On the occasion of Barack Obama’s visit to Virginia this weekend, Mitt Romney penned an open letter, criticizing the president’s indifference to massive cuts in national security spending. He reminded Obama that voters at “Langley AFB, the storied Marine Base at Quantico, tens of thousands of veterans from the Battle of Guadalcanal to the Battle of Fallujah, and countless other proud military units, factories, and bases” will be hard hit by the cuts:
Your insistence on slashing our military to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending could see over 200,000 troops forced from service. It will shut the doors on factories and shipyards that support our warfighters, take a heavy toll on the guard and reserves, and potentially shutter Virginia military bases. It will shrink our Navy below a level that is already not adequate for protecting our national security. Mr. President, our troops, military families, and veterans want to know why defense is the only part of the federal budget you are willing to cut. They deserve better.
Under your administration, the backlog for wounded warriors receiving their disability has nearly doubled, and unemployment among young returning veterans is in double digits. The effect of forcing 200,000 additional service members out of uniform and into a faltering economy, sending them from the front lines to the unemployment lines, will overwhelm overburdened state offices like the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. It will impose suffering and hardship on so many military families.
Every service member, veteran, and military family member in Virginia and the nation will be touched by your defense cuts. So will Virginia’s businesses and industry, large and small alike. From 2001-2010, over 14,000 Virginia businesses provided goods and services for our national defense. Unfortunately, the huge economic impact of these looming cuts is not the end of it.
Your own Secretary of Defense has said that they will be “devastating” to our national security, the same as “shooting ourselves in the head.” But when Congress presented you a way out of this mess, a mess of your own making, you threatened to veto their bill. And the reason you gave, Mr. President, is that you would not stop devastating cuts to our national security unless Congress agreed to raise our taxes.
Romney vowed to “use my authority as Commander-in-Chief to protect the troops, not veto efforts to protect them. I will never allow our national security to be held hostage to extract political concessions.”
This fall military contractors in Virginia and elsewhere will be sending out thousands of notices (as required by federal law) warning of impending layoffs attributable to the huge cuts. That’s another political debacle in the making for Obama.
But, of course, it’s the national security implications that are the most serious. A Romney campaign adviser authorized to speak on background only would not give a specific figure for defense spending in a Romney administration, saying only that the first priority would be to save the military from Obama’s defense cuts, which could result in discharge of 200,000 troops.
Romney, however, does not seem intent on completely sparing the Pentagon. The adviser told me that cuts instituted on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s watch “were focused on identifying waste, fraud, and inefficiency in the Defense Department and refocusing it on the guys outside the wire with a rifle in their hands.” Romney recognizes the need to clean up or do away with wasteful programs. The objection, however, is that “when the generals presented Secretary Gates billions in savings, Jack Lew from the White House — who famously said ‘this is not the time for austerity’ — reached into the Pentagon’s pockets, grabbed the savings, and used it to pay for Obama’s incredible expansion of federal government with money that should have gone to the troops. So if you’re a beltway bureaucrat, it’s not the time for austerity. But if you wear the uniform, pay up.”
In sum, Romney would favor reforms designed to maximize the value of the taxpayer dollar, but won’t use a defense-cuts-by-arbitrary-numbers approach. And in some cases — missile defense, for example — Romney is determined to undo Obama’s efforts to scuttle programs directly affecting Americans’ safety. (Obama, the adviser recalls, never liked missile defense from the start and slashed the program.) He vows that getting missile defense back on track will be a top priority.
Given the state of the Obama economy, it is natural for the Romney team to point to the economic implications of the defense cuts. But the first responsibility of the president and the federal government is national defense. If the sequestration goes through, Obama will have failed in his most critical obligation. By dangling those cuts in front of the military, military families, and allies and foes alike, he speaks volumes about his willingness to sacrifice defense on the altar of the liberal welfare state.