Despite New Security Threats, Obama Cuts Defense – To Spend on Everything Else

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta released the Pentagon’s new defense strategic guidance, and President Barack Obama delivered a speech on his new strategy, which plans to cut tens of thousands of ground troops and “reduce our overall capacity.”

Why now, you may ask, when the strategic guidance itself warns of an “increasingly complex set of security challenges”? The President–the man who has increased U.S. debt almost as much as all past presidents combined–suddenly professes the goal of “putting our fiscal house in order.” In all likelihood, he is betting that by cutting defense, he will be able to get away with spending like there is no tomorrow on everything else.

The strategy of wishful thinking risks repeating the mistakes of the past. Previous administrations made massive military cuts after WWII, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War only to find themselves woefully underprepared later when new security threats emerged.

In each case, restoring lost capabilities and human capital from scratch was more expensive than it would have been simply to sustain a strong, stable, and balanced force during peacetime. And the time lags involved in training new troops for new missions and developing new equipment increased military risk and the human cost of war because we were forced to send troops into war ill-equipped and ill-prepared.

By now, we should have learned the lesson George Washington urged future presidents to remember in his Farewell Address: “timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it.”

Not to worry, says Barack Obama. We have a solution to that–the Pentagon’s new buzzword, “reversibility.” This time, we won’t make the mistake of breaking something before we know how to fix it should we need it again. Before smashing a plate, we’ll make sure we have some superglue so we can patch it together again later. As Philip Ewing of writes:

That is the doctrine born of Thursday’s comprehensive strategic review, which calls for DoD to be mindful that anything it stops, delays, breaks or undoes, it needs to be able to restart, accelerate, repair and redo.

It is unclear how the Obama administration plans to enforce this. Maybe, when it releases our ground troops–who now have the best counterinsurgency training in the world–it will keep their telephone numbers on file. Or perhaps it will save the floor-plans of the shipyards and industrial plants it shutters.