Bill Kristol and Jamie Fly write:

When [Leon Panetta] served in the White House during the Clinton administration, the Pentagon was forced to go on a “procurement holiday” that left it unprepared when the expected post-Cold War peace dividend failed to materialize. Panetta acknowledged at his hearing that the Clinton approach “might not have been the best way to achieve those savings.” . . . Almost two decades later, a Democratic president is once again entertaining the prospect of deep defense cuts. And this after the experience of 2009 and 2010, when defense was treated differently from the rest of the federal government. [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates pruned away at his department while his cabinet colleagues ladled on more gravy. Now we face an ever more uncertain strategic landscape. American men and women in uniform are engaged in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Who knows what the future holds in Yemen or Somalia — or elsewhere in the Middle East? Iran, already a menace to our allies in the region, is approaching a nuclear weapons capability. And a rising China increasingly challenges us in Asia.

Despite all of this, President Obama still appears unwilling to protect defense, even as he continues to protect the programs that are the true source of our fiscal woes — entitlements and runaway domestic spending

Even more alarming it appears the Congress may go along with this. We learn: “Panetta’s confirmation hearing came as reports emerged that the bipartisan deficit commission, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is considering cuts that go up to or even beyond the president’s $400 billion.”

If so, those in the House and Senate who don’t buy into the idea that we should slash defense as our threats multiply will have to stand up. And likewise, the GOP candidates will need to decide if they are going to follow, and hence give cover to, Obama’s defense slashing.

It is unrealistic to expect Panetta to buck the president. Certainly, he took the job understanding full well the president’s perspective. It will therefore be up to those outside the administration to make clear three points: 1) the primary duty of the federal government (higher than high-speed rail and a new health-care entitlement plan) is national defense; 2) defense spending is not driving the debt (it is skyrocketing domestic spending that has worsened our fiscal position); and 3) unless we want to cede our position as the sole superpower we can’t shatter the military that guarantees the West’s security and defends freedom around the planet.