By Jim Kouri
During several statements he made regarding the impending military budget cuts ordered by President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sounded more like a high school football coach in an inner-city public school than the leader of the world’s best staffed and best equipped military machine.
Basically, Panetta reiterated comments by Obama on how he expects to accomplish the new mission in the 21st century. The positive spin is that the United States needs a smaller, quicker, more agile military.
He claimed that such an action is the basis behind the recently released strategy review that will set the stage for the fiscal 2013 Defense Department budget request. However, several former generals and military analysts believe this President is “gutting” U.S. national security in order to transfer money to social programs and economic stimulus such as the Solyndra debacle.
Truth be told, because entitlement spending has tripled while defense spending declined as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), entitlement spending (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) is now 10 percent of GDP, whereas defense spending is only 5 percent.
As documented in The Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Budget Chart Book, even eliminating all defense spending would not solve the federal spending crisis. Since 1976, annual entitlement spending has exceeded defense spending, even with the cost of wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Don’t be surprised to hear President Obama attempt to sound more like a hawk as we approach 2012. Having failed to oversee an economic comeback, he will attempt to sound presidential in foreign affairs. He’ll attempt to sound more patriotic with some audiences and his news media cheerleaders will help,” said political strategist Mike Baker.
Force structure will come down in the years to come, the secretary told Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service, but the military will continue to be able to engage in the full range of conflicts even with spending $487 billion less over the next 10 years.
The Army will get smaller, but the reduction will be slow and balanced as recommended by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Panetta stated.
The way the force will be used will change under the strategy, the secretary said. While there will remain forces in Asia and the Middle East — two areas of particular focus for the United States –- other areas will not be uncovered. Rotational forces – the way Army Special Forces currently deploy – will expand to conventional forces. The rotational deployments mean the military “will be in a position to cover not only the area that will be a primary focus … but we will be able to cover the world,” he said.
The new air-sea battle doctrine will allow the military to handle more than one conflict at a time. “The example I’ve used is if we are in a land war in Korea and Iran does something in the Strait of Hormuz –- to go after that and to deal with that threat is largely going to be the responsibility of the Air Force and Navy,” Panetta said. “Same if we are in Afghanistan and something breaks out in the Taiwan Straits or the South China Sea, … confronting that would largely be a naval and air capability.”
The secretary is adamant that the budget will not be reduced on the backs of service members. He specified there will be no changes to military retirement for those serving today.
“We are going to design the requirements for any commission that looks at retirement,” he said. “One of the requirements is that those already serving are fully grandfathered.”
This new round of cuts reminds many of President Bill Clinton’s “peace dividend” in which the U.S. went from 18 Army divisions to just 10, and Clinton reduced the number of warships, fighter planes and other big-ticket items.
It was actions such as those that helped Clinton achieve a balanced budget.