America’s new defense strategy: a Q&A with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon

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House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), now chairman of the panel, welcomes Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly before a hearing of the committee about missile defense Oct. 1, 2009, in Washington.

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  • Q&A with @BuckMcKeon - @WhiteHouse is "clearly repeating the mistakes of the past" on defense

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  • Ground troops cut: "Simply it puts us back on a pre-9/11 footing" - @BuckMcKeon

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  • "America will do less with less – until the next contingency." - @BuckMcKeon on defense cuts

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President Barack Obama today unveiled a new national defense strategy  creating a "leaner"  force that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta allows will create "some level of additional but acceptable risk."  Moving away from the traditional two war strategy, and hinting at substantial reductions in Europe, the President presented a dramatic shift in global posture for the United States.  We asked House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon for his thoughts on the President's announcement:

This morning, the President and his military leaders announced they would jettison the United States’ long held two war strategy.  What do you see as the implications of this decision?

This is an unrealistic posture.  It presumes that in the face of two existential challenges to American interests, the military would abrogate their responsibilities.  In reality, our Armed Forces will fight to win on two fronts with insufficient manpower and resources.  The President is clearly repeating the mistakes of the past – by providing a force far smaller than is sufficient to meet the threats we face.  The possibility of two simultaneous contingency operations is real.  One need only look at the current instability in North Korea and the threats coming from Iran, for an example.

 

This morning, the President announced that tens of thousands of ground troops will be cut from the Force.  What will that mean in reality for the United States in the world?

Quite simply it puts us back on a pre-9/11 footing.  It means that the next time we have to engage in a major ground operation, we won’t have the forces we need, just as we didn’t in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We will go to war with the Army and Marine Corps we have, and our forces will assume greater risks and suffer greater casualties to get the job done.  Moreover, the President has announced these cuts before we have successfully concluded our mission in Afghanistan.  It is not clear how these cuts will impact current operations or our contingency plans.

 

"It’s baffling that, in this fiscal environment, the President would be talking about a pivot to Asia before our work is done in the Middle East." - Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon

The Obama administration recently announced a “pivot” to Asia.  When you look at the budget numbers, do you believe that such a “pivot” can realistically be supported?

I agree that the Asia Pacific is an under-resourced theater.  But, it’s baffling that, in this fiscal environment, the President would be talking about a pivot to Asia before our work is done in the Middle East. The pivot East is realistic assuming we abandon our commitments and our allies elsewhere – it does not mean we will maintain our capabilities elsewhere and build up our presence in Asia. That’s the reality of these defense cuts. The President’s strategy, where he officially abandons America’s ability to fight two wars simultaneously, says this better than I could. We will be able to fight one war and “spoil” another. That’s political-speak for a one-dimensional force. The 21st century has grown into one of the most dynamic and challenging security landscapes in history, a time when our economy has never been more dependent on our military and our security. It’s astounding that the President still pays lip service to shrinking our “Cold War” military, as if the Soviet Union was the only justification for having a strong, capable defense that could react to the unforeseen, and protect our prosperity in globalized world.

 

What’s the take-away message for America’s adversaries in the world?  What about our allies?

Simple. America will do less with less – until the next contingency. At that point, our military will be forced to go to war without the forces or capabilities it needs, costing us in both blood and treasure. It means our ability to lead will be called into question. It disrupts a globalized world, already deeply sensitive to and intolerant of instability. Our allies could seek alliances elsewhere. Our enemies could be emboldened. And if we do abdicate our role as global leader, which is largely driven by our military and economic strength, the vacuum will either be filled by another power that doesn’t share our values or the global order will slip into the same dangerous multipolarity that landed us in World I and World II. Make no mistake, shrinking your force does nothing to enhance flexibility or agility, as the President has claimed. Having fewer ships, for example, does not increase your flexibility to respond to various crises, like the Libya operation and relief in Japan.

 

How is Congress going to react to this new “strategy” and to sequestration?

Congress is going to press forward with its highest constitutional responsibility in mind – to provide for the common defense. I have introduced legislation that will work to mitigate the effects of sequestration. The House Armed Services Committee conducted months of rigorous oversight in which Congress was repeatedly warned by Secretary Panetta and top military officials that the size and scope of the cuts entailed in President Obama’s new strategy would entail more risk.  In my view, they are untenable and dangerous. However, the reality is the Commander in Chief chooses strategy, not the Congress.  We will advocate for modifications to the strategy, insist that any new strategy should contain a substantive, not merely rhetorical response to the growing array of threats to the United States around the world -  but ultimately the President owns it.  What we can do is advance legislation to stop the “doomsday” effects of sequestration, so that defense is not forced to shoulder the load of our domestic fiscal profligacy.

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