Robert Gates’ attempts at squeezing the growth at the American defense budget are admirable, says The New York Times in an editorial, but they are not enough. “Once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the administration must look at trimming troop strength, beginning with the Navy and the Air Force.”
In recent months, the secretary has been waging a fierce battle with the defense establishment and industry about his announced budget cuts. Gates understands that austerity is necessary — “If the Department of Defense can’t figure out a way to defend the United States on half a trillion dollars a year,” he said last year, “then our problems are much bigger than anything that can be cured by buying a few more ships and planes” — but also politically expedient. If the Pentagon doesn’t start trimming its budget now, Congress is likely to interfere next year with cuts that will be more severe than what Gates is proposing.
The Times praises Gates for having canceled or cut back several dozen of weapons programs, including the acquisition of the new F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft which some congressmen desperately wanted more of. On top of finding some $330 billion in long-term savings, the secretary has ordered the armed forces to find $100 billion in administrative cuts and efficiencies over the next five years.
His latest proposed savings, outlined last week, are modest — despite the political fire they are drawing. He is calling for closing the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia [and] proposed a 30 percent cut over three years on contractors who provide support services to the military, placed a freeze on the number of workers in his office, and said he planned to eliminate at least 50 posts for generals and admirals and 150 for senior civilians, and shut down two Pentagon agencies that employ 550 more people.
If Gates has his way, the Defense Department will continue to see a 1 percent budget increase over inflation for the foreseeable future. “That is still too much,” according to the newspaper.
“Since the 9/11 attacks, Congress has given the Pentagon pretty much everything it has requested, with few questions asked.” As far as the Times is concerned, it’s time to put a stop to that, at least, as soon as the United States wind down their military involvement in the Middle East.
Perhaps overlooking this administration’s commitment to significantly reducing America’s nuclear arsenal, the Times wants to do with even less, describing atomic weapons as “redundant” and “anachronistic.” They’re anything but. America doesn’t need the potential to destroy the world ten times over but it does still need nuclear weapons.
The paper further suggests that Gates have a hard look at the Air Force and Navy and decide to reduce both their strength in terms of manpower. This makes even less sense than further shrinking America’s nuclear deterrent. Both services have had to make do with less in recent years as the Army bears the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet the Times wants to subject them to budget cuts after these wars come to an end? Though both are instrumental in America’s ability to project force around the world and at a time when conflict is brewing in the South China Sea and North Korea and Iran remain the likeliest targets of future military strikes?
It would be interesting to learn just what projects and programs the Times would rather see cut. Sadly the editorial volunteers no specifics but points instead to the necessity of balancing the federal budget. “The military budget is 20 percent of federal spending and 50 percent of discretionary spending,” it notes. “There is no way to address the deficit without deeper cuts in defense spending.” That is blatantly untrue, considering that America spends twice as much on entitlement programs as it does on national defense. There is no way to address the deficit without making tough choices though.
The Defense Department is already choosing to make cutbacks. With health-care reform recently enacted, the costs of Medicaid and subsidizing insurance premiums will probably skyrocket by contrast. If the Times would rather government provide health care to all Americans and perpetuate Social Security indefinitely as the president seems to prefer without the risk of running into massive debt, it cannot afford to have America remain a superpower at the same time. This is an honest choice. Americans can hardly be blamed for picking the former. But The New York Times shouldn’t pretend that they can have their cake and eat it too.