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U.S. Defense Cuts Hobble Allies, Embolden Enemies

A cut-rate approach to national security.

by
Morgan Lorraine Roach

Bio

January 23, 2012 - 12:00 am

President Obama’s new defense strategy is sending the wrong message to America’s foes. The new cut-rate approach to national security provides opportunities for Iran and others to exploit an under-funded and under-equipped military.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama made no secret of his plans to reduce defense spending. And so it was no surprise when, in April 2011, President Obama ordered the Pentagon to slash its budget by $400 billion. This, of course, came in addition to the $400 billion in cuts he had already imposed. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta subsequently unveiled a defense “strategic review” that conveniently explained that America’s shift in domestic and overseas priorities requires a different approach to defense spending — one that, coincidentally, can accommodate a defense budget that is $400 billion “leaner.”

The prospect of a leaner (i.e., less capable) American military doubtless cheers our foreign adversaries. The leaders of Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and others rant and rave against a U.S. they revile as the “Great Satan” and an “Imperial Yankee,” hell-bent on colonizing their homelands. Yet they have been restrained from challenging us with anything much stronger than words due to our military strength, which assures our forces can prevail anywhere on the world stage.

However, the administration’s naive strategy of negotiating with hostile governments and weakening the military has allowed regimes to threaten U.S. interests. As Mr. Obama initially stated in his inaugural address, if countries like Iran “unclench their fist” they will find an “extended hand” from the United States. Yet the administration fails to consider what will happen when dialogue and diplomatic engagement don’t achieve desired results. As Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA) recently stated, “Downgrading our [military] force will only harm our ability to respond to unforeseen crises.”

The administration’s reluctance to stand up to its aggressors is not lost on Iran. Days after Mr. Obama’s inauguration, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly interpreted the new president’s offer of negotiation as a sign of weakness “This request means Western ideology has become passive, that capitalist thought and the system of domination have failed,” he stated.

Three years later, Iran continues to use the same language, but its actions have become more belligerent. In response to President Obama’s announcement regarding U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, Iran’s supreme leader stated, “Today the west, the United States and Zionism are weaker than ever before.” As a show of Iran’s increasing hostility, in the past few weeks Tehran has escalated its threats against the West, test firing new missiles, threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, and announcing production of its first nuclear fuel rod.

The administration’s defense cuts are also impacting America’s transatlantic allies. Defense modernization has been severely reduced. Among other things, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project has been severely delayed. This particularly affects the United Kingdom, which had planned to upgrade its fleet with F-35s. Should the UK be unable to achieve this, the viability of its carriers is jeopardized.

Not that this matters to Mr. Obama. After all, one of the main aspects of the review was the announcement of the Pentagon’s shift in regional priority from Europe to the Asia-Pacific. The lack of will and capabilities of some NATO members in missions like Libya has given the administration an excuse to abandon its long-standing allies and seek new friends. In a further sign of the administration’s indifference towards the region, the Pentagon has already begun to draw down U.S. troops based in Europe. One of the four U.S. brigades there will return home within a year.

Yet despite this announced transition in engagement from Europe to the Asia- Pacific, very few resources are being sent to the latter region. Rather, cuts are being taken elsewhere, particularly in areas such as modernization.

The administration’s defense cuts undermine America’s ability to respond to international threats and protect U.S. citizens and allies. Furthermore, they invite Iran and other aggressors to threaten U.S. interests. Soon enough, Mr. Obama’s policy of pursuing peace through diplomatic “engagement” while allowing our military strength to atrophy will lead us not to peace, but to increasing global insecurity and — ultimately — war.

Morgan Lorraine Roach is a research associate at The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.
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