I read two critically important reports this week on the impact that sequestration would have on national defense. That possible reduction in military spending -- $48 billion, or 7.4 percent of the $645 billion currently appropriated for fiscal year 2013 -- is being characterized by the stampede of hysterics who run the Pentagon as the virtual end of national security as we know it. What these two reports show is that we should now consider the Pentagon as morally and mentally broken as Congress.
The first report, by Chuck Spinney, who spent a few decades inside the Department of Defense evaluating budgets, weapons, and bureaucratic behavior, was published at Counterpunch and Time's Battleland blog. The second was a Congressional Research Service report by Amy Belasco, who has spent the last few decades at CRS and the Congressional Budget Office parsing defense budgets and their implications.
Both authors indirectly address the testimony this week of the deputy secretary of defense and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff at the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. To a man, they lent all the rhetorical and substantive support they could muster to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's depiction of sequestration as "doomsday" and to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey's description of it as an "unprecedented crisis" -- a characterization he augmented by adding that he was "jumping up and down." He truly was.
Put simply, the chiefs and their ostensible civilian masters plan to implement the cuts mandated by law in the most destructive, negative way possible, which has the convenient effect -- for them -- of pushing Congress and the White House to cough up more money. According to their testimony, the Army will reduce training levels to such a low point that units cannot be sent to Afghanistan. The Navy plans to postpone, if not cancel, maintenance for ships in a fleet already at historic lows for upkeep and repair, and deployments to the Persian Gulf have already been postponed. The Air Force is going to further reduce its historically low training of pilots, and maintenance will also hit new lows. Throughout the services, civilian maintainers, auditors, and program overseers will be furloughed, aircraft will be grounded, and ships held in port.
However, there is no reason for this to be so. Had Spinney and Belasco also been testifying at these hearings -- had anyone in the committees been even slightly interested in a little balance or a few budget facts with cogent historic and objective perspective -- the chiefs would probably have experienced a bureaucratic form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Spinney might have told the committees can best be summarized by this graph from his article:
The essential point is that even under the dreaded sequester, President Obama will spend more on defense than most other postwar presidents (and without the sequester he will outspend all of them, including Reagan). Moreover, it's all in dollars adjusted for inflation.
That's quite some "doomsday." Surely, you will agree it's an "unprecedented crisis," no?