If you think Chuck Hagel is inept now, wait until he collides with sequestration.
Senate Republicans could do Chuck Hagel a great favor. Instead of lifting their half-hearted filibuster and enabling his confirmation, they could make the filibuster real and thus protect the former Nebraska senator from the budget hell that will greet him at the Pentagon’s door.
On March 1, right around the time Hagel’s confirmation will probably occur, the Pentagon budget will be hit by sequestration under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Sequestration — at four syllables, too long a word to use in politics — is part of the BCA that automatically imposes about $600 billion in spending cuts on the Pentagon over the next ten years, on top of the $487 billion already cut by President Obama.
Both Congress and the White House say that they don’t want sequestration to be imposed, but neither has been able to do more than postpone it. The final postponement expires on February 28. The ax will fall the next day.
Three problems will make sequestration impossible for Hagel to deal with.
First is the unlaudable conduct of his predecessor. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — a former budget director and presumed expert — had, until last month, utterly refused to plan for the sequestration since the failure of the BCA’s “supercommittee” in November 2011. In February 2012, Panetta said, “As the president has pointed out and I’ve emphasized, we are not paying attention to sequester.”
All Panetta did was to tell Congress how horrible it would be if sequestration were imposed. But he refused — apparently at the president’s direction — to plan how to manage it. It was an irresponsible decision for Panetta to reach. There was no reason — other than politics — for him to refuse to plan for the impact on the services’ ability to perform the missions for which they are responsible. But refuse he did.
Equally irresponsible were the actions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who didn’t rebel against Panetta’s refusal to plan. By their silence, they approved Panetta’s refusal to plan. In April 2012, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said that sequestration would result in a hollow force and require a change in our defense strategy. Only a few weeks ago did Panetta relent and the planning began.
Now, the Joint Chiefs and Hagel will have to deal with the immediate impact of about $55 billion in sudden cuts in Pentagon spending in the remainder of FY2013. Instead of spreading that amount over the whole fiscal year — which began in October — the cuts will have to be imposed in only six months.
To make that happen, Hagel will have to cancel or impose major reductions on major weapon system contracts. But which ones? The troubled F-35 was supposed to provide a universal solution to the needs of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. But after ten years, the F-35 still hasn’t achieved operational status. The new Air Force tanker is, as I’ve written many times over the past decade, desperately needed to support our entire military, not just the Air Force. And which Navy ships will be cancelled? (The Navy has already delayed the refueling and overhaul of the USS Abraham Lincoln, leaving the ship and its air wing in port indefinitely.)
The problem with canceling or delaying programs is that cuts result in increased unit prices. Terminating contracts results in paying “termination costs” to the contractor, for which the government gets nothing.
The F-35 is now up to more than $120 million per aircraft. If the production rate is cut, that price could double. A Secretary Hagel will end up spending more for fewer aircraft, ships, and land vehicles.
Which leads to the second problem Hagel will face.
It all boils down to the fact that policy takes money to implement. The less money you have, the less you can do.
In the State of the Union address, the president barely mentioned defense. He said he wants to strengthen missile defense and continue supporting the Karzai regime after U.S. troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan next year. Obama’s global strategy, such as it is, calls for the reorientation of our military posture, shifting from the Atlantic theater to the Pacific. He has said we would not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons and would eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons. And, among other things, he’s promised a sea-based missile defense system to Poland as a substitute for the ground-based system promised by George Bush.
Sequestration, as Panetta has said, will result in the smallest navy since 1915, the smallest Air Force fleet since the Air Force was created, and vast reductions in the capabilities of the Army and Marines.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online