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Jewish World Review
Jan 4, 2012/ 9 Teves, 5772
Cutting the military by blunt force
The nation must restrain its spending habits and the Pentagon must do its part. On that there is general agreement, but where it begins coming unglued is just how big a part that should be.
In 2010, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates pre-emptively proposed $100 billion in cuts over five years. That barely caused a ripple because the war in Iraq was winding down and the war in Afghanistan, it was thought, soon would be.
Then last summer, congressional leaders had to agree to sizable spending cuts to get rambunctious Republican backbenchers to go along with a bill to keep the nation from defaulting. The price for the Pentagon was $450 billion in cuts over 10 years, an amount that was grudgingly deemed "manageable."
Late last year, when the congressional "supercommittee" failed to reach satisfactory agreement on additional spending cuts, that triggered an additional $600 billion in automatic across-the-board cuts over 10 years in defense spending.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rightly balked at the damage that $1 trillion in largely indiscriminate slashing of our armed forces would do to our defense posture. He objected both to the size of the cuts -- "like shooting ourselves in the head" --and to the manner of the cuts. Across-the-board cuts, he told Congress, were "unexecutable" because "you cannot buy three-quarters of a ship or a building."
The Pentagon is preparing a tentative list of cuts for President Barack Obama's fiscal 2013 budget. And there are any number of cuts that can be made: reduce the size of the armed forces; reduce or cancel purchases of advanced weapons systems such as the F-35 and new naval vessels; reduce or cap military pay, health and retirement benefits; and postpone a badly overdue overhaul of our nuclear arsenal.
Even if defense hawks in Congress succeed in softening the cuts, it will still mean a change in traditional U.S. defense doctrine, from the ability to fight two sustained traditional ground wars simultaneously to the ability to fight one such war while retaining enough force to frustrate an enemy's ambitions elsewhere.
There is both the room and the reason to downsize the military --within reason. But these proposed cuts smack more of political than military strategy, and the larger and thus more indiscriminate they are, the more likely some of those cuts will be wrong, some of them dangerously so.
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