The Sequester Hath Cometh…

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Well, two predicted disasters in one week, and neither has yet to materialize.

New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been in office since Wednesday, and the nation’s military remains in business, contrary to the twaddle some folks on Capitol Hill were pushing.

More importantly, the nation – and its military – saw Sequester Day begin at midnight. Time, and the U.S. military, march on (although it won’t legally begin until President Obama signs a letter making it so. “It has to be done by 11:59 p.m.” Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, adding that it might be as late as “11:59 and 59 seconds, because he’s ever hopeful.”)

Whenever the official starting gun is fired, it could turn into a long slog, as someone once said. Some $46 billion in cuts between now and October — a near-10% reduction — and $500 billion more over the coming nine years. That’s what’s slated to occur if Congress and the White House can’t come up with a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package over the same time frame (or change the rules, which has been known to happen).

These budget cuts could disappear overnight given sufficient compromise. But both sides are locked into place. The Democrats want more taxes to come up with $1.2 trillion; the Republicans want it all to come from cuts in federal spending. Sequestration happened because the Democrats mistakenly believed that the threat of military cuts would crowbar the Republicans into seeing the wisdom of some tax increases, but that never materialized.

Talking with military officers Thursday yielded – as it always does, thankfully – divergent views.

There are those who believe the U.S. military is stretched to the breaking point, a veritable house of (credit) cards, and that sequestration will doom it, at least in the near term. There are others – including general officers – who say they are “ashamed” at how some of their comrades have been wailing about the impending budget cuts.

Let there be no mistake: this is no way to run a government, or the world’s best military. Cuts in particular accounts, including those dedicated to maintaining the readiness of units in the U.S. awaiting the next crisis, will hit muscle.

But the U.S. military can and should shrug off the slings and arrows of political incompetence. U.S. troops are up-armored with the self-esteem and confidence that comes from being the best in the world. The nation has made clear it will continue sufficient funding to ensure that remains true.