Panetta Reassures, Thanks and Cautions ‘the Troops’
Trying to both caution and reassure his Department’s personnel, and beyond, that Pentagon spending cuts won’t be done in a hasty, irresponsible way at a “time of considerable fiscal challenge in our country”—i.e. at a time when defense hawks are suffering from angst and uncertainty— “Defense Secretary Leon Panetta penned a letter to them today.
The letter, titled “Meeting our Fiscal and National Security Responsibility,” addressed to “all Department of Defense personnel,” says, in part:
I know that many of you have been watching with concern the deficit reduction negotiations in Washington. As President Obama has said, our growing national debt, if not addressed, will imperil our prosperity, hurt our credibility and influence around the world, and ultimately put our national security at risk. As part of the nation’s efforts to get its finances in order, defense spending will be – and I believe it must be – part of the solution.
The reductions in defense spending that will take place as a result of the debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress and the President are in line with what this Department’s civilian and military leaders were anticipating, and I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military. But to do that, spending choices must be based on sound strategy and policy. In the past, such as after the Vietnam War, our government applied cuts to defense across the board, resulting in a force that was undersized and underfunded relative to its missions and responsibilities. This process has historically led to outcomes that weaken rather than strengthen our national security – and which ultimately cost our nation more when it must quickly rearm to confront new threats.
Saying that he is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, Panetta quotes the President’s April statement on this issue: “[We]’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world,” and that the Department will achieve savings based on sound national security policy, serving our nation’s interests, and proving more enforceable and sustainable over the long-term.
Panetta hopes that “responsible transitions” in Iraq and Afghanistan will help reduce our defense spending, but that, when doing so, he will do everything he can to ensure that such reductions in defense spending “are not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe.”
He then tackles the sensitive and heavily criticized “trigger” in the debt ceiling agreement that would result in across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion, one half of which would come from the military budget starting in 2013, if Congress fails to enact further deficit reductions.
Panetta explains it this way:
If that happens, it could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation. This potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy. Rather, it is designed to be unpalatable to spur responsible, balanced deficit reduction and avoid misguided cuts to our security.
In order to avoid this “completely unacceptable outcome,” Panetta will do all he can to “assist the Administration and congressional leaders to make the commonsense cuts needed to avoid this sequester mechanism.”
After praising our military men and women and the civilians who support them, Panetta reminds our nation’s leaders and policy makers that their “ethos” must be to ensure that the missions assigned to our military meet critical national security priorities; that it is “our responsibility” to ensure that our military “always have the training and equipment to succeed in those missions” and he vows to fight for them and their families “as we face these budget challenges.”
To be sure, the current budget constraints will make it all the more challenging to modernize and recapitalize the force. Platforms from the build-up of the 1980s are reaching the end of their shelf life and must be replaced, and units and equipment that have been stressed by a decade of combat must be reset. Going forward, we must ensure that the military gets the effective and affordable weapons it needs by redoubling our efforts to enforce procurement discipline.
But, also that “We…must continue to tackle wasteful and duplicative spending, and overhead staffing,” and that the Department must be accountable to the American people for what it spends, where it spends it, and with what result. To that end, Panetta promises to finally produce “financial statements” that pass all financial audit standards.
Panetta concludes by once again recognizing that our country is facing some tough financial choices and he promises to “address budget and protect the country” by “better aligning our resources with our priorities” and in that way ensure that “we fulfill the fundamental duty for those of us in public service – which is to do everything we can to give future generations of Americans a better and safer life.”
Read the entire letter here