J. KARL MILLER: A tale of two liberals on national defense

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 | 4:53 p.m. CDT; updated 5:43 p.m. CST, Monday, November 5, 2012

COLUMBIA — The rapidly impending budget sequester imposed by the Budget Control Act as a $1 trillion spending reduction — of which one half ($500 billion) comes from Department of Defense funding — is cause for concern.

The failure of the debt-reduction supercommittee to reach an agreement on an alternate plan, barring a successful "cutting it off at the pass" effort, will cause a triggering of the sequester on Jan. 2, 2013.

The reason for concern is highlighted by two recent exchanges.

The first, a Wall Street Journal editorial by the reliably liberal but defense savvy Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, opposing any part of adding this reduction in defense funding to the $487 billion already imposed by the Budget Control Act.

The second and, quite frankly, most appalling case for concern was the president's flippant and condescending response to Gov. Mitt Romney's expressed concern over a shrinking Navy. His "we also have fewer horses and bayonets" and "we have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," were decidedly unpresidential and sophomoric.

This attitude may play well with under-informed, first-time voters and "Seinfeld" rerun viewers, but it should be a turnoff for grownups. Defending the U.S. is hardly a trivial matter.

National defense is but 20 percent of the budget; however, the sequester takes a meat ax approach in chopping 50 percent from the Department of Defense. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the House Armed Service Committee, as a result of the proposed 10-year cuts, the Army would see a reduction from 569,000 to 420,000 soldiers; the Air Force a drop in tactical aircraft from 1,990 to 1,512; and the Navy would fall from 286 ships to 230.

Additionally, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., testified that, if activated, these cuts would leave the Marines "without adequate capabilities and capacities to meet a single major contingency operation."

Panetta has also reported that these cuts would cost up to 1.5 million jobs over 10 years — included among those jobs lost would be some 200,000 active duty troops discharged or forced out. This coincides with an economic analysis conducted by George Mason University, which concludes that 2.14 million total jobs could be lost if the sequester takes place.

Admittedly, the U.S. spends more on national defense than the next 10 nations combined; nevertheless, there is sufficient reason to continue this track. With the exception of China and Russia (countries that are not listed among our ardent admirers), those countries, such as India, France and Brazil, have cut their military spending to the extent that they cannot defend themselves, let alone provide much to a multinational force.

National defense is indeed costly, but it serves as our insurance policy for freedom.  And, if I recall correctly, Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign stressed diplomacy and negotiation rather than confrontation. One may only negotiate from a position of strength — coercive diplomacy cannot be achieved by bluffing your adversary.

I fear that in military and defense arenas the president doesn't really get it. His cavalier dismissal of Gov. Romney's questions along with his promise that we will stay "the best trained, best led and best equipped military in the world" ignores the impact of the sequester cut on top of the already devastating $487 billion already agreed to.

His "leading from behind" in Libya by using NATO minus U.S. air power violated at least three principles of war and extended the conflict by at least six months because our NATO allies did not have the command and control structure to bring it to early close.

And his notion that he will count on Special Operations Forces instead of conventional forces to fight future battles is another dog that won't hunt. The use of Navy SEALS to take out Osama bin Laden made for great publicity and a platform for self-adulation; however, covert operations, like air and naval power, are merely an extension of supporting arms. Snake eaters won't replace the need for land armies.

Finally, we have two distinctly high placed liberals in direct confrontation — Sen. Lieberman, a champion of social issues but a "hawk" on national defense and President Obama, who leans more toward the U.N. and multinational coalitions to control the world's appetite for conflict.

Although former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell has endorsed President Obama, a military advisory council of 359 retired generals and admirals has opted for Gov. Romney, with the defense budget high on their priorities. The military council includes Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the key architect of the military plan to oust Saddam Hussein, former Commandant of the Marine Corp, Gen. James Conway, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Hugh Shelton.

As one with experience in the planning and execution of military operations, I could not agree more with the military advisory council and Sen. Lieberman who stated: "Because so much has already been taken from the military, I will oppose any deal that cuts one dollar more from our national defense. America's security cannot stand it."

Maintaining a strong military is a lot like paying for tornado and flood insurance or keeping a firearm in one's home for self defense — better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Skip Yates November 1, 2012 | 5:28 p.m.

Lest we forget that defense is a constitutional requirement. The myriad of other politically sensitive programs such as food stamps, medicare, social security (SSI), etc., etc., are not. That Defense is taking nearly 50% of the looming sequestering cuts is simply insane.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote November 1, 2012 | 6:00 p.m.

Well this is an interesting take. I believe that a not so distant column by Mr. Miller upbraided Mr. Obama and the Democrats for not "passing a budget". When I helpfully pointed out that the Budget Control Act of 2010 (which contains the sequester) also included the 2011 budget, Mr. Miller responded that credit should go to the House Republicans for passage of the Budget Control Act and not Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama. It seems a bit disingenuous to now beat Mr. Obama over the head with provisions from said Act.
Also with respect to the sequester, it can be avoided if the Republicans cut a deal on revenues. It was intentionally constructed to be onerous so that both sides would cut a deal. Here's how this will play out if Mr. Obama is re-elected:
No sequester, middle class tax cuts stay in place, top rates go back to 39%
or if Republicans are obstinate; no sequester and tax rates for all brackets go back to the Clinton era rates (Good luck running on the latter option). If Romney is elected we will get no sequester, Bush era tax rates for all + much lower rates for the top bracket. We will also probably see increasing deficits as is natural under Republican Presidencies as opposed to decreasing deficits as has occurred with the last two Democratic Presidents.

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J Karl Miller November 1, 2012 | 7:58 p.m.

Mr Foote,

As is your wont, intentionally or unintentionally, you strive to obfuscate the issue. I, and rightly so, "upbraided" the Congressional Democrats for failing to submit a budget as required by the "The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974." Three years have passed without the Democratic-controlled Senate fulfilling this requirement.

The last time both Houses of Congress passed and reconciled a budget was, strangely enough, the last time the Republicans controlled both Houses. The Republican controlled House of Representatives has submitted an annual budget as required. I might also add that the Democrat's failings for the past three years are the only times a budget has not been submitted since the Act's passage in 1974.

Finally, the Congressional Budget Act of 2010 does not in any way relieve the House nor the Senate of their responsibility under the The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

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