National Defense

"Republicans Are Endangering National Security." By Which We Mean Uncontrolled Defense Spending.

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Here's former Defense Secretary William Cohen—a former GOP senator from Maine who served in Bill Clinton's cabinet—tossing a big smoke grenade in the New York Times to provide cover for a new push for increased defense spending:

I have long been concerned that my party's rigid antitax ideology is harming the fiscal health of our nation. Now it is harming our national security as well, as cuts in defense spending on a calamitous scale are about to be triggered. Congressional Republicans need to look back at this sad episode and decide: Do they care more about keeping "a no tax pledge" or giving our troops the tools they need to protect the nation?

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta is already cutting deeply into the Pentagon's budget, reducing spending by $465 billion over the coming decade. He has indicated that he plans to cut areas once considered untouchable, like military medical and retirement benefits. Savings might also be found in commissaries and exchanges, tuition assistance and duplicative family-support programs….

The Navy is likely to mothball 60 ships, including two carrier battle groups — a possibility that led Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval operations, to testify that the cuts could "impact the fleet for 20 to 50 years." The Air Force might have to give up one-third of its fighters and a quarter of its long-range bombers, calling into question our nuclear deterrent. The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, testified that the Air Force "may not be able to overcome dire consequences." And the Army is likely to have to give up nearly a third of its Army Maneuver Battalions — which is why the Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, has warned that the cuts would leave us with "an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk." The cuts would also decimate the Marine Corps, leaving it "below the end strength level that's necessary to support even one major contingency," the service's commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, has warned.

Whole bit here.

Where do you start with something like this? Because the super committee failed in its mission to generate plan to cut $1.2 trillion in spending over the next decade, the automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts that go into effect beginning in 2013 will be really bad for the military, argues Cohen. Exactly how anti-tax ideology figures into any of this is unclear, since Cohen could have argued just as easily that Democrats' unwillingness to offer spending cuts created the committee's impasse.

Defense Secretary Panetta "might" find savings in commissaries and "duplicative" programs? Well have at it already! Nothing's stopping you. Has a decade-plus of elective wars done anything to degrade our defense capabilities? Cohen's not saying.

But let's focus in on the former secretary's completely phony notion that the Defense budget is in any way threatened by "cuts." Most of us would take this to mean that you spend less money on something from year to year. That isn't what's happening.

Here's a chart created by Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy that shows the effect of the sequester cuts on spending over the next decade.

The numbers here come from the Congressional Budget Office's August update of the budget baseline. Assuming the sequester cuts actually kick in 2013, what you see is a 16 percent increase in defense spending over the next decade. An increase, not a cut. And, lest we forget, that 16 percent increase will come on top of a 71 percent increase (in real, inflation-adjusted dollars; see figure 5) between 2001 and 2010. According to CBO, annual budgets are going nowhere but up whether the sequester kicks in or not.

If Cohen's bleating about the U.S. military being hollowed out sounds familiar, it's because he's simply following the same script as right-wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, who have equated any spending restraint on defense with cheaping out on the "price of greatness." What Cohen's piece thus reveals is not a dire emergency for national defense but just exactly how the military-industrial complex works: We've always got to be spending tons more on defense. Spending less that we can imagine is exactly the sort of cut that will leave us vulnerable to any enemy you can imagine and is just unpatriotic.

Take it away, Ike (who knew war and defense as well as anyone alive today):