Micah Zenko writes: Once upon a time, at the end of significant and sustained global military commitments, the White House sought to reduce a defense budget that had been awarded steady increases year after year. Ordered to make cuts by a White House-Congress budget summit agreement, the Pentagon undertook a series of reviews to adjust the U.S. military’s role in a transformed international environment. The National Military Strategy determined: “The real threat that we now face is the threat of the unknown, the uncertain. The threat is instability and being unprepared to handle a crisis or war that no one predicted or expected.” The secretary of defense further warned that the United States still faced “[a] world that is full of instability, where there are threats and challenges to a stable world.”
Despite its newfound concern over uncertainty, instability, and the unknown, the Pentagon’s updated military strategy allowed for a 25 percent reduction in defense spending over a five-year period. With the federal budget deficit having increased more than 50 percent over the preceding half decade, certain members of Congress sought even larger defense cuts of 40 percent over five years. During a contentious hearing, one of those congressional members — the House Budget Committee chairman — warned that “The days of big spending, free-wheeling defense budgets are clearly over.” To which the secretary of defense fired back: “We’ve already cut the living daylights out of the defense budget, Mr. Chairman.”
Sound familiar? Readers with long memories will recognize the year and the players: 1991, and the fight was between Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and House Budget Committee Chairman Leon Panetta over the first post-Cold War defense budget. Cheney won, and Pentagon spending was reduced by 25 percent over five years.
Today, the White House and congressional Republicans are racing to find an agreement to avoid sequestration, which would mandate $492 billion in defense cuts — roughly $55 billion per year — from fiscal years 2013 through 2021. This would be in addition to the $487 billion in lower spending that the Pentagon proposed over the same period. Even if sequestration is avoided, there reportedly will be limited additional reductions in U.S. military spending — cuts that many analysts and defense contractors believe are inevitable.
Like Dick Cheney 21 years ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has engaged in an exhaustive effort to avoid both sequestration and any further reductions in the Pentagon’s budget. The distinction between Panetta and his predecessors, however, is in the tactics he has employed to protect his bureaucratic turf. Panetta has belittled the process of deliberative democracy, told Congress how it should reduce the federal debt, and declared that the Pentagon cannot survive another penny in cuts. [Continue reading…]