A moment of truth

Photo Phiend/Flickr

Article Highlights

  • The supercommittee looks at first glance a recipe for disaster

    Tweet This

  • Moment of truth: #supercommittee needs to ask the real world ramifications of reducing #US #military power another 20%

    Tweet This

  • By thanksgiving, the supercommittee will have to act or watch #US #military power and leadership be sequestered

    Tweet This

With the congressional "supercommittee"–or, to be precise, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction–now complete, the stage is set for a very high drama indeed. Now comes the moment when Americans must confront the costs of remaining the world's sole superpower, the guarantor of an international system that has created a generation of great-power peace, widespread prosperity, and unprecedented human liberty.

The committee members must take action to avert the train wreck awaiting the Pentagon: doing nothing will result in an automatic "sequestration" that will make the cumulative reductions in military spending of the Obama years something above $1.3 trillion. That's a cut with big consequences. New Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen–a man who has heretofore pronounced the debt to be the greatest threat to the country–last week said the cuts in view would be "disastrous" and "unacceptable." The incoming chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, described such cuts as creating "very high risk" to U.S. national security. Serious stuff.

The composition of the supercommittee looks at first glance to be a recipe for gridlock and sequestration, or the functional equivalent thereof. The House Republican nominees are green eyeshade types: Jeb Hensarling is a disciple of Sen. Phil Gramm, Fred Upton is a veteran of the Reagan Office of Management and Budget, and Dave Camp heads the Ways and Means Committee. Nancy Pelosi has named a resolutely diverse troika of liberals–previous campaign committee chairman Chris van Hollen, leadership number-two James Clyburn, and ex-chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Xavier Becera, three who can be expected to carry out her guidance to "address our entire budget"–that's code for raiding military budgets–"while strengthening"–that is, defending to the last–"Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."

"Current service chiefs should be called upon to explain how they will deal with big budget cuts while continuing to provide forces for current operations." -- Thomas Donnelly

The Senate nominees are the upper-body partisan equivalents. Majority Leader Harry Reid named campaign committee leader Patty Murray, the lugubrious Max Baucus, and Massachusetts liberal and former presidential candidate John Kerry. Minority leader Mitch McConnell counts on former OMB director Rob Portman, former currency trader Pat Toomey, and Minority whip John Kyl. Sen. Kyl is also the supercommittee member with the most familiarity, experience, and interest in military and national security affairs, yet often concentrates narrowly on the nuclear programs that have been the focus of much of his work and legislative efforts. If there's any member of the committee who is willing to throw himself in front of the locomotive headed for the Pentagon, it's Kyl. But he will have to transcend his past persona to do so.

Of course, all congressional leaders promise that the super-process will be "transparent" and "open," but time is short: the committee is supposed to conclude its business by Thanksgiving. One measure of seriousness is whether the committee will hold hearings and take testimony on the national security consequences of big military cuts. There needs to be a moment of truth where the supercommittee looks Panetta, Mullen, and Dempsey in the eye and asks them to spell out the real world ramifications of reducing American military power by another 20 percent. Further, the defense superstars from the past should be called to speak. Bob Gates has earned his retirement, but we need to hear from him at least one more time. Likewise, it's time for Colin Powell to make his views known. He once declared that the size of the U.S. military in the post-Cold War era should be a sign to the rest of the world that a "superpower lives here." What has changed?

The two armed services committees should also make themselves heard–these moments are what congressional defense policy committees are for. Current service chiefs should be called upon to explain how they will deal with big budget cuts while continuing to provide forces for current operations. Theater commanders should describe what a lowered U.S military presence will mean in their areas of responsibility. And retired four-stars–who, even after their active careers are done, have an ongoing responsibility to the nation–should be asked to once again provide their professional judgments.

For 20 years, Congress has asked for countless defense reviews and strategies, and there is an immense body of literature that seeks to links the ends, ways and means of American policy, strategy and military power. The time for debate will have expired by thanksgiving, and the supercommittee will have made what can only be a fateful decision. It can act, or it can simply stand aside and let American military power and global leadership be "sequestered."

Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow and director for the Center for Defense Studies at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Thomas
Donnelly

What's new on AEI

image Dad and the diploma: The difference fathers make for college graduation
image A better way to finance that college degree
image Fracking for bigger budgets
image Earth Day: Hail fossil fuels, energy of the future
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.