Military-Industrial Complex Throws a Tantrum over Tiny Pentagon Budget Cuts

The following article first appeared on the Web site of the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its email newsletters.  

To no one’s surprise, the military-industrial complex and its allies are pushing back against the Obama administration’s plans to trim some fat at the Pentagon.

The big boys—namely, the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Defense Industrial Association and the Professional Services Council—co-wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warning that even Panetta’s modest efforts to slow defense spending could lead to catastrophe. Panetta’s proposed $480 billion reduction might fatally undermine the defense industrial base, the letter warned, and it added that they expect further cuts in years to come.

Noting that the Congressional supercommittee’s failure to reach an accord might trigger another $600 billion in defense cuts, the three industry heavyweights said, “Even if the trillion-dollar ‘doomsday’ scenario is avoided, respondents were operating under the assumption that, based on past history, more cuts would be added on top of the $480 billion over the next decade.”

Hawks, including many cited in a Washington Times survey of reaction to the strategic review, are especially alarmed by the administration’s decision to reverse the current strategy that calls on the Defense Department to be capable of fighting two wars at once. In addition, President Obama and Panetta want to shrink the Army and the Marines, cut back on counterinsurgency capabilities and fall back on air and naval deployments, high-tech gizmos and intelligence, while shifting America’s priority from the Middle East to Asia and the Pacific.

It’s all about money, not strategy, though. General Carl E. Mundy, a retired Marine commander, told the Washington Times:

“The new strategy is one derived not from risk analysis, but by fiscal constraints. One has only to ask, ‘Would we have conceived this strategy had not we been driven financially to do so?’ I doubt anyone in the business of defense would answer yes.’”

True enough. Last week, in announcing the review, Panetta himself said, ”Fiscal crisis has forced us to face the strategic shift that’s taking place now.”

Writing in the Weekly Standard, two officials from the American Enterprise Institute, which co-founded the neoconservative Defending Defense coalition with the Heritage Foundation and Bill Kristol’s Foreign Policy Initiative,called the end of the two-war policy “a bright green light to our enemies and a flashing red one to our friends and allies.” They added:

With the end of the Cold War in sight, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell in the George H.W. Bush administration was asked how big the U.S. military should be. He replied, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower Lives Here.’ ” Barack Obama has taken the shingle down.

All that is nonsense, of course. The cuts are modest, and as the military-industry group says, the real battle will be over future cuts to come, as it gradually dawns on the United States that it can no longer afford empire-sized armed forces.

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