Since Congress reached an agreement to extend the debt ceiling, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been on a campaign to prevent any further cuts in military spending, specifically signaling out the so-called trigger mechanism that would reduce security spending by an additional $500 billion should the super committee fail to reach a deal to cut more than $1 trillion in federal spending. Panetta called the trigger “draconian” and “devastating” and said that it will “hollow out” the military. When asked for specifics though, Panetta said the biggest risk he can think of is reducing — not eliminating — the U.S. military presence in Latin America and Africa. In other words, hardly a “devastating” scenario.
CAP’s Larry Korb wrote this week in the New York Times that Panetta has laid out some “excellent proposals for reducing the defense budget” but he “grossly exaggerates” in his fearmongering about what the trigger would do to the military. And yesterday the Defense Secretary played the “last card” in his fear campaign, the National Journal reports:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been steadily escalating his warnings about the impact of the deep cuts facing the Pentagon if the congressional super committee fails to reach a deal. On Thursday, he played the last – and strongest — card in his deck, arguing that the hundreds of billions of dollars of mandatory cuts would directly imperil U.S. national security. [...]
“In effect, it invites aggression,” Panetta said during the new conference, just his second since taking office in July. [...]
Panetta said those cuts would leave the military “a hollow force” which “retains its shell but lacks a core.”
“It’s a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air wing without enough trained pilots,” Panetta said. “It’s a paper tiger.”
This just simply is not true. As Korb noted previously, cutting military spending by $1 trillion over the next decade — a figure that incorporates the trigger cuts — would “in real terms, allow the Pentagon to spend at its 2007 level for the next decade.” And by Panetta’s own standard, how would reducing the U.S. military presence in Latin America and Africa invite aggression?
On the issue of defense spending, “Panetta has really gone off the deep end,” writes Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal, “His public statements sound like those of a Democrat too insecure to talk sensibly about the future of the US military and national security policy.”