Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directly challenged the Congressional “Super Committee” to “do the right thing.” In Panetta’s view, the “right thing” is to solve the debt crisis by going after the drivers of America’s bulging debt. That would be the Big 3 entitlements — not the defense budget.
Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) asked Panetta if the recent rounds of Pentagon budget-cutting have already contributed enough to deficit reduction. Panetta responded: “Absolutely.”
With the massive defense cuts underway, Panetta warned, the military is already on the edge. Any further cuts will put national security in peril — exposing those in uniform to greatly increased risk.
Secretary Panetta outlined how additional budget cuts could affect U.S. military and foreign policy commitments. Our military’s global presence would become a zero-sum proposition, for example. We would have to shrink forces in some regions (e.g., Africa and Latin America) to meet demands arising elsewhere (e.g., the Asia-Pacific).
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed by saying this would only add to our security problems because “in order to defeat a network of adversaries (such as terrorists), we have to be a network.” What he meant, of course, was that we need to be able to fight terrorists wherever they are, and that includes Africa and Latin America.
Both Panetta and Dempsey agree that national security threats are growing. Our competitors are ramping up their investment in technological advances at the same time the U.S. is slashing long-planned military modernization programs. Additional budget cuts pose the very real risk of leaving our forces not just without their technical overmatch, but downright hollow as well.