On Wednesday, in response to Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity," President Obama announced sweeping cuts to the budget to pay down the deficit, including significant defense cuts. In contrast, Paul Ryan's budget proposed last week did not significantly decrease defense spending, indeed it matched President Obama's FY12 request submitted in February.
House Republicans seem to realize that defense is different. President Obama appears to believe that defense is a large part of the problem.
His proposals would cut $400 billion in security spending from the budget by 2023. Two months ago, the president submitted a budget to Congress that already included cuts to defense. The president now seems to think that those were not significant enough.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that during the run-up to the administration's FY12 request, Secretary Gates made clear that the $178 billion in cuts forced upon the Pentagon by the White House during the budget process left "the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary, given the complex and unpredictable array of security challenges the United States faces around the globe: global terrorist networks, rising military powers, nuclear-armed rogue states, and much, much more." Gates went on to say that proposals for major reductions in defense spending would be "risky at best, and potentially calamitous."
Instead of listening to Gates, Obama now is following the lead of Deficit Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. They, at least, were honest about their goals. Their proposals released last December included "Keep America safe, while rethinking our 21st century global role."
Ongoing unrest in the Middle East and U.S. involvement in an unexpected war in Libya, extensive humanitarian operations in Japan, and continued threats from rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, should remind us that "rethinking our 21st century global role" is not possible. Just addressing current challenges, let alone preparing for the threats of tomorrow, will be difficult at current funding levels.
Secretary Gates seems to realize this, saying this in January:
For more than 60 years, the United States, backed up by the strength, reach and unquestioned superiority of our military, has been the underwriter of security for most of the free world. The benefits in terms of stability, prosperity and the steady expansion of political freedom and economic growth have accrued not only to our allies and partners, but above all to the American people. We shrink from our global security responsibilities at our peril, as retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later -- indeed, as they always have in the past."
The cuts announced by President Obama this week repeat the mistakes of past presidents exploiting "peace dividends" that in the end never paid out.
Obama's defense gambit should present an opportunity for Republicans in Congress and 2012 aspirants. In recent months, Republicans have rightly focused on fiscal responsibility, but now is the time to remind the American people that there is a way to cut the deficit and restore fiscal sanity without bankrupting our national security.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.