War (un)Planning

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Cartwright: "Of course we're planning..."

McCord: "No we're not."

You can always tell the rookie Pentagon reporter. He, or she, is the one who whispers: “They told me they’re planning for war with Iran!” That’s when the vets around the building have to say: “They’ve been doing that for decades. Somewhere along these 17 miles of corridors, they have plans for everything.”

At least until last Friday. That’s when I read a startling claim in Defense News:

The U.S. Defense Department is still not planning for more than $600 billion in additional cuts that could be levied should a congressional panel not reach a consensus on a plan to cut federal spending by next week, according to the Pentagon’s No. 2 budget official.

It seems, according to the article by Marcus Weisgerber:

“We’re not doing any planning at this time for how we would implement such a cut,” Mike McCord, DoD’s deputy comptroller, said after a Nov. 17 appearance at a conference in Washington. “The secretary’s effort, which I think has been pretty visible, has been to argue why that’s a bad outcome.”

Oh-kay. The possible coming war with Iran is “a bad outcome,” too. Do you suppose that has kept the majors and lieutenant colonels at U.S. Central Command in Tampa., Fla., from preparing for it? Nope – because that’s what we pay them to do. If we only plan for good outcomes, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never would have happened. (Oops — scratch that.)

In the same way, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s increasingly likely failure has made it clear that sequestration – and up to $600 billion in additional Pentagon budget cuts over the coming decade – are a growing possibility (Psss – it’s a heck lot more likely than that war with Iran they’re planning for).

This is what happens when the military curdles into politics. The military’s job, including those of its civilian leaders, is to salute its civilian masters and carry out their orders.

What’s interesting is how McCord’s comments clash with those made in July by Marine General James Cartwright, in his final days as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright said he and the military were already planning on how to deal with the soon-to-be-agreed-upon package of $400 billion in Pentagon cuts over the coming decade the White House and Congress were wrapping up. Battleland then inquired:

Q: You’re not doing budget drills beyond $400 billion?

A: I’m certainly doing budget drills beyond $400 billion.

Q: Why?

A: Why not? [Laughter].

Q: The President said it’s $400 billion. [Laughter].

A: Fair enough. But the issue here is that if somebody asks you for a set of options against your budget and they say here’s the new target, you want to understand that if you go beyond that target, what are the implications and have you done something in the current target, $400 billion that would disadvantage the department or the capability that you’re supposed to be providing if you take one more cut?

So let’s say $400 billion may not be all that hard to come up with, but the decisions you make, if you know you’re going to do more, may be very different decisions. So you have to look beyond that. We’re doing due diligence on that. We’re going to go ahead and look beyond it…you’re most worried about a deeper cut. Is there another $400 billion behind the first $400 billion?

Cartwright agreed what he was doing was “self-initiated due diligence.” It’s a pity the civilians now running the Pentagon apparently don’t feel the same obligation.