Three-quarters of National Journal’s National Security Insiders said the Obama administration’s plan to cut the Pentagon budget was a smart decision driven by the end of the Iraq war and the nation’s current fiscal crisis, dismissing criticism by defense hawks who maintain that chopping nearly $500 billion over 10 years could undermine the military’s capabilities.
After months of deliberation, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey late last month revealed details of the first tranche of reductions. A strong majority — 74 percent -- of the pool of national-security experts agree with the top military leadership that these cuts are pragmatic during a national economic crunch and will help the U.S. adapt to evolving threats.
“Smart, strategically based reductions will provide adequate defense for the next generation of threats,” one Insider said. Another added: “Our defense strategy and supporting budget are based on countering potential enemy capabilities. Far too much rhetoric flies around the nation on this issue. In five years, there will be new developments that will require changes.”
However, many Insiders are uneasy at the prospect of sequestration – the additional $600 billion in reductions to Pentagon accounts due to the super committee’s failure to reach an agreement on the deficit. Even as Panetta blasts the across-the-board cuts as a “doomsday mechanism,” he has sided with President Obama in saying that Congress cannot devise a way to evade sequestration, but instead must find a way to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion as mandated under the August debt deal.
“The plan is pragmatic, as it is written,” one Insider said. “Sequestration, though, would trigger a messy process that would be among the worst possible ways to cut defense.”
Siding with loud GOP criticism already blaring on Capitol Hill, 26 percent of Insiders said they believe the already-announced cuts are a shortsighted move which could threaten U.S. national security. “The budget cuts coupled with talk of a ‘pivot’ to Asia have alarmed Europeans in particular,” one Insider said. “The view of America as weaker because of its determination to withdraw forces from Afghanistan is simply reinforced by the cuts.”
Seventy percent of Insiders said NATO should stick to its 2014 deadline to end the combat mission in Afghanistan, disagreeing with France’s announcement it would withdraw troops sooner than planned. Fueling the Insiders’ responses to the poll was Panetta’s surprise announcement last week that the U.S. would end its combat mission in 2013, a year earlier than expected.
“The announcement to move up the end to U.S. combat operations to 2013 in Afghanistan is a blatant political move in an election year that will have dangerous operational consequences,” one Insider said. Another added: “Speeding up the departure will increase the risk of a Taliban takeover. The Afghans will not be ready in 2013.”
One Insider cautioned that NATO should “stay the course unless conditions in Afghanistan support early reductions.”
Thirty percent of Insiders said NATO should accelerate its plans to wind down the long Afghan war. “Another year is not going to buy either more security or a less corrupt Afghan government,” one Insider said. “Apparently, the Obama administration is also in agreement,” another added.
Reflecting the growing tensions within NATO about whether the war is worth the human and financial cost, one Insider described the alliance’s “Herculean efforts to enhance security” in Afghanistan but said there is “too little self-sustaining momentum after a decade to believe that a few more years of expensive engagement will change the dynamic.”
“If we're not going to extend it for decades, which even hard core COIN [counterinsurgency] fans admit we shouldn't, it should have ended a long time ago,” one Insider said. “We're throwing good money after bad.”
As one Insider put it, the heated debate over one year in the war effort is moot. “Doesn't really matter,” the Insider said. “Neither is long enough.”
1. Depending on whom you ask, the Obama administration's plan to cut the Pentagon's budget is either a smart decision driven by the end of the Iraq war and the nation's current fiscal crisis -- or a shortsighted move which could threaten U.S. national security. Are the hawks right to worry, or is this a necessary and justified step?
- Smaller Pentagon budget is safe and pragmatic: 74 percent
- Smaller Pentagon budget is dangerous: 26 percent
Smaller Pentagon budget is safe and pragmatic.
"Our national security ends, ways, and means must be aligned."
"The Defense Business Board, an outside blue-ribbon group, has estimated that DOD, if it follows private-sector-style practices for downsizing, can save 5-15 percent of its budget without adverse impact on readiness. Few if any at the top of DOD have experience in corporate downsizing. For several years DOD contractors have been consolidating business units and cutting overhead costs. DOD under Secretary Gates had a major productivity and efficiency initiative; the new budget priorities, however, are vague on how DOD will make further progress in this area."
"The biggest issue to watch is how the cuts are made. The most critical area for our national security is the health of the all-volunteer force, and if cuts are made too deeply into personnel, or the support required to keep our pact with those men and women in (and retired from) the Armed Services, we will have imperiled our national security. So by all means cut, but do so in a way where we aren’t hacking off the head of the Armed Forces – the people."
"Only if it is linked to a larger reassessment of national security and the defense role in it. Much of the DOD capability in the last decade was deployed in nontraditional missions to accomplish nonmilitary ends. The current budget pressure should force a new discussion on how to integrate all elements of national power, including soft power, in a new, more effective way. The various quadrennial reviews should be linked and integrated. The ultimate countervailing force will be the Congress."
"It's war college curricula 101: Need a strong economy for a strong nation and a strong defense."
"The Pentagon and its boosters are flailing wildly. Even if sequestration happens -- which Panetta says will 'invite aggression' -- we'll go back to 2007 levels of military spending. That wasn't exactly a lean year for DOD."
Smaller Pentagon budget is dangerous.
"Drastic national-security budget cuts during the Carter and Clinton years left us vulnerable and unprepared for emerging threats and crises like 9/11. We should learn from history and think very carefully of the long-term implications to cuts in defense spending."
"The budget cuts coupled with talk of a 'pivot' to Asia have alarmed Europeans in particular. The view of America as weaker because of its determination to withdraw forces from Afghanistan is simply reinforced by the cuts."
2. France is the latest NATO country calling for the American-led Afghan war to end before 2014, the date the alliance is scheduled to end its combat mission there. Do you agree?
- No, NATO should stick to its 2014 deadline: 70 percent
- Yes, NATO should end its combat mission earlier than planned: 30 percent
No, NATO should stick to 2014 deadline.
"Stay the course unless conditions in Afghanistan support early reductions."
"The announcement to move up the end to U.S. combat operations to 2013 in Afghanistan is a blatant political move in an election year that will have dangerous operational consequences."
"French grandstanding -- meant to defeat Sarkozy's domestic opponents -- is not helpful. Good news: They will continue to provide trainers, and they have been very good at that."
"Speeding up the departure will increase the risk of a Taliban takeover. The Afghans will not be ready in 2013."
"Even if we were to consider an adjustment to the timeline, it doesn't help the alliance for individual members to shop ideas publicly if they are serious about its future. But of course, the French are being French."
"All France has done is reinforce the impression among Taliban hard-liners that all they have to do is wait and once again Afghanistan will be left to fend for itself."
Yes, NATO should end its combat mission early.
"Another year is not going to buy either more security or a less corrupt Afghan government."
"Apparently, the Obama administration is also in agreement."
"Afghanistan is turning out to be a failure as much as Vietnam. As in Vietnam, the central government lacks sufficient popular support across the country, and it is massively corrupt. The U.S. and NATO have made Herculean efforts to enhance security and help the Karzai government improve governance and deliver better public services. Unfortunately, there is too little self-sustaining momentum after a decade to believe that a few more years of expensive engagement will change the dynamic. Making matters more complicated, Pakistan is unable and unwilling to be of much help. We should draw down substantially in Afghanistan and reorient our attention to help Pakistan become a more effective state, mainly though assistance for education and political and economic reform. This will be a long-term effort.
"Effective war strategies ended the day the war became date driven and not results driven. End it now!"
"Evacuate and contain their ability to project terrorism."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts. They are:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.