It seems that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has become Washington’s newest whipping boy, drawing the ire of nearly everyone who might in any way have an interest in national security. No sooner did he complete his preview of the FY15 Defense Budget than critics pounced with an eye-watering zeal. Most have argued that his recommended cuts to our military will fatally compromise America’s security while others feel the cuts weren’t deep enough given the end of our two long-running wars. And some have noted the lack of an accompanying defense strategy (apparently forgetting last year’s Strategic Choices and Management Review Report (SCMR) and the soon to be released 2014 Quadrennial Defense Report) that would have provided a context for how the smaller force will be employed to protect our security interests. Frankly, while the various criticisms have merit in their particulars they largely miss the mark in addressing the root problem: the institutional irresponsibility of both Congress and the White House in the gross mismanagement of our national finances with the consequence that our government is on the verge of failing to provide for the security of our Nation.
The Secretary provided a rather blunt, though carefully worded, assessment of the various challenges confronting the Department of Defense: growing levels of uncertainty in world affairs, worsening of the threat environment, and the increased levels of risk the U.S. will need to accept as our military forces shrink. He pointedly noted that “the abrupt spending cuts…imposed on DOD” were so severe that we would reap a force “not capable of fulfilling assigned missions,” indeed resulting in an Army, for example, having the capacity to address only a single major contingency. In spite of any presumed efficiencies to be gained through consolidation, reform, and reduction, a smaller and less resourced force will be able to do less and will have a difficult time succeeding in a world where “American [military] dominance…can no longer be taken for granted.”
Hagel would have better served the country by flatly stating that the mindless cuts agreed to by both the Congress and the White House have put this Nation at unacceptable risk; the budget he should have announced should have been the one he held in reserve, the one fully constrained by sequester-level funding. As is, his wishful budget, premised on additional funding to be negotiated between Congress and the White House, will likely convey the false notion that our soon-to-be-hobbled military will be able to adequately defend U.S. security interests.
Sadly, neither the Administration nor Congress appears to have it within them to address the primary challenge that actually confronts our Nation: out-of-control deficit spending driven almost exclusively by a national public entitlements program that is relentlessly compromising the security and long-term viability of the United States.
Members of Congress have already pushed back against every recommendation made by Hagel to address the impending implosion of our defense establishment driven by sequester-constrained funding. Taken in their entirety, these protests collectively prevent any change to defense spending even though it was Congress itself that imposed such reductions in the first place! Does no one remember the stunning failure of the “supercommittee” in 2011 or the fact that the President vowed to veto any effort by Congress to repeal their mindless handiwork?
Various efficiencies can certainly be found throughout the Department and the Pentagon should aggressively root out waste and unnecessary redundancies so that it exercises the most responsible stewardship of the resources America provides it. But it must be adequately funded to provide for the effective and relevant defense of our country as we have previously addressed in A Strong National Defense and The Measure of a Superpower and in the just released 2014 Defense Reform Handbook.
In essence, the proposed Defense budget actually serves as a stinging indictment of the callous disregard this Administration and much of Congress has for the long-term well-being of the country. The fact of the matter is this: our national financial problems derive from the insidious welfare and entitlement state that both entities have helped to create, sustain, and expand. The bulk of our spending resides in the non-discretionary accounts that both political parties and both branches of government are loath to address. As a consequence, the security of our country is being sacrificed to pay the cost of Congressional and Executive Branch fecklessness, intransigence, shortsightedness, and political grandstanding. The Obama Administration has shown in its own national defense budget that it cares more about committing American taxpayers to greater indebtedness than keeping our country safe and our interests protected and Congress is a fully willing accomplice. Something is certainly needed to impose on Congress the fiscal discipline that it seems unable to summon on its own. Whatever that is, its focus should be on correcting the real problem of expanded entitlements and rampant deficit spending, not on abrogating the one responsibility only the Federal government can fulfill.