The President's new plan for deficit reduction presented to the Super Committee today claims nearly 25% of its overall spending savings from cuts to defense, specifically, from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next ten years.
Set aside, for the moment, the absence of any clear plan for doing so in Afghanistan. Focus on the size of this number; sounds enormous. And it is a phoney.
Secretary Panetta was on point yesterday when he warned against a sequester of defense funding beyond the first tranche of budget disciplne in the new debt agreement.
But the point he was making is important. What is not desirable is a sequester - a blunt, across-the-board reduction in agency budgets. It is about the worst way to cut a budget I know, for it is not driven by planning and choice-making, just mechanics.
What is likely, however, is a deeper reduction in defense budgets than the $400 billion or so over the next decade currently in the debt agreement plan and being implemented by the Pentagon. That's easy - we could provide DOD with inflation growth over the next ten years and the savings from the current Pentagon budget appetite would be more than $400 billion.
Rumor has it that the current deficit/debt discussions between the White House and the Republican House leadership may include $1 trillion in defense savings over the next ten years. If this were true, it would be both good news and a manageable savings, since it constitutes roughly 15% of the total resources DOD currently projects for defense over the next ten budgets.
But it is not true. Turns out to be a case of wasting the Congress' time with phoney cuts, abusing budget baselines, and a political fraud on the American people. The trillion dollars, it turns out, is all based on the assumption that we will spend significantly less on the wars or any other combat deployments than the more than $1 trillion we have already invested.
It is Europe-bashing time again. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is the latest in a very long string of US officials to tee off on the Europeans for not "carrying their share of the defense burden." So easy for Americans to say, such an easy escape-hatch from our own economic and fiscal problems.
The reality is everyone's defense budget is coming down. And as they come down, it is important to remember that not everyone in the world agrees with the US view that we have a God-given mission to provide global military and counter-insurgency operations in pursuit of the chimera of "global security," least of all the Europeans. For more on my views, visit the national security experts blog of the National Journal, posted today.
As the defense budget creeps toward the table in budget discussions on the Hill, we are likely to be treated to more and more of a contest over cuts, savings, baselines, budget projections, and the like. There is no more fun, or frustrating game, than trying to peel away the numbers we get from DOD and get to a transparent reality of what is really going on.