A bipartisan critique of the Obama administration’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) by the National Defense Panel is a devastating takedown of the administration’s determination to reduce America’s military to pre-WWII levels. “Since World War II, no matter which party has controlled the White House or Congress, America’s global military capability and commitment has been the strategic foundation undergirding our global leadership,” the report states. “Given that reality, the defense budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, coupled with the additional cuts and constraints on defense management under the law’s sequestration provision, constitute a serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States.”
The report emphasizes the myriad number of threats of which most Americans are well aware, including “a troubling pattern of assertiveness and regional intimidation on China’s part, the recent aggression of Russia in Ukraine, nuclear proliferation on the part of North Korea and Iran, a serious insurgency in Iraq that both reflects and fuels the broader sectarian conflicts in the region, the civil war in Syria, and civil strife in the larger Middle East and throughout Africa.”
Other threats include the “rapidly expanding availability of lethal technologies to both state and non-state actors; demographic shifts including increasing urbanization; diffusion of power among many nations, particularly rising economic and military powers in Asia; and heated competition to secure access to scarce natural resources.”
It further noted that the shrinkage of U.S. forces, resulting from the severe budget cuts imposed on our fighting forces constitutes a “serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States,” and that force levels in the president’s QDR are “inadequate given the future strategic and operational environment.”
The panel was also critical of the president’s reduction of the nation’s global mission has long enabled the military to fight two wars simultaneously, to one where we are capable of defeating one enemy while keeping another one in check. “We find the logic of the two-war construct to be as powerful as ever and note that the force sizing construct in the 2014 QDR strives to stay within the two-war tradition while using different language. But given the worsening threat environment, we believe a more expansive force sizing construct — one that is different from the two-war construct but no less strong — is appropriate,” the report stated. It called on Obama to expand his current mission statement—one driven far more by budget concerns than global threats.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) addressed the misplaced priorities. “It is the same conclusion many Americans have already reached,” he said. “There is a cost when America does not lead, and there are consequences when America disengages. What the president fails to understand — which the report points out — is that a strong military underwrites all other tools our nation has for global influence.”
The report, which concludes that the “Navy and Air Force should be larger,” reveals that we are moving in the opposite direction. It explains that the Navy is “on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less,” giving them far fewer ships than 323 to 346 previously recommended. The report further notes that an even larger fleet could be necessary “if the risk of conflict in the Western Pacific if increases.”
An even grimmer picture of the Air Force emerges, with the report explaining that it is currently fielding the “smallest and oldest force in its history,” despite the need to project a “global surveillance and strike force able to rapidly deploy to theaters of operation to deter, defeat or punish multiple aggressors simultaneously.”
The panel understands the fiscal challenges facing the government, but states that attempting to solve those problems on the backs of the military is not only “too risky,” but “won’t work.” “America must get her fiscal house in order while simultaneously funding robust military spending,” the panel concludes. In a shot across the administration’s bow, the panel explains that health care spending in the military and overall is “stunning wasteful,” consuming “more than a third of the federal budget.”
It’s actually worse than that, if one includes benefits and entitlements, driven primarily by “non-means tested government programs,” defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those that provide benefits to Americans regardless of their income levels. In 2013, the federal government paid out more than $2 trillion in such programs, which consumed 58.1 percent of the $3.4 trillion in total federal outlays. In the first eleven months of FY2013 the federal government received a record-setting $2.4 trillion in revenue, yet still ran a deficit of $755 billion. This year revenues are expected to top $3 trillion, but the deficit is still projected to be $648 billion.
Clearly something has to give. Unfortunately as far as the Obama administration is concerned, the welfare state, rather than the military that makes it possible, takes precedence.
In fact, the administration has recently put the pedal further to the metal. At the beginning of the month, the Army announced it will downsize the number of majors by 550, including some still serving in combat operations in Afghanistan. This move follows another recent effort to slash 1,200 captains from the force as well. “The ones that are deployed are certainly the hardest,” Gen. John Campbell, the vice chief of the Army told reporters. “What we try to do there is, working through the chain of command, minimize the impact to that unit and then maximize the time to provide to that officer to come back and do the proper transition, to take care of himself or herself, and the family.”
The cuts are being made among majors who joined the service between 1999 and 2003, and while some will have enough time on the job to retire, many won’t. The effort is all part of the aforementioned move by the Obama administration to reduce the size of the military from its current level of 514,000 soldiers to 490,000 by October 2015, and 450,000 by 2019. Automatic budget cuts currently in place could ultimately reduce the number of soldiers to 420,000— a number leaders contend would leave the nation incapable of fighting even one sustained military conflict.
None of this was lost on the panel. Writing for National Review, House and Senate Armed Services Committee member, Rep. Jim Talent (R-MO), who was part of the panel, explains that while there were the “usual arguments over specific wording and programmatic recommendations…the broad conclusions were easy to reach. In fact, they were obvious to anyone with eyes to see the rapid deterioration of our armed forces and the worsening global threats that became manifestly more dangerous even during the months the panel was deliberating.”
He then gets to the heart of the matter. Citing our “rudderless and sometimes unreal foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East,” he further explains that the problem “isn’t just an Administration that acts as if America is weak. The problem is also that America is weak, and becoming weaker, relative to the threats posed by its adversaries – which is the only measurement of military power that really matters.” This leads Talent to a stark conclusion. “The world will get a lot messier until that changes,” he warns. It is a warning the Obama administration ignores at its peril—and that of the entire nation.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.