“Once the president’s budget is submitted, I mean, there aren’t going to be dissenters, or at least not in any public way, because basically they’re opening themselves up to be fired or to be kicked overboard,” said Jamie Fly, executive director of Foreign Policy Initiative, a collaboration of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Fly was unable to name a specific commander or command he considers in the dissent column, other than “industry.” But he argued that, generically, there has been “clearly a lot of unease” in the Pentagon over a series of budget demands placed on it going back to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s “efficiencies” mandate. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey oppose additional cuts beyond the Budget Control Act mandate of $487 billion over 10 years.
“I do think the White House has put Dempsey and Panetta in an awkward position,” Fly asserted.
The brass, have no choice but to “move beyond, salute, and implement.”
But the doing-their-duty claim is just a nicer way of restating Ryan’s original controversial argument: “We don’t think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget.”
Ryan’s 2013 stronger-on-defense budget may have backfired. It elevated year-old conservative defense messages from inner circles to a much-larger political stage. Yet it has not forced Obama to explain defense cuts or bow to GOP demands that he personally negotiate on the defense sequester. Instead, Ryan found himself defending a military budget with no visible senior military support--at least not from the active ranks. Even on sequester, which nobody wants, Dempsey backs the president and Panetta’s refusal to remove sequester from the deficit negotiating table. Republicans ignored the demand, with the blessing of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, Dempsey argued, “Today, our military is adjusting to the reality that cost is an independent variable in national defense. We can no longer meet new threats by throwing more resources at them. For the first time in a long time, we have to make hard choices about where to put our resources--and where to pull them back.”
If Republican hawks stick with their guns, the “GOP-versus-the-Generals” theme only threatens to grow, and to bleed into Romney’s campaign, which hitched its wagon to FPI’s talking points long ago. For now, it’s Republicans, not the president’s defense budget, who ring hollow.