By Christopher Preble
President Obama might want it to appear as though he is reining in defense spending with his budget submission for FY 2012, but his approach to the Pentagon’s budget reveals the opposite.
Perhaps the president hopes that his adoption of the faux cuts that Secretary Gates put on the table last month will be seen as responsible. Perhaps he is taking a prudent first step and signaling to the military, and its suppliers and contractors, that the days of double-digit increases are over. That may be; but far deeper cuts are warranted. If the president had truly wanted to send a signal, he would have followed the advice of his own deficit reduction commission and endorsed far deeper cuts in military spending.
The Department of Defense will spend $78 billion less over the next five years than previous projections. This amounts to a drop in the bucket -- technically just over 2% -- of total Pentagon spending over that period. Nonetheless, in Washington-ese, this constitutes a cut. But the base budget (excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) will increase -- from $549 billion to $553 billion, the largest budget in the department’s history. In the past 12 years, the budget that has doubled in real, inflation-adjusted terms.
Deeper cuts should be made along with an effort to lessen worldwide defense commitments, reducing the strain on the force. It will be up to outside pressure -- either from Congress or from interested groups outside of government -- to force Washington to cease acting as the world's policeman, and forcing other countries to take responsibility for their own defense.