As American warplanes return to Iraq to bomb ISIS targets today, it is clear that it has not been a good year for freedom. Islamist, bent on genocide against religious minorities, established a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. They now menace Lebanon and Kurdistan.
Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed Crimea; the first territorial conquest by force in Europe since World War II. Ukraine remains in peril. The Baltics, Georgia and Moldova wonder if their turn is next. China claims almost the entire South China Sea and plans to dot the Paracels and Spratlys with airstrips, lighthouses and oil rigs. In the East China Sea, Beijing is in a dangerous standoff with Japan as it seeks to wrest the Senkakus away from Tokyo.
Hamas launched a rocket and terror tunnel war on Israel and gained sympathy by using human shields to thwart Israel’s defense.
Salafist jihadis have almost overrun Libya and remain a threat in Mali. Boko Haram kidnaps, murders and maims in Nigeria.
Nuclear North Korea lurks in the background and Iran gets closer to breakout each day that it strings the West along in negotiations over its enrichment program. Madeleine Albright called the world “a mess.” John Bolton says we are “descending into chaos.”
It is, therefore, not surprising that the nonpartisan National Defense Panel, in its independent report on the Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review stated, “in the current threat environment, America could plausibly be called upon to deter or fight in any number of regions in overlapping time frames: on the Korean peninsula, in the East or South China Sea, South Asia, in the Middle East, the Trans-Sahel, Sub-Saharan Africa, in Europe, and possibly elsewhere.”
Thus, the NDP’s finding that the U.S. “is facing major readiness shortfalls” is troubling. The NDP notes we are on the path to “a hollow force that loses its best people, underfunds procurement, and shortchanges innovation.” According to the Panel, that “each service is experiencing degradations in so many areas at once is especially troubling at a time of growing security challenges.”
NDP member and former Senator Jim Talent called the unanimous report “a stunning rebuke of the government’s defense policies over the last three years.” It is worth comparing the NDP Report to Mitt Romney’s 2012 national security white paper, An American Century.
Romney wrote then: “instead of rebuilding our strength, President Obama has put us on course toward a ‘hollow’ force [while] American troops are in combat in Afghanistan, facing dangers in Iraq, and fighting the remnants of al Qaeda worldwide.”
The NDP calls for a larger Navy and Air Force to face our current threats: “the Navy, which bears the largest burden of forward-presence missions, is on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less. We believe the fleet-size requirement to be… 323 ships [to] 346 ships … and an even larger fleet may be necessary if the risk of conflict in the Western Pacific increases…The Air Force now fields the smallest and oldest force of combat aircraft in its history yet needs a global surveillance and strike force able to rapidly deploy to theaters of operation to deter, defeat, or punish multiple aggressors simultaneously.”
Romney said the same two years ago: “the Navy has only 284 ships today, the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline…Our naval planners indicate we need 328 ships to fulfill the Navy’s role of global presence and power projection in defense of American security.” With respect to airpower, he observed, “our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today.”
In light of this hollow force crisis, the NDP concludes: “Congress and the President should repeal the Budget Control Act immediately…” as repealing sequestration “is the minimum required to reverse course and set the military on a more stable footing.”
The administration insisted on sequestration. It assumed that Republicans, whose constituents they believed to be more committed to defense than their Democratic base, would agree to domestic spending increases in order to avoid the hollow force crisis into which we are now plunging.
Given the deteriorating worldwide situation, the administration can no longer afford to use America’s military as a bargaining chip to ratchet up domestic spending.
For an administration intent on avoiding American boots-on-the-ground overseas, the immediate repeal of sequestration is its best play.
Such a move will signal to friend and foe alike that U.S. power is rebounding and, in turn, strengthen the hands of American diplomats seeking to resolve the plethora of crises facing the world. As the NDP explains, “the effectiveness of America’s other tools for global engagement is critically dependent upon the perceived strength and presence of America’s hard power as well as our resolve to use that power when necessary."
Robert C. O'Brien is a partner in a national law firm in Los Angeles. He served as a U.S. Representative to the U.N. and advised Republican presidential candidate Governor Mitt Romney on foreign policy matters. Robert's website is www.robertcobrien.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertcobrien.