We’ve written here many times about the Defense Department and our bloated military budget. We’re all familiar with the Republican’s stated goal to cut spending and reduce the deficit. One caveat we’ve all been aware of from the beginning is defense spending. Republicans want to increase it, not reduce it. Republicans are busy identifying new enemies rather than setting aside old, including North Korea and Iran.
Reuters reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reprising the role he played under George W. Bush, announced on Thursday that he intends to cut the defense budget by $78 billion per President Obama’s request, including a reduction in size of the Army and Marine Corps. The Army, Navy and Air Force, under this plan, would not give back $100 billion in savings from reductions but would be allowed instead to put that money into modernization programs.
“This country’s dire fiscal situation, and the threat it poses to America’s influence and credibility around the world, will only get worse unless the U.S. government gets its finances in order. As the biggest part of the discretionary federal budget, the Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government.”
Many people would say, “about time!” Of course, it’s time is not just yet.
“These reform efforts, followed through to completion, will make it possible to protect the U.S. military’s size, reach and fighting strength despite a declining rate of growth and eventual flattening of the defense budget over the next five years.”
Five years, incidentally, coincides with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Next year, the defense budget actually increases (by 3%); the 2012 budget would be $553 billion – $13 billion less than the Pentagon wanted. Under this plan it would then decrease for each of the following two years and then show zero growth for the final two years of the five-year plan.
Some of the planned force reductions are as follows:
Army – 27,000 active duty personnel – 4% reduction (the Army already has a planned reduction of 22,000 in place, making for a grand total of 49,000.
Marines – 15,000 to 20,000 personnel – 10% reduction
According to the Washington Post, he would also cut the number of private military contractors by one-third and shrink the top-heavy leadership by reducing the number of generals and admirals from 900 to 800.
“A major objective beyond creating monetary savings is to make this department less cumbersome, less top heavy and more agile and effective in the execution of its responsibilities. My hope and expectation is that as a result of these changes over time, what had been a culture of endless money, where cost was rarely a consideration, will become a culture of savings and restraint.”
The chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen had Gates’ back:
“These are modest changes and ones that we think are well within the risk envelope, as we understand things right now, particularly given where we think we’ll be with respect to Afghanistan in 2015, when these force structure changes start to kick in.”
As Gates said this is not so much a cut but a “slowdown” in growth-rate of the military.
“My message to both our allies and to our friends — and in light of what some of our closest allies have had to do in terms of their own military capabilities — is that this president understands and accepts our global responsibilities and we will continue to invest in the defense capabilities that are necessary to sustain our military strength and meet our global responsibilities.”
This is perfectly reasonable, assuming we can keep the Republicans from attacking anyone else in 2015 – or before (keep this in mind when you vote in 2012).
You can imagine how the new Republican Congress took the news. They want to protect their parochial interests – military personnel in their states spending money, weapons system development where it is now and spending like it is now – whether it works or not. You know the drill. This is, after all, the party of fiscal restraint.
In particular, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee whined, “I’m not happy/” An understatement if ever one was uttered. “I remain committed to applying more fiscal responsibility and accountability to the Department of Defense, but I will not stand idly by and watch the White House gut defense when Americans are deployed in harm’s way.”
Well gosh, Buck, the whole idea in 2015 is for fewer Americans to BE in harm’s way. That is, of course, unless you have some more wars planned.
McKeon is worried about cuts to the Marine Corps. I’m sure that has nothing to do with Camp Pendleton, a major Marine base, being in California. Of course, he has an excuse ready to hand:
“Members of the House Armed Services Committee remain committed to the Marine Corps as an expeditionary fighting force ‘in ready,’ which includes the capability to conduct amphibious landings. This mission could be jeopardized by the cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a capability revalidated by the secretary just last year, and delays in the Joint Strike Fighter and amphibious ship construction.”
Well, Buck, the Joint Strike Fighter’s Marine version (VTOL), if you’ll pardon my use of the vernacular, sucks. It doesn’t work, does it, Buck? It’s a bottomless pit of waste all on its own and under this plan would be put on two-years probation. In other words, it had better be on schedule at that point or it goes the way of the Buffalo. And about time.
And the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle? Yeah, $14 billion right there. Not to mention that we don’t have any amphibious operations in the offing – unless you’re planning on attacking North Korea à la Inchon, or perhaps Iran’s “soft underbelly.”
It remains to be seen what John Boehner makes of this, though he recently told NBC News that the defense budget is not “sacred.” Again and again the “fiscally responsible” Republicans show their true colors, their devotion to budget balancing policies empty verbiage only while they continue to fight to make money for those who pay them. And no, I’m not talking about we, the American people, but their corporate owners. The people they really work for.