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Hagel Takes Over a Pentagon on the Edge

Even with the Army poised to lose 40 percent of operating funds, Obama is wed to Head Start and flu vaccine memes.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

February 26, 2013 - 9:25 pm

At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, former Sen. Chuck Hagel will arrive at the River Entrance of the Pentagon for the first day of his new job.

He’ll take the oath of office behind closed doors at 8:15 a.m. Later in the morning, in the Pentagon auditorium, the Vietnam vet will address service members and civilian staff weathering a change in command while anxious about their own livelihoods.

It’s no secret that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was frustrated by the delay in Hagel’s confirmation and is eager to book it out of town and back to his Monterey Bay walnut farm. But Panetta was also viewed on both sides of the aisle as a stable leader for the department through the budgetary threats, warning of the effect that deep sequestration cuts will have on readiness and national security.

Panetta, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2011, was also not as politically divisive as his successor. Hagel’s 58-41 confirmation today was the narrowest margin since the position of Defense secretary was created in 1947.

“My prayer as I leave is that we all share the same courage and dedication to protecting the United States of America, the home of the free and the land of the brave,” Panetta said in a farewell memo to employees today. “God bless America, God bless you, and God bless the men and women of the Department of Defense.”

While Panetta’s note talked of service members responding “to the call of the bugle with courage and with selfless dedication to country,” President Obama was sounding the bugle of victory in getting his nominee through.

“I will be counting on Chuck’s judgment and counsel as we end the war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home, stay ready to meet the threats of our time and keep our military the finest fighting force in the world,” Obama said in a statement. “Most of all, I am grateful to Chuck for reminding us that when it comes to our national defense, we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans, and our greatest responsibility is the security of the American people.”

The president lauded the “bipartisan confirmation” of Hagel, though just four Republicans voted for the Nebraska Republican — Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Richard  Shelby (R-Ala.) and the surprise of the day, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Johanns announced last week that he won’t be running for re-election.

Today’s confirmation conveniently coincided with Obama’s trip to a shipbuilding facility in Newport News, Va., to give another speech on the sequester.

Even in this defense-saturated region, he amazingly barely touched on the more than $500 billion in defense cuts required by the sequester.

“Over at the Norfolk naval station, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to cancel the deployment or delay the repair of certain aircraft carriers. One that’s currently being built might not get finished. Another carrier might not get started at all and that hurts your bottom line. That hurts this community,” Obama said, then steering the speech toward domestic program cuts.

“If the sequester goes into effect, more than 2,000 college students would lose their financial aid. Early education like Head Start and Early Start would be eliminated for nearly a thousand children, and around 18,000 fewer Virginians would get the skills and training they need to find a job,” he said. “Across the countries these cuts will force federal prosecutors to potentially let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, and that could cause delays at airports across the country. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings, including more than 3,500 children right here in Virginia.”

GOP Rep. Scott Rigell (Va.) joined Obama on Air Force One today, along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). While the White House touted Rigell’s presence as a harbinger of bipartisan cooperation to reach a sequester deal palatable to the president,

Rigell said he requested the meeting with Obama to press the need to stop deep defense cuts.

“I shared with the president my concern that the administration has not provided a definitive legislative alternative to sequestration,” Rigell said. “Though the conversation was substantive, my concern on these critical topics remains.”

However, the congressman said the Republican Conference position that no tax hikes will be considered in a sequestration aversion deal is “equally concerning.”

“Given the two positions, sequestration, an alternative described by both Republicans and Democrats as reckless, now seems inevitable,” Rigell continued. “As a result, hard working Americans, including many who call Hampton Roads home, will suffer. National security will suffer as well. Given the severity of the consequences, this is unacceptable. I continue to call on the president and leadership from both parties to put what is best for our country ahead of all else.”

But with sequestration set to take effect Friday, Obama’s schedule tomorrow starts with meetings with senior advisers — including Hagel — followed by the unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue at the Capitol and evening remarks at the Business Council dinner in Washington.

“Right now the Army has almost 60,000 people deployed in Afghanistan and another 22,000 deployed in other places within the Middle East, Kosovo and other places, and more than 91,000 soldiers foreign-stationed across the globe,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told a House Appropriations defense subcommittee today.

“It is these very soldiers who will suffer the most under these budgetary cuts. We simply do not know when we’ll be asked to deploy soldiers to fight again, but history is very clear on this subject: We will ask them to deploy.”

Odierno said the combination of sequestration, the continuing resolution and a shortfall in overseas contingency operations funds for Afghanistan has led to an $18 billion shortfall for his branch’s operation and maintenance accounts this year alone, in addition to $6 billion cut from support programs.

“We will curtail training for 80 percent of our ground forces. This will impact a unit’s basic war-fighting skills, induce shortfalls across critical specialties, including aviation, intelligence, engineering, and even our ability to recruit new soldiers into the army,” he said.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, warned that the cuts would have an “irreversible and debilitating impact” on the Navy.

“We will have inadequate surge capacity at the appropriate readiness level where it matters, and when it matters,” he told the committee.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos noted that the five service chiefs at the witness table collectively represent more than 180 years of military service.

“Speaking today principally as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sequestration, by its magnitude, its timing, and its methodology will have a devastating impact on our nation’s readiness, both short term and long term,” Amos warned. “…First, risk to our national strategy. Second, risk to our forces. Third, risk to our people. And lastly, risk to the United States of America.”

“A fiscally driven lapse in American leadership in foreign engagement will create a void in which old threats will be left unaddressed, and new security challenges will, no doubt, find room to grow.”

Pentagon press secretary George Little opened today’s briefing by addressing “one of the narratives” he’d seen about sequestration.

“There seems to be a belief in some quarters that when it comes to negative impact that sequester will have on our national defense and military readiness, the Department of Defense is crying wolf. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Little said. “What you’ve heard from DoD leaders over the past few weeks is not hype. It’s the blunt truth. It isn’t exaggeration. It’s a clear-eyed assessment of what would happen to the department.”

Obama has vowed to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but soldiers will actually not be protected. By law, sequestration applies to all of the Defense Department budget, including wartime spending  — so units won’t have the funds to back up operations.

“Across DoD, we will be short more than 20 percent of total requirements for operating funds, and the percentage will be closer to 40 percent for the United States Army,” Little said.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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"Early education like Head Start and Early Start would be eliminated for nearly a thousand children"

How about eliminating the federally subsidized baby sitting services all together. There has never been any study of the effectiveness of these money pits that comes close to warranting the expense.

The latest study indicates that by the 3 grade any benefits of the progams = zero. And that study is the most promising study to date.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
During the Cold War, we had one threat and one threat only: the Soviet Union. Basically, if we could handle the Soviets in Europe, we could handle anyone, anywhere. (We didn't lose in Vietnam because of too little defense spending.) So there was one rule for the defense budget: keep up with the Soviets.

I'm not sure we know who we're trying to keep up with anymore. So any budget figures from the Pentagon have to be taken with a grain of salt. What are they budgeting for? Fighting the Russians in the Balkans? The Chinese in Taiwan? The Iranians in the Persian Gulf? Jihadis in Mali? Pirates in Somalia? Fighting everybody everywhere?

There's a big difference between "protecting America" and "protecting America's interests." How can we protect America's interests when they seem to be without limits? Ultimately, it comes down to "make sure we have enough military power to threaten the entire world so they'll do what we want them to do and not do what we don't want them to do." Not much of a strategy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If the Obama plan is surrender to oour enemies or the UN (the enemies' favorite organization) , the choice of which lackeys will do it becomes less important.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't know. Looking around the world, I don't see threats everywhere. There are the jihadis and the countries that protect and fund them. There are the Russians and the Chinese. The Russians are noisy, but they don't seem to have an expansionist agenda. The Chinese - they might want to annex Taiwan, but are they a real threat to Japan or anyone else?

Just who and/or what are we maintaining our "readiness" to fight? Anyone, anywhere, anytime?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0213/morris022613.php3#.US2thPIbHGg

President Obama and his media allies are pushing the notion that sequester will destroy Western Civilization. States are saying that the cuts will devastate the economy; the Pentagon insists they will "hollow out" the military. Eight hundred thousand civilian DOD employees will have to take a 20% pay cut. Head start is at risk. All manner of chaos will descend if we trim the Discretionary Budget from 1,034 billion to 950 billion!

Don't believe it for an instant.

Start with Defense spending. The US now spends 19% of its budget on Defense. The sequester would drop it to 18%. Big deal! That's the same percentage it was in 2000. Under Obama, the Defense budget has risen from $545 billion to $605 billion. Sequester will reduce it back to $563 billion — still more than when Obama took office.

It is absurd to suggest that this cut will endanger American security. Under Reagan, defense rose to 29% of the budget. But since the early 1990s, it has run between 18 and 20 percent and these cuts would leave it still within this range.

The domestic non-defense cuts are even less likely to cause major damage. Non defense discretionary spending has risen under Obama from $468 billion to $514 billion. Sequester would drop it back to the same level as it was when Obama took office. As a percent of the budget, this category has dropped from 18% of the budget when Clinton took office to 16% now. Sequester would drive it down to 15%. Again, big deal!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama is like a person going on a diet who proposes amputation of a limb as opposed to eating less to reach his weight goal.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's really amazing that a "cut" in increases could cause the end of the world. Only in government could we so pass Chicken Little.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If our economy is really driven by taxes rather than by trade, if it can't survive without government jobs and government funding, then it's an artificial economy and it deserves to collapse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Pentagon could save a lot of money, and lives and limbs, just by bringing their Human Sacrifices to Islam home from Afcrapistan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yup.

To save money and get effective results, we could withdraw our troops, then warn countries like Afghanistan that if they ever again harbor terrorists who attack the US we will nuke them. Declare our intentions precisely ONCE. Then follow it without exceptions.

Hopefully soon the Chinese will go in there, clean house big time, and take all the resources. They have a massive advantage because China has never given a rat's patootie what anybody else thinks of them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What would the Chinese want with Afghanistan?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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