Appearing on CNN Sunday morning, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee suggested that he may hold the authorization President Obama seeks for military action in Syria hostage unless the President caves on a longtime Republican policy priority. Throughout his appearance, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) argued — falsely — that the sequester has somehow reduced the military’s ability to execute the limited strikes President Obama is currently contemplating, and he concluded the interview by saying that the President must “fix sequestration” to convince him to vote “yes” on a military strike. His comments were echoed by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who, after offering some vague criticisms about the President’s “lack of leadership,” also indicated that she judge Obama’s leadership to be quite adequate if he only took the Republican position on the sequester. Watch it:
Increased military spending is a pet cause of McKeon’s. Shortly after the ill-fated “super committee” failed to come up with an alternative to the sequester, McKeon introduced legislation to cancel just the defense portions of the sequester, while leaving cuts to health care, housing, disaster relief, and education intact.
In reality, however, McKeon’s concerns about a shrinking military budget are overblown. As the Center for American Progress’ Larry Korb, a former Assistant Defense Secretary during the Reagan Administration, explained during the debate over the sequester, the military budget is rife with unnecessary expenses that no longer make sense in the modern world. “Since we are withdrawing troops from the Middle East and are unlikely to need large armies there anytime soon,” Korb wrote, “the size of our ground forces can be cut back by 100,000 to pre-9/11 levels. Since the cold war ended 20 years ago, the 80,000 troops still in Europe can be reduced to 20,000. Since the military increasingly relies on unmanned planes and precision guided munitions, the number of carriers and Air Force fighters can be reduced by 25 percent.”
Moreover, Korb explains, total post-sequester cuts to the military add up to a 15 percent cut to military expenditures. While this may seem like a lot, “the defense budget has grown by more than 50 percent over the past 10 years, it can easily absorb a 15 percent reduction — which would be about half the defense cuts of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and less than that of George H. W. Bush.” Indeed, sequestration will allow the Pentagon to spend at 2007 levels for the next decade — even though our military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan has been drastically reduced since 2007.
There are sensible reasons why a lawmaker can oppose military action in Syria — during the CNN segment, for example, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) worries that the planned Syria attack would not be “effective” or “the right thing to do.” There are also genuine concerns with the haphazard way that the sequester cuts the defense budget. But McKeon has consistently supported cancelling the defense budget cuts altogether even though the demands on the American military are greatly reduced from where they were even a few years ago. If McKeon or Blackburn believes that a strike in Syria is a bad idea on the merits, then they should express that objection with their vote. But holding our a military authorization hostage for what is, ultimately, an irrelevant desire to fund the military at Iraq War levels is the height of cynicism.