Though President Obama no longer is heard to say that “the tide of war is receding” — a favorite phrase from his first-term speeches — his administration still holds an unrealistic view of how to keep the U.S. safe amid those dangers. That unrealistic view is what’s guiding the Pentagon’s plan for dramatic cuts in U.S. military forces.
The favored buzzword is “risk,” as in “more of it.” That’s been a defining characteristic of Obama’s defense strategy for more than two years, ever since he decided to slash $500 billion from Pentagon spending to protect entitlements and other Democratic sacred cows in the federal budget.
The latest Pentagon budget proposal, outlined Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, stayed true to form, proposing to cut the Army to 450,000 soldiers or less — the lowest level since the first peacetime draft was instituted in October 1940 — as fighting in Afghanistan winds down.
The number is in keeping with the administration’s belief that the U.S. is unlikely to get involved in new large-scale ground wars in the near future. But the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are also taking cuts, as are military benefits. Special operations and cyberforces are two of the few areas that are getting boosts in the Obama plan.
“While this smaller capacity entails some added risk even if we execute extended or simultaneous ground operations, our analysis showed that this force would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater ... while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary,” Hagel said.
Translation: If the U.S. has to fight more than one war at a time, things could get hairy. What are the chances of that happening? Pretty good, actually. The two-year-old global strategy on which the administration’s defense spending is based includes the now-famous “Pacific pivot,” which was intended to be resourced with pullbacks in areas seen as quieter and less important to U.S. interests, such as Africa and Latin America. The strategy also assumed effective partnerships in the Middle East and Europe.
How’s that working out? Not so well. Conflict in Africa has exploded since the overthrow of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at the end of 2011, fueled by the export of arms and trained fighters to places such as Mali. Latin America? One word: Venezuela.
Meanwhile, many of the U.S. “partners” in the Middle East, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are seething over Obama’s diplomatic missteps such as his secret outreach to Iran and mishandling of Syria. And the shaky state of Ukraine’s new government under the steely stare of Russian President Vladimir Putin serves as a reminder that the administration’s “reset” with Moscow has been a one-way street.
Now, tell us again, Mr. President, why now is a good time to slash the world’s finest military?