As the Secretary of Defense nominee Leon Panetta has his nomination hearing today, the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and The Heritage Foundation published a list of important questions that Congress should ask prior to Panetta’s confirmation.
As Panetta was a chief architect of the defense budget drawdown in the 1990s, Congress should make sure that the U.S. interests at home and abroad will remain protected and that the government will “provide for the common defense.”
The baseline defense budget is now 3.5 percent of America’s GDP, a figure well below the post–World War II average of 7.5 percent. Mr. Panetta will be required to execute President Obama’s deficit reduction plan, which calls for $400 billion in cuts to national security spending over the next 12 years. This would put the GDP percentage of the defense budget at its lowest in the entire post–World War II era.
President Obama’s plan to cut defense spending reflects his misplaced priorities as entitlements, not the defense spending, are a cause of the country’s fiscal woes. The proper question for Congress to ask Panetta would be: “Should defense be given higher priority than other areas of federal spending?”
America’s military is a pillar underpinning the current world order, the most beneficial to the largest number of people in the history of mankind. Undermining America’s strength might have many unintended and unfortunate consequences not only for the United States but also for its allies all over the world.
The decrease in funding for modernization of the U.S. military is an additional reason for concern. Today, due to the high operational tempo—a result of the military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq—the equipment attrition level is much higher than what the procurement planners originally projected. “How is the modernization challenge to be addressed with a defense budget that is flat or declining?” should be a question for Congress to ask. If the cuts in the defense budget will require cuts in the manpower, Congress should be interested in what places Panetta would recommend that we forgo and what “things” he would recommend that the American military stop doing.
Congress, in fulfilling its due diligence duty, should find out answers to these questions prior to considering Panetta to lead the Department of Defense.