In a new op-ed in the Chicago Tribune ahead of the NATO meetings today in the Second City, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama, claiming he hasn’t showed sufficient American leadership in the Atlantic Alliance because of the administration’s cuts in military spending:
Last year, President Obama signed into law a budget scheme that threatens to saddle the U.S. military with nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. President Obama’s own defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has called cuts of this magnitude “devastating” to our national security. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has plainly said that such a reduction means “we would not any longer be a global power.” Despite these warnings, the Obama administration has pledged to veto an attempt to replace these cuts with savings in other areas. [...]
With the United States on a path to a hollow military, we are hardly in a position to exercise leadership in persuading our allies to spend more on security. And in fact the Obama administration has failed to exercise such leadership. Quite the contrary; a multiplier effect has set in: The administration’s irresponsible defense cuts are clearing the way for our partners to do even less.
There’s one major flaw in Romney’s argument: Obama alone is not responsible for the $1 trillion in military spending reductions over the next decade. The Obama administration did usher in nearly $500 billion in cuts over the next decade, but those cuts — contrary to Romney’s suggestion — have “real buy in” from the military’s top brass, as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said. Panetta supports the cuts too, saying the U.S. will still have “the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time.”
Congress, however, is responsible for the other $500 billion in military spending cuts as a result of the bipartisan debt deal that Obama signed into law. Those reductions are set to take place because of the sequester the deal put in place should lawmakers fail to agree on how to find savings elsewhere (House Republicans want to cut much needed programs for the nation’s poorest to offset the military spending cuts).
Indeed, as the Washington Post noted, “Romney’s statement fails to note that the sequester was part of a deal negotiated by the White House and leaders of both parties, a sweeping proposal that was approved by nearly three-quarters of the House Republican conference and six in 10 Senate Republicans.”
But on the substance, Romney is also wrong to claim that the U.S. military can’t withstand $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade. As CAP defense budget expert Lawrence Korb noted, “[t]his would, in real terms, allow the Pentagon to spend at its 2007 levels.”