long-range stealth bombers and anti-missile systems that are designed primarily to counter China’s military buildup. It explicitly states that America can make due with a smaller nuclear force.
It is somewhat jaw-dropping in its cavalier attitude toward national defense. Obama does not even keep up the pretense that the threats determine our defense budget. He’s decided to budget only enough for some threats.
Jamie Fly, executive director of the hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative, had this reaction when I inquired about the president’s proposed cuts: “The President laid out a strategy focused on ending wars rather than winning them. He also tried to shift blame for these defense cuts to Congress, even though it is he and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill who have repeatedly tried to cut the Pentagon’s budget rather than tackle runaway domestic discretionary spending and entitlements.” He argued this is reckless: “In an increasingly dangerous world, this strategy will result in a United States that is less secure and less able to influence the strategic landscape in the way that Americans have come to expect over the last sixty years. The president is managing decline rather than fighting to ensure that the twenty-first century remains an American one.”
Not surprisingly, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) blew a gasket. He released a statement that read:
This is a lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America. The President has packaged our retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy to mask his divestment of our military and national defense. This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs. In order to justify massive cuts to our military, he has revoked the guarantee that America will support our allies, defend our interests, and defy our opponents. The President must understand that the world has always had, and will always have a leader. As America steps back, someone else will step forward.
An honest and valid strategy for national defense can’t be founded on the premise that we must do more with less, or even less with less. Rather you proceed from a clear articulation of the full scope of the threats you face and the commitments you have. You then resource a strategy required to defeat those threats decisively. One does not mask insufficient resources with a fuzzy world view and a strategy founded on hope and a hollow force.
In the fact sheet that accompanied McKeon’s statement he spelled out some of the implications of the president’s penny pinching. For example: “This strategy appears to walk away from the long standing commitment — across both Republican and Democratic Administrations — to size the force to respond to two near-simultaneous major contingency operations.” In addition: “The strategy abandons a half a century of U.S. global force presence, on the seas and at the invitation of our allies, that has been the guarantee of global security and has ensured continued U.S. economic supremacy.”
A series of Republican lawmakers released statements blasting the president. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt’s comment was typical: “The president comparing our defense spending to the defense spending of other countries is certainly in line with his thinking that America is just like every other country. In terms of our freedoms and our attractiveness as a target, I’m absolutely confident that our enemies do not view us as just another country. I’ve always said that everything needs to be on the table as we look for ways to reduce out-of-control federal spending, but I have real concerns about any move that weakens our nation’s defense.”
Outside critics of the president’s defense slashing were dismayed, but not surprised. Gary Schmitt of the America Enterprise Institute told me: “It’s a declinist strategy for a declinist president. And a key question is whether, when the administration submits its defense budget in a month, the Congress will step up to the plate and reverse course.”
The Post’s contributor and Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan e-mailed me this reaction: “The announcement of a new smaller-footprint approach to the world comes as Iraq begins to spiral into sectarian violence following [the] Obama administration’s premature and unnecessary withdrawal of all troops from Iraq. It is wishful thinking — engaged in by many a recent president — to imagine that we won’t need to deploy forces on a reasonably large scale sometime again in the not-too-distant future. Ironically, this current approach is the fulfillment of Don Rumsfeld’s dream. But our track record is clear — and it long predates the last administration. The U.S. has responsibilities and interests which sometimes require the use of military force, and sometimes deployments of troops on the ground. The world cannot be policed by drones and special forces alone.”
It’s a good thing we have an election coming up. The voters can decide whether it is wise, when the number of threats is proliferating and when Obama refuses to clamp down on domestic spending, for him to sacrifice national security in order to make his fiscal record look less horrendous than it is. The GOP should look for a nominee who can take the president on and make clear to the American people that national security must be the first, not the last, priority of the federal government.