Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been using frightening rhetoric when talking about further cuts in military spending, often times claiming they will be “dangerous” or a “doomsday scenario,” or he says more reductions will “hollow out” the military. Yesterday he referred to plans for more cuts as a “goofy meat-axed approach.” But Panetta never really offers any specifics. He never says how exactly more military spending cuts will be “devastating” to the military. He just says it, without any evidence; and he is never asked to back up his claims. Until today.
During a House Armed Services Committee Hearing today, Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) asked Panetta for specifics as to how more spending cuts “increases the risk” to the military and U.S. national security. “What risk specifically?” Smith repeatedly asked. But Panetta didn’t really have much. After meandering through a series of fillers — “we’re going through the process,” “we’re still shaping” a strategy — Panetta finally admitted that “no decisions have been made” on what they need and eventually said the greatest risk would be to have to reduce the U.S. military presence in — Latin America and Africa:
PANETTA: Obviously we’re going through the process now of, what we want to do is establish, what is that larger strategy? So this isn’t just numbers driven, it’s not budget driven, it’s driven by a strategy that we can shape that tells us, ok what kind of force do we need, we know it’s going to be smaller. We want it to be agile. We want it to be deployable. We think we have to have multi-mission weapons systems to help support that force. If that’s the larger strategy and we’re still shaping that in conjunction with the service chiefs but also with the president. Once we’ve done that, then obviously we’re going to have to start making specific decisions about where the reductions are made.
Without telling you that decisions have been made, and no decisions have been made, I can give you an example. For example, if we decide that we’ve got to maintain our force structure presence in the Pacific in order to deal with China and China’s expanding role in that part of the world and because of the other issues that exist in that very sensitive part of the world. And if we decide that the Middle East is also a very important area where we have to maintain a presence as well then just by virtue of the numbers that we’re dealing with, we will probably have to reduce our presence elsewhere, our presence perhaps in Latin America, our presence in Africa and so if you’re talking about risk, part of the risk would be having less of a presence in those areas.
Watch the clip:
So for all Panetta’s fear mongering in the past few months over military spending cuts (yesterday he called them “draconian cuts that are part of this crazy doomsday mechanism”), the biggest risk he can think of is reducing — not eliminating — reducing the U.S. military presence in Latin America and Africa.
The Defense Department could easily make reductions beyond $350 billion over the next decade. Last year, the Sustainable Defense Task Force (SDTF) — which was chaired by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and staffed by “scholars from a broad ideological spectrum” — identified nearly $1 trillion in military spending cuts. Even Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (OK) said last month that cutting $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years would not be “super hard.” And CAP’s Larry Korb, Laura Conley and Alex Rothman identified $400 billion in cuts over the next 4 years.