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Why Panetta Has to Go

Michael Cohen looks at the very disturbing track record of Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense, something he has compiled in record time. Contrary to his Republican predecessor, Panetta has made some truly ridiculous statements about the impact of even modest cuts in defense spending.

But it’s on defense spending where Panetta has really gone off the deep end — taking on maximalist, almost apocalyptic, positions including calling potential cuts “catastrophic,” “draconian” “doomsday”-inducing and akin to America “shooting itself in the head.”  This tracks with he said in August, when he wrote only days after the hard fought debt limit deal was signed that automatic cuts to the DoD budget “would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe” and that such a move would “do real damage to our security.” This is bizarre hyperbole, particularly sincePanetta hasn’t identified a single way in which these cuts will “hollow” out the US military.

In fact, as Ben Armbruster pointed out recently when pushed to identify what risks would come from these reductions in current military spending (a fiscal outlay that far surpasses US spending during the Cold War) the best example that Panetta could point to was that the US presence in Latin America and Africa would have to be reduced. And why? Because according to Panetta the US would need to maintain a presence in the Middle East and the Far East.

It’s funny that sounds a bit like “prioritizing” – no wonder it was so confusing to the head of the Defense Department.

In a speech last week at the Woodrow Wilson center Panetta offered a litany of “threats” that continue to face the United States, “terrorism, nuclear proliferation, rogue states,cyber attacks; revolutions in the Middle East, economic crisis in Europe, the rise of new powers like China and India.”  It reads a bit like the Pentagon’s current greatest hits.

According to Panetta, “all of these changes represent security, geopolitical, economic and demographic shifts in the international order that make the world more unpredictable, more volatile and, yes, more dangerous.” That these words are practically identical to the ones spoken by Mitt Romney at the VFW convention in August are disturbing enough; that by any appreciable measure the world today is far less dangerous than any point in recent history only compounds the strategic incoherence of Panetta’s statement.

I asked Bill Hartung, who is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and a defense budget expert how he would rate the absurdity of these comments on a scale of 1 to 10 . . . his response was 12.  And Hartung should know – he served on the Sustainable Defense Task Force which outlined about one trillion dollars in defense cuts over ten years that would NOT turn the military into a hollow force.

As I keep pointing out, the US spends many times more on defense than the next several largest countries put together. The notion that cuts in defense spending will hurt our national security is simply ridiculous. It’s like claiming that a 5% tax increase on Bill Gates will be devastating to his finances.

Panetta was also terrible as CIA director, where he resolutely worked to prevent anything remotely like justice for agents that engaged in torture.

Comments

  1. says

    Panetta was also terrible as CIA director, where he resolutely worked to prevent anything remotely like justice for agents that engaged in torture.

    And that’s a resonant point to end the post with, as far as I’m concerned. Not only is torture immoral, but it’s useless to the point I think it’s appropriate to label all US torturers as subversive or even treasonous. Torture only gets the victim to tell you what he thinks the torturer wants to hear. The immorality combined with the uselessness is the rationale for making information and confessions obtained under torture to be inadmissible in courts. Why would Panetta defend people deliberately engaged in contaminating the evidence or encouraging outright fabrication of evidence?

    The answer, if you choose to ignore Hanlon’s razor (which would argue they’re doing it because they’re stupid): Torturers want to mislead the US’s leaders with false information, therefore torturers are working for the enemy.

    Sadly, incompetence is probably the more likely answer, so my fantasies of people like Panetta being tried for treason are going to remain fantasies.

    Back onto the main point, the way budgets and government groups tend to work, it encourages grabbing for bigger budgets, rather than working towards the department’s actual goals or considering vital needs in other departments.

    You can waste surplus budget money on wasteful incompetence to make it look like you need every penny, and then to argue that you still need more.

    I certainly wonder how much of our military budget is being wasted on people staring at goats. Heck, I wonder how much is wasted on getting just a few more F-22 Raptors to rust in the hangars instead of say, anti-IED underside armor for all the troop transports.

  2. Aquaria says

    Panetta was my rep back before CA-17’s lines were redrawn. I can’t really remember much about him, other than he was an okay Congressman. Then again, I only lived in the district six months, not long enough to get the scuttlebutt.

    I wonder what happened to him? Maybe all the power’s gone to his head?

  3. Scott Hanley says

    “terrorism, nuclear proliferation, rogue states,cyber attacks; revolutions in the Middle East, economic crisis in Europe, the rise of new powers like China and India.”

    Funny, but I don’t see a single thing on that list that is most appropriately handled by the military. Not even terrorism and nuclear proliferation. And the Pentagon is going to contribute to how we handle the economic crisis in Europe? That man needs different drugs.

  4. says

    As I keep pointing out, the US spends many times more on defense than the next several largest countries put together.

    Just a nitpick, our military spending is roughly equal to the rest of the world put together (~40% of total spending), not “many times”. The point remains the same either way.

  5. says

    I’m wondering if Panetta has simply been listening to the Joint Chiefs of Staff without having the background to know when they’re just being full of it.
    Dwight Eisenhower, the last General that we put in the White House, once said of the Chiefs as he tried to trim the military budget: “Those guys all want enough money (for their own branch) to win a war by themselves.”
    That might be one advantage to electing career military officers: they’ve seen all the bullshit, the grandstanding, and the bureaucratic nonsense.

  6. Modusoperandi says

    As I keep pointing out, the US spends many times more on defense than the next several largest countries put together.

    Exactly. That’s why the US needs such a strong military. Otherwise the combined form of those countries, Bruticus, will just roll right over it.

    Scott Hanley “Funny, but I don’t see a single thing on that list that is most appropriately handled by the military.”
    When all you’ve got is a hammer…

  7. Aquaria says

    Funny, but I don’t see a single thing on that list that is most appropriately handled by the military. Not even terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

    There’s a division of the Air Force that dealt with one component of nuclear proliferation, by testing for compliance with the Nuclear Test Ban treaty of 1963. Since the nukes were military weapons, the military absolutely was the right organization to deal with that. The testing required technical/scientific skill, constant vigilance, and the need to go to isolated places. Who qualified for all of that better than the USAF, with all those planes available, and plenty of manpower at their disposal?

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