At the American Enterprise Institute today Rep. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, after recalling the events of Sept. 11, issued this warning in a eye-popping speech on the state of the military:
But what is more remarkable than what we remember is what we have forgotten. We’ve forgotten the cost of the national hubris we all felt on September 10th. In 10 short years we’ve forgotten that we are vulnerable. We have forgotten that there are forces in the world who would do us harm. We have forgotten that there are actors on the world stage who would take advantage of our weakness.
I am afraid that once again, we are sliding back to a place we pledged never to return to, and are repeating the mistakes of a September 10th America. As we begin to emerge from a long, tough fight, this should be the time to reset and rebuild our military. Instead, we are lowering our gloves. At a time when our military is falling into disrepair, we have laid out over half a trillion dollars in projected cuts to Pentagon spending. I cannot understate how dangerous these defense cuts have become.
The United States military has been saddled with winning two tough wars and the Libya operation. Iraq and Libya are winding down. The most important, Afghanistan, remains a tough fight.
He is blunt about the president’s role in the unwise drawdown of our military. (“For the past three years, President Obama’s administration has steadily lowered our guard,” he said.) And he makes a critial point, namely that the defense budget is being used to funnel money into unsustainable domestic programs:
When the calls came for fiscal restraint and discipline, this Administration has repeatedly turned to its favorite target: our Armed Forces. That’s not how you win the war, it’s not you sustain the peace, and it absolutely isn’t the way to pay off our debt.
Folks, it is impossible to pay our entitlement tab with the Pentagon’s credit card. We’ve tried. Domestic spending has increased by nearly 20% in the first two years of this Administration. Military budgets have been cut by half a trillion dollars. Our debt continues to rise.
The cuts not only fail to arrest the real driver of the debt: The defense cuts divorce the budget from our security needs. As McKeon explained, while we slash, the Chinese keep “our admirals up at night.” He observed: “The Pentagon report [released last week] outlined a country that is emboldened with newfound military might and drunk with economic power. The Chinese are convinced that they have been given an opening with our current financial crisis. For the first time in their history, Beijing believes they can achieve military parity with the United States. They are building stealth fighters and submarines. Their navy has grown larger than our own. They are sending warships into the territorial waters of our allies. They hack our government computers daily and intimidate our friends in the Pacific rim.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration keeps hacking away.
Admiral Greenert, our incoming Chief of Naval Operations, recently testified that he needed around 400 ships to meet the Navy’s broad set of missions. Well, we had a nearly 550-ship fleet in 1992; today we are projected to drop to 250. At the end of the Cold War, we had 76 Army combat brigades. Today we have 45. We had 82 fighter squadrons, today we have 39. Our bomber fleet is so old, some Air Force pilots are flying the exact same aircraft as their grandfathers. That’s to be expected when the last B-52, the backbone of our bomber fleet, rolled off the assembly line during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Marines’ F-18s have flown far past the number of flight hours that they were designed for, while the Administration holds talks about canceling their replacement jet, the F-35B . . . that’s after we canceled their new amphibious assault vehicle, by the way. Many of our F-15s have the same problem. . . . Over 20% of our Navy ships are not ready to sail or fight. 40% of that fleet goes to sea and to war with at least one major structural problem.
And then he blasted both Congress and the adminstration for “the sword hanging over the Congressional Super Committee.” He argued:
50% of the mandatory cuts associated with the trigger are from the defense budget. That is a deeply unbalanced number, with defense accounting for less than 20% of federal spending.
If enacted, the trigger wouldn’t just gut our military. It would close it for business. It is my suspicion that the White House and Congressional Democrats insisted on that defense number for one purpose: to force Republicans to choose between raising taxes or gutting defense.
That political gamesmanship is simply unacceptable.
Even if the trigger isn’t enacted, I am concerned that guidance from the White House would direct cuts beyond what the Defense Department is prepared to absorb.
Recent statements from the Office of Management and Budget indicate that the Administration could be pushing for defense cuts that near the size and scope of the trigger, within the confines of the Super Committee.
Those cuts would open the door to aggression, as our ability to deter and respond to an attack would be severely crippled.
Now, you might ask why the Republican presidential debates have not addressed this point. Why would the subject of national security be avoided almost entirely? Well, the moderators are uninterested in the topic; the contenders want to talk only about the economy. Those are poor excuses for ignoring a critical issue. Will any of the GOP participants in tonight’s debate talk about defense spending? And do any of them have a grasp of the enormity of the problem? I fear not.