Defense Bears the Brunt of Obama’s Cuts

April 13th, 2011 at 9:45 pm | 23 Comments |

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Perhaps the most objectionable aspect of Obama’s speech involves his pledge to gut the defense budget.

“Gut” is not a word I use lightly; but that seems to be precisely what the president has in mind. His so-called debt-reduction plan, sales after all, has just three parts, the most significant of which involves defense:

  • Part I involves “building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week.”
  • Part II involves “find[ing] additional savings in our defense budget.”
  • Part III involves “reduc[ing] healthcare spending in our budget… by reducing the cost of healthcare itself.”

Parts I and III are phony and fictitious. These are “cuts” that will never materialize, and Obama knows it.

A new report by the Congressional Budget Office, for instance, shows that less than one percent of the $38 billion in “cuts” supposedly agreed to last week are achieved this year. And according to the Associated Press, “many of the cuts come in slow-spending accounts like water-and-sewer grants that don’t have an immediate deficit impact.”

What the supposedly “historic” budget deal does do is begin to reverse the dramatic increases in domestic social-welfare spending effected by Obama during his first two years in office. That’s important, but it doesn’t necessarily or often translate into real cuts.

Obama’s healthcare “savings” are even more fanciful. He proposes absolutely no reform of Medicaid and Medicare. Instead, Obama promises that the same bureaucracy which has mismanaged these financially troubled programs can somehow them more efficient and effective.

That leaves defense as the one area where Obama is prepared to make real cuts. But as Obama himself acknowledged, the Pentagon already has cut some $400 billion from the defense budget in current and future spending. And defense spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) already is projected to decline (during a second Obama term) to an historic low at a time of war.

It simply boggles the mind, then, to think that we can make additional cuts to the defense budget. Spending on military pay and benefits, after all, is increasing; and no one from either political party wants to touch or reform that.

The Army hasn’t fielded a new combat vehicle in more than a generation; the Navy is struggling to achieve and maintain even a minimalist 300-ship fleet; and the Air Force is almost half the size that it was when Bill Clinton was president.

As the Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eagle points out:

The military’s equipment is old and therefore unreliable, increasingly out of date technologically, and insufficient in number. Meeting the military’s full modernization requirements will ‘require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.’

Moreover, the war in Afghanistan is far from over; troops in Iraq will be needed well beyond 2011; and the United States doesn’t seem to have enough troops to handle even a relatively minor contingency such as Libya. The Iranian menace, meanwhile, looms large in the Middle East. How, then, is Obama gonna cut the defense budget — again?!

Well, to his credit, the president acknowledged how in his speech. Cutting “waste and improv[ing] efficiency and effectiveness,” he admitted, won’t be enough.  “We’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.”

In other words, America’s coming home. We’re no longer going to play a lead or dominant role in world affairs. The United States will cease to be “the world’s policeman.”

This may sell well politically, but it would be a disaster for America and for freedom-loving peoples everywhere.

As Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, put it, America is the indispensable nation. Peace and freedom don’t typically happen without our active involvement — and without, oftentimes, our active military involvement.  At the very least, the credible threat of American military force and of American military force projection is crucial to the cause of freedom worldwide.

Problem is Obama’s defense budget would limit a U.S. military that already is too limited and too constrained in what it can do. And it would hamstring us militarily at a time when America’s enemies — in Waziristan, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Pyongyang and elsewhere — already have learned to discount American will and American power.

For these reasons, Obama’s speech is fundamentally unserious and unhelpful. “Decline is a choice,” as Charles Krauthammer famously put it. Indeed, it is. But it is a choice that we must resist and reject.

John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.


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23 Comments so far ↓

  • valkayec

    So, you propose that a military budget which has doubled since Pres. Reagan continue? Moreover, you propose that the U.S. continue to be the world’s police force, the main cop on the beat, while other countries continue to decrease their military budgets – a direct result of the overwhelming increase in U.S expenditures.

    Sorry, but I don’t agree with your thesis. The MICC needs to be brought under budgetary control. It should not consume 50+% of the budget. In addition, the DOD does not know where the money is going, how it’s been spent, and has few if any cost controls. First, audit the DOD and then reduce the budget accordingly while asking our allies to expend more for their own defense.

    • John Guardiano

      You need to get your facts straight. We spend about a fifth of the budget on defense, not “50+%” as you allege.

      Moreover, we spend between 4% and 5% of the GDP on defense; and that number is projected to decline (during a second Obama term) to an historic low at a time of war.

      If you want to reform the defense budget, fine. Offer specific proposals and let’s discuss and debate them. But let’s not gut the defense budget.

      • TerryF98

        Specific proposal.

        Get it down to 25% of discretionary spending from 58%. If that means getting out of Iraq, Afghanistan and closing all the boon dongle bases abroad so be it. We can also reduce the colossal navy we have down to a realistic size.

  • TerryF98

    In a rare moment of truth Guardiano tweeted this…..

    “JohnRGuardiano W/budget deal, it looks like Obama took the #GOP’s lunch $ & w/speech today is prepared to stirfry the opposition in ’12″

    Now he comes here squealing like a stuck Pig going on about how grievous modest cuts to the bloated Defense budget will decimate the security forces of the USA.

    Well take a look at this. Then tell me there is no room to cut this enormous drain on the country down to size. Get it back to Clinton era levels at 300 Billion and most of the budget is sorted.

    “In other words, America’s coming home. We’re no longer going to play a lead or dominant role in world affairs. The United States will cease to be “the world’s policeman.””

    About bloody time!

    • John Guardiano

      Terry, your ability to insert fancy-looking charts into the comments thread is, admittedly, impressive. In fact, I’d like to know how to do the same thing! But you commit two sleighs of hand:

      First, you include a chart that shows discretionary spending only (as opposed to all social-welfare spending). Second, you include a chart that shows absolute dollars spent on defense (as opposed to, say, purchasing power or defense spending as a share of the GDP or total economic output.)

      This matters for myriad reasons. For example: we spend a lot more on pay and benefits than we did when we didn’t have an all-volunteer force. And we spend relatively less on weapon systems.

      So not all defense spending is equal or the same. And absolute defense spending matters less than what those dollars can buy and are spent on. Defense spending as a share of the total economy, likewise, matters more than the absolute dollar total spent on defense.

      • TerryF98

        No sleight of hand involved, I have nothing up my sleeve.

        Defense spending is discretionary spending. So it’s shown with all the other discretionary spending which make a total of 100%. Defense spending is 58% of that 100%. Seems simple to me. Yes if you take the overall budget including non discretionary spending then it’s about 20%

        However if you compare it to the rest of the worlds spending you get this. Please tell me how you defend this level of spending. And we have added another 200 Billion since this graph was drawn.

      • LFC

        The debt created in Reagan’s years, Bush I’s years, and the latest Bush Bust necessarily increases the amount of interest we must pay on all that increased debt. That helps make defense spending look like “less” of the budget. Social Security is self-funded, so out that goes as well. Medicare is mostly self-funded, though it’s having trouble and must be changed so that its dedicated revenues cover its expenses.

        Since we must pay our debt (much of it due to increased military spending as we had under Reagan, two wars under Boy George, and irresponsible tax cuts under Boy George), and the two biggest social programs more or less have dedicated funding, it IS appropriate to look at defense spending as part of discretionary spending because that’s where it belongs.

        Of course if you want to propose an x% rate increase on all income and capital gains across the board to pay for defense spending…

  • dante

    JG – Budget excluding items paid for through separate funds (ie, Medicare & Social Security): 2.54T

    National Defense: $738b
    Veterans Affairs: $122b
    Military Retirement: $52b

    Ok, that’s not *quite* 50%, but there’s far more of my federal income tax that goes to our military than 20%…

    • John Guardiano

      Dante, as Mitt Romney explained in a June 1 speech to Heritage:

      “The official budget doesn’t include our entitlement spending. When that’s added in, defense is about 20 percent of the total.”

      • dante

        Ok, I’ll add in entitlement spending *IF* we can get a separate line-item on every single person’s paycheck as to how much of that is going to “defense” spending. So every week you look at your pay stub and see that $100 goes to SS, $40 goes to Medicare, and $110 goes to our military.

        Deal?

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “Please tell me how you defend this level of spending.”

    He defends it by encouraging us to endlessly expand our military empire, and stick our noses into every conflict and issue around the globe.

    Now, I wrote that before actually reading the article. But hey, no need to worry about being surprised, as the warmongers never disappoint. There it is:

    “In other words, America’s coming home. We’re no longer going to play a lead or dominant role in world affairs. The United States will cease to be “the world’s policeman.”

    This may sell well politically, but it would be a disaster for America and for freedom-loving peoples everywhere.”

    These sentences sound like they came straight out of 1984. Guardiano is one of those people who thinks that “freedom-loving people everywhere” share his apparent vision of a world where peace is enforced by making every other country a vassal to the USA, with their loyalty enforced using the American military.

    He probably still thinks the Iraq War was a great idea. Any minute now the Iraqis will be erecting that statue of George W. Bush in Baghdad and laying wreaths at it saying “Thank you to our liberators”.

    To this gang, freedom means self-determination for America, and America-determination for everyone else. They are the people George Washington warned about.

    Then again, what should one really expect from a man who heaps praise on, of all people, Mark Levin? Guardiano’s Twitter feed is comedic gold, a great illustration of the perils of unfiltered rambling.

  • quanta

    “If you want to reform the defense budget, fine. Offer specific proposals and let’s discuss and debate them. But let’s not gut the defense budget.”

    Why don’t you get us started, John Guardiano. What specific defense budget reforms would you propose? What programs do you think should be cut within defense?

    By the way:

    “The Army hasn’t fielded a new combat vehicle in more than a generation” -> Stryker

    “Navy is struggling to achieve and maintain even a minimalist 300-ship fleet” -> Minimalist and 300-ship fleet do not belong together in the same sentence.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    Oh, and one more thing: if you want to be even remotely honest, stop using the word “defense”. That’s not what our military is about, nor has it been for many years. And that’s just the way you like it.

  • Rabiner

    TRS:

    “Oh, and one more thing: if you want to be even remotely honest, stop using the word “defense”. That’s not what our military is about, nor has it been for many years. And that’s just the way you like it.”

    good point. ‘defense spending’ is more like war spending with some defense thrown in at the moment.

  • hisgirlfriday

    [blockquote]In other words, America’s coming home. We’re no longer going to play a lead or dominant role in world affairs. The United States will cease to be “the world’s policeman.”

    This may sell well politically, but it would be a disaster for America and for freedom-loving peoples everywhere.[/blockquote]

    Someone needs to pass you the smelling salts. Man, you sound hysterical here.

    America ceasing to be “world’s policeman” doesn’t mean we’re suddenly nonexistent on the world stage. Last time I checked… the capital of world diplomacy is still located on U.S. soil and the U.S. dollar is still the world’s reserve currency. Oh and we would still have the world’s biggest, strongest, baddest military if we brought our troops home and made all of Obama’s cuts. We’d just be in a position to secure our border with Mexico then and our military servicemen and women might get a chance to catch their breath. Plus, our military leaders might get a chance to regroup and assess with an objective look just how the world has changed in the last 10 years and be able to craft a forward-looking rather than reactive military strategy that matches the challenges of the world today rather than just spinning spinning spinning to make themselves look good to save face despite past military mistakes.

    Also, what’s with the slur about the American people for it being politically popular to bring the troops home?

    It’s kind of obnoxious how condescending our political class (both politicians and pundits) is toward the average American citizen when it comes to foreign policy if we’re not all neoconservative or neoliberal hawks like them. Oh us rubes in the hinterland can’t possibly oppose endless war on principled or reasoned grounds. If only we were members of the Council on Foreign Relations or went to dinner parties with defense contractor lobbyists, then we’d be as enlightened as the beltway folks who really care about America’s freedom unlike us. GMAFB.

    Guess what, Mr. Guardiano? Us rubes in the heartland are sick and tired of seeing our friends and family members having their patriotism for this country manipulated by folks who expect them to put their lives on the line to protect Chevron’s access to Iraqi oil or help some military bureaucrat or politician who voted for a war ten years ago save face now that it’s not gone exactly the way they planned.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    hisgirl: The sad truth is that people like Guardiano don’t give a shit about the troops. They view them simply as a tool to be exploited as part of a never-ending campaign of global penis-waving, as pawns to be sacrificed for the greater cause of “security” that has now been defined as something that can never be achieved. There will always be another war, another enemy, another reason to expand the military.

    Because it isn’t that peace and safety are the end and the military the means. The military itself is the end, and the eternal pumping up of bogeymen is the means.

    As for “rubes in the hinterland”, Guardiano himself is really just a small fry who desperately wants to swim in the big pond. Outside of this site and a couple of others nobody has ever heard of him. I saw a piece he wrote on the American Spectator about the constitution last week and even on that conservative site he got dismantled by nearly all of his commenters because of his utter lack of understanding of the subject matter he addressed.

    At any rate, fifty years later, fools like Guardiano make the speech below more relevant than ever.

    “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ”

    – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

  • Watusie

    It is simple.

    We spend way more on the military than we need to.

    We need to reduce the deficit.

    Cutting military spending is an excellent place to start.

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  • Frumplestiltskin

    ok, a number of factual mistakes here:
    Obama’s healthcare “savings” are even more fanciful.
    The CBO has scored that the ACA will lower the long term deficit down by 1.343 trillion dollars by 2030, all the while providing close to full insurance coverage for Americans…which leads to a healthier and more productive society. How it is that the CBO’s projections become “fanciful” when Republicans don’t believe them.
    Another thing, the reason why the deficit will not go down 38 billion is because of increased defense spending in places like Libya. I support this action 100%, I simply do not understand the rational that we therefore have to cut spending even more to get this 38 billion back, you can always RAISE taxes to pay for wars. We did during WW2. Now paying for war must be done by future generations.

    And please, don’t quote the Heritage Foundation, it is a bullshit hack site:
    “The military’s equipment is old and therefore unreliable, increasingly out of date technologically, and insufficient in number.”
    This is beyond stupid. As compared to what? F-ing Jackass. I lived in China in an Apartment complex that overlooked a military base, the soldiers often trained with replicas. I seldom heard actual gunfire or target practice, the soldiers living conditions were primitive (ok, it made them tough as to enduring harsh conditions, but harsh conditions are a fact of life for many Chinese it doesn’t make you a good soldier)
    Their computers run Windows, have terrible security precautions, their own domestic chip industry is a decade behind our own.
    Back in 2002 I was hiking in Xiamen in the mountains and bushwhacked my way accidentally onto the Naval base there, I was with a Chinese friend, and we saw all the ships in the harbor without realizing we were in a restricted zone, as we headed down we were intercepted by a few guards who quickly hustled us away as I am sure they knew it would have been their asses if it was found out just how much I had seen. And it was totally innocent on my part.
    This being China, the nation that spends the second most on their defense, they are decades behind us. Stop with the bullshit scare tactics, it makes you look foolish.

    “And it would hamstring us militarily at a time when America’s enemies — in Waziristan, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Pyongyang” My oh my, just chock full of places today, aren’t we. War with North Korea would likely lead to ww3 with China unless NK goes off the reservation and launches their own attack. And just how most of these other enemies, say in Somalia, going to hurt America outside of their piracy? It is a big ocean, a 10,000 fleet navy couldn’t patrol it all, besides if the shipping companies would agree to naval escorted convoys we can eliminate it, they don’t want to wait as it is cheaper to pay an occasional ransom then wait for a convoy to assemble. And just how is a Talib from Waziristan going to attack America? They can attack Americans in Afghanistan but where is the evidence that US troops are not adequately supplied? And we could spend 10 trillion a year on defense, people willing to blow themselves up won’t care about that.

    I have no problem with not cutting the defense budget if Guardiano is willing to pay for it with higher taxes. If not, he is blowing smoke out of his ass. I, for one, and willing to pay higher taxes to ensure we have a defense department that can meet the challenges of the future (without being alarmist…ooohh. Somalia, oooh, Tajikistan… lets spend a billion more on defense because they are all evil)

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  • think4yourself

    Okay, I’ll give John Guardiano some credit – he’ll respond to comments that are posted about his article.

    JG has a different worldview than I. I suspect we could spend twice as much as the rest of the world and John wouldn’t think it’s enough.

    Just because we didn’t put boots on the ground in Libya (which neither Dems nor most GOP want), doesn’t mean we couldn’t in an emergency. Just because we decide not to unilaterally act in every tense internatational situation doesn’t mean we are abandoning the rest of the world and not defending American interests. In fact, having our allies put their own money and blood gives them buy-in and ownership of international issues which isn’t a bad thing (the GOP hates it when the gov’t acts like Big Brother – except in foriegn affairs in which case it means we don’t believe in “American Exceptionalism”). And just because the actual “defense” budget (that doesn’t count Homeland Security of 56 billion dollars which is really part of defense) is a smaller part of GDP than in previous years doesn’t mean we aren’t spending enough money (I spend less money on computers today than 15 years ago, that doesn’t mean they are less powerful). By the way our Naval tonnage is larger than the next 13 nations combined (this was Wikipedia quoted from an article written by Robert Gates published by the Council on Foriegn Relations Feb. 2009).

    You are right about military pay and benefits increasing. In fact, during the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, military pay and benefits have increased 45%. That was needed to boost recruitment especially in Iraq when casualties were the highest. I think that was a good thing and don’t want to say anything bad about the troops (much of my family is military) but I don’t see those increases continuing and perhaps there should be some decreases. Tri-care is also too rich and the troops ought to contribute more (so says my dad USAF, retired – 23 years of service, Vietnam Vet).

    Here’s the point. In order to bring some stability to our financial situation, there will be painful cuts for all and should be tax increases. There will be cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And, there will be cuts in Defense. The key defense issue is whether or not our resources allow us to achieve our stated goals and reasonably protect American interests.

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