Whose bright idea was it for the president of the United States to unveil his defense budget cuts the cusp of a crisis with Iran and in the Pentagon’s briefing room? -- What were they thinking?
Perhaps they think it makes President Obama look like a tough commander in chief to announce he’s slashing the defense budget with the victims standing right behind him.
Perhaps they think it’s a smart political move that will appeal to his anti-war base, cutting defense while keeping entitlements whole.
Perhaps they hope to discredit any off-the-record complaints to Congress or the press from military officials who fear the cuts endanger national security.
Perhaps they think it gives credibility to President Obama’s lead from behind strategy; that without a robust military the U.S. will have no choice but to be part of a coalition.
Perhaps these points make sense for a president whose sights are set on winning reelection, and who never intends to make good on threats to use military force if necessary.
But the problem with any presidential statement, whether given from the Oval Office or the Pentagon briefing room is that there are more audiences tuning in than just those who vote in U.S. presidential elections.
So how will President Obama’s decision to cut the defense budget be seen around the world? What are they to make of his going from a military capable of fighting two wars to a military which can only fight one war, and which is already bogged down in Afghanistan?
If you’re the Taliban you realize the president can’t keep the Afghan war going for long, and it’s only a matter of time before you can walk back into Afghanistan.
If you’re China you figure the president might say he’s pivoting U.S. defense strategy to Asia, but is cutting the bandwidth to accomplish it. So there is no reason to hold back building a Chinese blue water navy and expanding into the South China Sea, or getting tough with Taiwan, or continuing a secret cyberwar against America’s industrial base, military and civilian infrastructure.
If you’re North Korea you realize President Obama isn’t likely to rush to South Korea’s aid if you provoke a military crisis.
If you’re Israel you’re coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that you’re on your own in dealing with Iran.
If you’re Iran you realize President Obama will do anything to keep oil prices oil low, including let you get nuclear weapons, push your weight around in the Middle East, and rush in to fill the vacuum left by departing U.S. forces. The president may say ‘all options are on the table’ and that it is ‘unacceptable’ for Iran to become a nuclear weapons state, but it’s looking increasingly like an empty threat. You realize this is your moment.
And, if you’re of the mind that America is a declining power, that its best days are behind it, that it will no longer keep open the seas lanes of communication and commerce, or honor all its treaty commitments, then you have just seen demonstrable evidence of it from the American commander in the chief.
The U.S. made some tragic strategic mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq. While our military performed bravely and brilliantly in both wars, our political leaders -- of both parties -- failed us. They tried a unrealistic nation building strategy in Afghanistan and failed to shut down the Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. They toppled Saddam Hussein, but failed to create a strong, pro-American Iraq in his place.
We do need to cut defense spending, and redraw the U.S. military to focus less on land wars and more on sea power, missile defense and civilian and military cyber-defense.
Even so, we can repair our economy, maintain peace through strength and resume our position as leader of the free world. But we can't do it while swinging a meat ax at the U.S. military, or cutting back on the care of our wounded warriors or returning veterans.
When I came into the Pentagon at the beginning of the Reagan administration we found ships that couldn’t sail for lack of fuel, planes that couldn’t fly because pilots didn’t have the minimum training hours, and tanks that were patched together with spare parts cannibalized from other equipment. And most shameful of all, we had Vietnam Veterans whose medical needs were not met, and enlisted military personnel whose pay was so low they qualified for food stamps.
That was the legacy of the Carter administration’s defense cutbacks.
The legacy of the Obama cuts will be even worse, and invite aggression against U.S. interests around the world. Because, guess what, President Obama has only begun to cut back on America’s defenses. There is another half trillion dollars of cuts on the horizon.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's DefCon 3. She is a Distinguished Adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. Be sure to watch "K.T." every Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on FoxNews.com's "DefCon3"-- already one of the Web's most watched national security programs.