National Security

News flash: the Pentagon’s in fiscal hot water

Role reversal: Panetta plays it different than he did in 1991; Why the SecDef may stay longer; Women want combat roles; and a little more.

People don't get how much fiscal trouble the Pentagon is actually in. Sequestration ain't nuthin'. The real problem stems from the Pentagon's internal cost growth, which has been hollowing out the force for decades. While that realization is not new -- the cost of personnel, health care, operations and maintenance, and acquisition has been raising the price tag for defense for decades -- it's now forcing the Pentagon to make choices between end strength and modernization, says CSIS's Clark Murdock.

"The reason why the Pentagon has been screaming about the catastrophic effect of sequester dollars is because it really will have catastrophic effects because it's exacerbated by the effects of the internal cost inflation," Murdock tells Situation Report.

What does he mean? The combination of the $487 billion the Pentagon must cut between now and 2021 and the additional $500 billion in cuts it will need to make if sequestration happens in January alone represents a 31 percent reduction in Pentagon spending. That is not as large a decrease as other drawdowns (36 percent after the Cold War, 33 percent after Vietnam, and 43 percent after Korea); but in combination with the rising internal costs the Pentagon confronts, taxpayers are paying way more for much, much less.

"We're paying more for a smaller force," Murdock says. So what would seem like a reasonable post-war cut is actually far more bloody. "What looks like only a 30 percent drawdown is really more like a 50 percent drawdown.... Plus the dollar is weaker."

What to do? Murdock isn't the only one to see the sky falling. But the demand now is to find a way to develop a national security strategy the U.S. can actually pay for. That means determine the topline then decide what the strategy is. And if that Pentagon requires modernization, and it always will, a significant reduction in the size of the force is required. To Murdock, who has been around the defense block for years, that means saying good-bye to 455,000 troops and putting DOD's end strength at a svelte 845,000. That, he says, is required to maintain a modernization budget of around 32 percent of overall spending. But getting the Pentagon's modernization budget back to that level will force not only that huge reduction in size of the force, but a major recalibration of its defense posture, Murdock says.

"We're getting into an era, because of internal cost growth, where you really do have to make zero-sum choices between how much equipment you have, how many people you have, and what strategy you can pursue."

Panetta's been here before, albeit on the other side of the fence. In 1991, Panetta was in the role currently played by Paul Ryan, when, as House Budget Committee chairman, he stared down Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and said: "The days of big spending, free-wheeling defense budgets are clearly over." And Cheney stared back, saying: "We've already cut the living daylights out of the defense budget, Mr. Chairman."

Writing on FP, Micah Zenko notes that today Panetta is playing Cheney's role, with some key differences: "Like Dick Cheney 21 years ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has engaged in an exhaustive effort to avoid both sequestration and any further reductions in the Pentagon's budget. The distinction between Panetta and his predecessors, however, is in the tactics he has employed to protect his bureaucratic turf. Panetta has belittled the process of deliberative democracy, told Congress how it should reduce the federal debt, and declared that the Pentagon cannot survive another penny in cuts," Zenko writes.

In the FP piece, Zenko continues to take the secretary to task: "Last week, [Panetta] further remarked: ‘I have to tell you one of the most disturbing things that I talk about -- one of the national security threats is the question of whether or not the leaders we elect can, in fact, govern.'"

Zenko: "This is an absurd and dangerous charge, and one that Panetta should answer for if he ever appears before Congress again. Panetta acts as if it is his role to provide oversight of Congress, rather than the other way around."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where we invite you to provide us oversight by telling us what we should be thinking and writing about. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

New water cooler wisdom: Panetta's departure may not be as soon as we think. The thinking had been that if Obama won a second term, the former congressman turned budgetary chief turned White House chief of staff turned CIA director turned defense secretary was finally ready to return to California to grow walnuts on his farm. Although neither Panetta nor his aides will ever discuss the topic, most people thought he would stay until the budget issue was resolved and then be gone by spring. But the abrupt resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director is throwing a wrench in the plan. And Hillary Rodham Clinton's expected departure -- Susan Rice has been practically nominated to succeed her -- may mean there is too much movement at the top. Now folks expect him to stay until summer.

China asks: What's the Asian pivot all about? Mabus explains. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is in China for high-level meetings with Defense Minister Liang Guanglie and other PLA officials. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron: "Mabus kicked off his China tour quickly by meeting Rear Adm. Zhang Jianchang at the airport in Beijing. He later plans to visit other sites outside the capital. Mabus is the first U.S. Navy secretary to visit China in 28 years, Chinese media noted proudly, while boasting that Mabus was briefed on China's recent inaugural aircraft carrier landing."

Move out! Women tell Panetta he isn't moving fast enough to get them into combat. The ACLU and four women are suing Panetta to move faster to lift historic bans on women in combat. Earlier this year, the Pentagon opened about 14,000 positions to women after acknowledging that many have already served in combat over the last 10 years. The services are studying physical standards, leadership, and other factors to see how to allow more women into combat roles. Meanwhile, some 238,000 military combat jobs, by DOD's own count, remain closed to women.

Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, providing legal counsel to the plaintiffs: "It's sort of unbelievable that the policy that has remained largely unchanged since 1994 is still the same policy, even though so much of these wars has changed how women fought."

The suit:

E-Ring's Kevin Baron has the rest of the story:





National Security

The Pentagon’s sequestration bubbas sit on their hands

A “fundamentalist con artist” cancels visit to Pentagon; Mattis, off the record?; Where a general shops for shoes; Is Tom Ricks rude? And more.

On sequestration, the Pentagon's still waiting for the call. The budgeters at the Defense Department, who you'd think would be scrambling like cartoon characters about to drop off the waterfall, have not been given direction from OMB yet, reports the E-Ring's Kevin Baron.

The Pentagon's Lt. Col. Beth Robbins: "The Department has not received detailed planning guidance on sequestration from [the White House Office of Management and Budget], and we are not planning for it. We are still hopeful that Congress will pass a balanced deficit-reduction plan for the president to sign, and sequestration is averted."

Kevin: "After all this time, after a year's worth of doomsday warnings about the ‘catastrophic' effects of a budget stalemate on the military, even in this eleventh hour the Pentagon's top budget teams are left waiting and wondering. Without the green light from OMB, they are not allowed to begin."

The Pentagon was to be hosting a prayer breakfast tomorrow with Ray Giunta, who has been "publicly called out" for illegally taking more than $10k from a cemetery's trust fund, falsely claiming to have advanced degrees, and diagnosing young people with mental disorders even though he is not a doctor, writes the HuffPo. "But on Wednesday, he will get a coveted perch at the Pentagon, as a guest speaker at the Defense Department's prayer breakfast," Amanda Terkel writes.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation's Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, on the Pentagon's invite: "Arming a well known Christian fundamentalist scam-artist like Giunta with an homage so profound as to be the designated special guest speaker at this highly visible Pentagon religious event is simply beyond the pale of acceptability and literally strains credulity."

Last minute cancelation: An Army spokesman tells Situation Report: "Mr. Guinta has respectfully declined the invitation to speak.  The Pentagon Prayer Breakfast is a weekly event and will go on as scheduled."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we covet our perch here and take our inbox privileges seriously every day. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

HRC urged Morsi to share power in Egypt. Secretary of State Clinton called Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr on Monday to tell him the U.S. wants to see Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi figure a way to share power after a power grab last week that would place his decisions above judicial review.

McClatchy's Nancy Yousef wrote last night from Cairo that the Muslim Brotherhood canceled demonstrations scheduled for Tuesday to support Morsi's original decree, "assailed by secular political leaders and judges alike as giving Morsi dictatorial powers." But she reports that massive anti-Morsi protests are scheduled for today.

State's Victoria Nuland on HRC's discussion with the Egyptian foreign minister: "[Clinton] took that opportunity to reiterate some of the points that you saw in our statement [last week], that we want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, protection of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld, et cetera."

Josh Rogin's story:

McClatchy story from Cairo:

DC Seen: It's not Saks or the Nordy's shoe department for one Marine general. The presumptive new ISAF commander, Joe Dunford, shops shoes at the Henderson Hall PX just up the hill from the Pentagon. That's when he's not in line for lasagna at a DoD cafeteria.

How will Jim Mattis be off the record? The Central Command commander will speak tonight at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies on "perspectives on warfare." Curiously, Mattis' remarks are off the record for the press, yet the event is open to the public. We often say we failed strategic communications class, but how does that work again?

Somehow this reminds us of the NFL disclaimer that would appear to be violated every time a sportswriter puts fingers to keyboard: "The NFL prohibits any use of the pictures or descriptions of this game without its express written consent".

Is Tom Ricks rude? The author of The Generals gave it to Fox for overdoing the Benghazi story in an interview that was cut short. Ricks, when asked about the attack: "when I see this focus on what was essentially a small firefight, I think number one, I've covered a lot of firefights, it's impossible to figure out what happens in them sometimes, and second I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political, partly because Fox was operating as a wing of the Republican Party." That's when Fox news anchor Jon Scott gave Ricks the hook.

The NYT's Brian Stelter reported afterward that a Fox News staffer told Ricks that he had been rude; Ricks said he had told the producer prior to the segment -- which lasted about half its allotted time -- that the Benghazi attack had been "over-covered" and thus the producer shouldn't have been surprised.

The Pentagon seemed to yawn at the news that China conducted its first-ever landing of a J-15 fighter jet on its new aircraft carrier. Over the weekend, China's military apparently made Chinese naval history by landing the plane on the carrier, the Liaoning. As Killer Apps' John Reed writes, this could be a huge moment -- or not such a big deal. At the Pentagon, there was little excitement. "This would come as no surprise. We've been monitoring Chinese military developments for some time," said Pentagon press secretary George Little.

I'll take "China's Navy" for 100, Alex: Factoids: John writes that the carrier was built using the hull of a never-completed Soviet carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, saying it would turn the ship into a casino. But the Chinese opted to refurbish the ship completely, installed new engines, modern electronics and sensor systems and turned it into a starter carrier.

John: "It's worth noting that the Chinese ripped off the design of Russia's Sukhoi Su-27 fighter, which Shenyang Aircraft Corporation used to then develop the J-11 land-based fighter and now the J-15. Interestingly, the Chinese engineer in charge of the J-15 program died of a heart attack just after watching yesterday's test flights aboard the ship." Also, he writes that China is reportedly expected to unveil its first domestically-made carrier within a couple of years.

The Foreign Policy Initiative begs a big rhetorical question today with an event at the Newseum titled "The Price of Greatness." The hawkish policy group is hosting a day-long discussion on Syria, the pivot to Asia, American allies, and human rights, featuring perspectives from "emerging national security leaders" Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Congressman-elect Tom Cotton, a former Army ranger. "In the next four years, the United States will face a wide array of international challenges," according to FPI. "Iran continues to progress toward a nuclear weapons capability, China is expanding its military and economic power, and uncertainty over the outcome of the Arab Spring persists. These challenges will require substantial American leadership and a willingness to confront the looming budgetary crisis that underpins our involvement in the world."

Moderators, panelists, speakers, and other guests include: Dan Senor, Eric Edelman, an escaped prisoner from a North Korean prison, John McCain, Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol, Jon Kyl, Jamie Fly, ambassadors from the embassies of Australia, the Philippines, and India, Kelly Ayotte, and Joe Lieberman.

See "The Oath of Tobruk" on the fall of Qaddafi tonight at the French embassy. The Foreign Policy Initiative and the French-American Global Forum will host a viewing tonight of the documentary by Bernard Henri-Levy as part of their event today, with the Daily Beast's Eli Lake moderating a discussion after.



Speaking of which: Adios, tres amigos. The NYT takes a look back at the foreign policy phenomenon of Sens. Lieberman, McCain, and Graham, dubbed "the three amigos" by David Petraeus, and the impact they've had together over the years. Lieberman is retiring. "Though he frustrated many Democrats with his interventionist ideas, Mr. Lieberman gave Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, both Republicans, a veneer of bipartisanship that lent credibility to their policy goals," writes the Times' Jennifer Steinhauer. "The question is whether the group, whose profile rose after the Sept. 11 attacks, will be able to maintain an influential voice without Mr. Lieberman or will become isolated on an island of partisan poking."


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