If the Super Committee fails to find a budget solution this week, the automatic, poison pill defense cuts will chop nearly 25 percent across the board on every line item in the military budget. Commanders won’t be allowed to pick and choose or prioritize. Everything will get hit and the cuts will begin almost immediately.
That means shipbuilding and defense assembly lines will stop dead in their tracks. Training and equipment repairs will be cut back so far our military readiness will be impaired. We won’t build the capabilities needed for tomorrow’s threats – from cyberwar to missile defense. Our most experienced military personnel will be forced out the door. The U.S. Navy will be the smallest since 1915, before we were a worldwide maritime power, and our ground forces at levels we haven’t seen since the isolationist years before World War II. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a big-time defense budget cutter himself in a previous incarnation, warns these cuts will amount to doomsday for the military.
Don’t for a minute think the military can absorb this with money saved from ending the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Those wars were never included in the defense budget in the first place; our presidents funded them instead with additional and separate legislation of nearly $200 billion a year. President Bush called them “supplementals,” President Obama calls them “overseas contingency operations.” This war spending will not be not be part of the sequestration cuts, and when these troops come home, the money saved will not revert back to the Defense Budget to make up the shortfall.
And don't believe stories, either, that say it's only a 10% cut to defense if averaged out over ten years. The Budget Control Act says every line item in the budget will be cut and both DoD and Congress say they will need to cut 18% starting in FY13 to meet BCA targets unless the President opts to exempt personnel accounts, which he is likely to do. The president will not want to cut military pay and benefits, or immediately lay off men and women in uniform when the bureaucrats in the federal government get to remain whole. So most of the defense cuts will come from non-personnel costs, which is about 25 percent.
Taking a meat ax to our military won’t just be devastating to our military capabilities. It will be devastating to the way the world sees us and we see ourselves. It will be the outward and visible sign – and confirmation – that America’s best days are over. By failing to tackle our entitlement spending, preferring instead to raise taxes and cut defense, we will be like the British after World War II, spending on social programs at the expense of national security. The only difference is when the British withdrew from the Middle East and Pacific we took their place. When we exit, the vacuum will be filled by countries like Iran and China.
In the 1970s we went through a similar period -- massive defense cuts after an unpopular war, neo- isolationism, malaise and self doubt. We had an American military so degraded it could only manage a pathetic mission to rescue American diplomats held hostage in Tehran, which failed miserably. America was on the skids.
When I came to the Pentagon as part of the Reagan administration, we found ships that couldn’t sail, and planes that couldn’t fly, because they didn’t have the fuel or spare parts. For every plane we could use, there was a second one we were cannibalizing for spare parts to keep the first one in the air. Military pay was so low our junior enlisted qualified for food stamps. President Reagan reversed all that and went on to rebuild the military, repair the economy and win the Cold War without firing a shot.
The defense cuts that will go into effect with sequestration will be far worse than those of the Carter administration. And they will reinforce the view held by our friends and foes and fellow countrymen alike, that America is a declining power. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the majority of Americans believe we are at “the start of a longer-term decline where the U.S. is no longer the leading country in the world.” Massive reduction of our armed forces will be the outward and visible sign that our best days are behind us, and that the future belongs to someone else.
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.