Representative Paul Ryan (R–WI) generated a few headlines defending his defense budget.
When pressed about why he wanted to invest more in the military than the Pentagon brass asked for, Ryan had an answer that raised eyebrows: “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice,” Ryan said at the National Journal Live Budget Policy summit, adding, “I think there’s a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon’s budget.”
Ryan has good reason to be skeptical—not of the integrity of senior military leaders but of the budget that they are duty-bound to defend.
Just two years ago, the Obama Administration signed off on a Quadrennial Defense Review that required a substantially larger and more capable military. Now they are producing anemic budgets where 75 percent of the cuts, by the Secretary of Defense’s own admission, are reductions in military capability.
Has the world become dramatically safer in two years? Of course not. Obama’s defense cuts are driven by his strategy of slashing support for the military to pretend he is being fiscally responsible. The reality is that defense is les than one-fifth the federal budget, but the President slapped it with one-half of his proposed cuts.
Why is the brass signing off on this? Well, that’s their job. I know well how this works. I saw it first hand serving in the Pentagon. The Constitution establishes civilian supremacy over the military. The President is commander in chief. He defines strategic requirements, so the way he gets the military leaders to agree is simple: He just lowers the bar of expectations. He dumbs down the requirements.
So when Congress asks the brass, “Do you have enough?” They have no choice but to answer “yes.” It is like telling marathoner who has not had time to train that he only has to run a 5-K race. Sure, he’s ready—unless he actually has to run a marathon.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when the military rubber-stamps the President’s budget. Nor should we be surprised when Congress questions them. That is the job of the Congress. The Constitution charges Congress with raising and maintaining the Armed Forces.
Ryan has just called the President’s bluff. The generals and admirals are stuck in the middle.
If you don’t like what is going on in the Pentagon, blame the commander in chief, not the generals—after all, that is who they work for.