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April 28, 2011

Obama Shuffles National Security Team. Prelude To Defense Budget Fight?

Lots of familiar names, especially if you remember the Bush administration.

In the biggest change, CIA Director Leon Panetta will replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates when Gates makes his long-planned exit this summer. In remarks introducing the Cabinet and Afghan war leaders, Obama also bade farewell to Gates after a tenure begun more than four years ago under President George W. Bush.

Gen. David Petraeus, the high-profile commander of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will replace Panetta at the CIA in the fall, after helping to manage the first steps of a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the summer.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen will succeed Petraeus as the top commander in Afghanistan, and seasoned diplomat Ryan Crocker will take over as ambassador there. The new team in Kabul will manage the planned shift toward a back-seat role for the United States and its NATO partners, as Afghan security forces gradually assume responsibility. Both Allen and Crocker have experience with a similar transition in Iraq, and with the effort there to broker deals with former militants and political rivals that U.S. officials want to mirror in Afghanistan.

The two biggest names and jobs Patreaus at CIA and Panetta to Defense are obviously the most interesting.

I think the Panetta pick is interesting because aside from his time at CIA (where he oversaw an increase in the drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan) most of Panetta's experience is with budgets. He was Chairman of the House Budget Committee and Clinton's OMB Director. With Obama making it clear that he sees defense as a rich source of savings ($400 Billion worth), you have to think Panetta's charge is to cut, cut and cut so more (then cut again).

Congressman Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee isn't on board with Obama proposals.

If implemented, this plan would intensify the stresses on our troops while eliminating the resources available to them to accomplish their missions. Simply put, this is irresponsible leadership and disrespectful of the immense sacrifice our fighting men and women have made on behalf of this Republic.

In his first two years of office, this administration has ballooned domestic spending to astonishing levels. At the same time, the Obama Defense Department cut back or canceled more than 20 major military modernization systems and slashed our strategic nuclear deterrent — all while opening a third theater of war in Libya.

After cutting $78 billion from the defense budget earlier this year, and harvesting $100 billion more in projected savings in 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that we had reached the "minimum level of defense spending that is necessary" to meet the complex threats of the 21st century. Anything further, Gates said, would be "potentially calamitous."

I doubt even Secretary Gates imagined a $400 billion cost-cutting plan that would wholly gut the military and callously endanger the American homeland. Not during wartime, not as the Middle East teeters on the verge of anarchy, and not as our soldiers are in harm's way.

It is somewhat counter intuitive to some people that as we wind down our involvement in Iraq and probably Afghanistan, we can't simply strip the defense budget down. I was talking to tmi3rd last night about this and off the top of my head came up with a list of major systems coming due for replacement....

The Navy expect a large number of ships to age out at the same time in the next 10-15 years. This includes the Ohio Class of ballistic missile subs.

The Air Force is working on a new strategic bomber and would like to upgrade its ICBM fleet.

Then there's the biggest defense procurement program of all...the star crossed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

And that doesn't include what the Army is going to need to reset or the Marine Corps, USAF tankers, attack subs for the Navy to challenge the growing Chinese fleet and on and on and on.

It's not going to just be a question of budgets but of missions. You simply can't say we're cutting x number of dollars and expect to be able to the same missions (not just Afghanistan) that we are doing now. If you want to cut $400 billion as Obama wants to, you better be able to tell the country what they won't be getting in the future because while there's always money that can be saved you're talking a lot more than the defense equivalent of 'waste, fraud and abuse' at that level.

What do we get for our defense dollar? It's not just a question of being the world's policeman or a "global force for good". America's economic interests require access to markets, resources and a reasonably stable international order. Cutting back on our ability to police the global commons means someone (hello China) will step in, the job won't be done or likely some combination of both.

Ultimately this is a questions of values. Is America a nation that needs a military so its citizens have the environment and opportunity to build their lives to the best of their ability or is it simply a gigantic health care and retirement plan with a military to protect it?

Push has come to shove and real choices are going to have to be made.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:09 PM

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