Facing Reality at the Pentagon

Stimson Spotlight

Facing Reality at the Pentagon

The shutdown/debt ceiling/budget crisis may be over, for now. But inside the Beltway, most folks who care about defense issues and the military continue to bang away at the assumed "damage" that sequestration and these budget battles are doing to America's military capabilities. The Buck McKeons and John McCains of the world shrilly advertise the end of U.S. military superiority as we have known it, while the service chiefs parade to the Hill to alert these same "defenders of defense" to the perilous state the military risks finding itself in, if sequestration continues unabated.

Even the secretary of defense, in his touted "Scammer" (Strategic Choices and Management Review, or SCMR) last summer, warned that sequester-level budget cuts over the next few years would make the current Pentagon military strategy untenable. He may be right, though the direct linkages between the January 2012 Panetta strategy document and the actual size and budget for the military have never been very clear.

But there is no sign that defense budgets are about to turn around and climb upward again, and every sign that sequester-level defense spending is here to stay. For many, the relatively smooth adjustment the Pentagon made to the sequester last fiscal year suggested that the military had been crying "wolf."

Most Democrats have happily stood by as Republicans fractured on the defense issue (the GOP fracture on the overall budget appears to have been even more politically entertaining). For most of Congress, the sequester is like a grand, budgetary version of a base closure round: let some outside automatic process take care of the changes on which politicians cannot agree. The deus ex machinamachine will step in and make it happen. Terrible things happen, but nobody gets blamed.

Accepting that fiscal reality (the final phase in the stages of sequester grief) is now the core decision the Pentagon needs to make; it is the first step toward defense planning wisdom.

To read the full op-ed, click here.

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This article was first published in Foreign Policy on October 16, 2013.

Photo by Secretary of Defense