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The Pentagon’s new spending proposal would shrink its budget for the first time since 1998. It’s the initial step in a plan to shave nearly a half-trillion dollars from the defense budget over the next decade. Some say the timing is right. The Iraq war is over and the U.S. is winding down its engagement in Afghanistan. Plus, the economic climate at home has made trimming the federal deficit a political priority. Critics are worried the proposed budget will weaken the U.S. as China’s power grows and the Middle East becomes more turbulent. Diane and her guests talk about the implications of a leaner U.S. military.
- Lawrence Korb senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
- George Little deputy assistant secretary of Defense and Pentagon press secretary.
- Thomas Donnelly defense and security policy analyst; director of the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields."
- Thom Shanker Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times; co-author of "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Pentagon plans to reduce its budget for the first time in more than a decade. Some say the $6 billion in spending cuts don't go far enough. Others fear they're too deep. Joining me to talk about the implications for military personnel and U.S. defense strategy: George Little of the Department of Defense, Thom Shanker of The New York Times, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you would like to weigh in as well. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Good morning, gentlemen. Thanks for joining us.
MR. GEORGE LITTLEGood morning.
MR. THOMAS DONNELLYGood morning, Diane.
MR. LAWRENCE KORBGood morning.
MR. THOM SHANKERGood morning.
REHMGood morning to all of you. George Little, I'll start with you. Talk about, briefly, what's in this plan and how it differs from years past.
LITTLEAbsolutely. Well, thank you for having me on today, Diane.
LITTLEWe are in the midst, as you know, of coming out of 10 years of war. We're at a strategic inflection point in our national security. We have wound down a war in Iraq. We are winding down a war in Afghanistan over the next few years. So it makes sense to take stock of what our strategic priorities are for defense in the 21st century. We also have a fiscally constrained environment, not just the military but the entire country, and we recognize that we have to do our part.
LITTLEThe Congress, as you know, passed nearly -- it passed the Budget Control Act last year. And that requires the Defense Department to cut $487 billion over the next 10 years. So what we have done, led by the president and the secretary, is to adopt a strategy-driven process to identify what our priorities are going to be going forward and where we need to cut. So we have announced our strategy, and we've given some insight into what budget decisions we're proposing to Congress.
REHMInteresting that this morning's New York Times lead editorial is headlined "New Strategy, Old Pentagon Budget."
LITTLEWell, it certainly is a new strategy, but this is a forward-looking budget. We recognize that we have new priorities. For example, we're shifting in focus to the Asia-Pacific region. We're continuing our focus on the Middle East. We're going to re-engineer our security relationships in Europe. We have an unwavering commitment to Europe, but it makes sense at this time to look ahead. We have al-Qaida to confront. They're diminished but not defeated. We still have states like Iran and North Korea to think about.
LITTLEWe have the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber threats, and the list goes on. So it's not as if we're coming out of a dark forest into a springtime meadow. We have to do the right thing smartly to protect our country. We will be smaller and leaner but not weaker. We will maintain a global presence. We will deny aggression wherever it occurs. As I said, we're shifting our focus to the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
LITTLEWe need to maintain the best technology in the world, and we need to keep faith with the men and women in uniform and their families. They make tremendous sacrifices to keep us all safe.
REHMGeorge Little, he's deputy assistant secretary of Defense and Pentagon press secretary. Tom Donnelly, what do you think of this new proposed budget?
DONNELLYWell, I would think it's just a fancy word for retreat, as is the strategy. You don't get more for less. You get less for less. And you can't say you're emphasizing the Middle East in the midst of withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan. The American presence in the Middle East has been expanding for a generation over administrations governed by both parties. It's a long-running, persistent pattern that's now being turned around in the opposite direction.
DONNELLYLikewise, the pivot to the Pacific, there's no there there. The force posture that needs to support it can't be supported by the budget or the forces that the Pentagon has outlined. So the ideas aren't bad in and of themselves -- at least the Pacific pivot is not a bad idea. Paying more attention to that region makes sense, but, unless there's the military power to back it up, it's just words without substance.
REHMTom Donnelly, he's at the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Larry Korb, that word, pivot, is used a lot. And I'm not quite sure I understand what it means. Tell me your understanding.
KORBWell, I think they're trying to send a message that, you know, as we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we're going to pay more attention to the Pacific. But the great irony is you never pivoted away. I mean, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we never took any troops out of Okinawa. We took half of the new F-22s, put them in the Pacific while this was going on -- this is the Air Force's frontline fighter. We still have a carrier, you know, home based in Japan, so we never really pivoted.
KORBIn fact, right after the secretary's press conference, the chief of naval operations came out and said, no, we're not adding anything. We've never turned it away. I think it was trying to send a signal particularly to countries in the region who are worried about China's more aggressive behavior, but it really doesn't change anything.
REHMSo do you believe that these cuts don't go far enough?
KORBOh, very definitely. I mean, we're not cutting the defense spending. I think this is important to keep in mind. Just to give you an example, I went back and checked. Over the last five years, we spent $2.6 trillion. Over the next five years, we're going to spend $2.7 trillion. I mean, even Dick Armey came out and said, you know, this is not a cut. It's a reduction in planned spending. Every agency always wants to, you know, keep on spending.
KORBIt's something my boss, Cap Weinberger, used to use during the Reagan administration when we cut defense spending by 10 percent in his second term. He would always compare it to what he wanted and asked, but, you know, didn't get. So it's really not a question of money. The real question is, are you spending it properly and are you managing the taxpayers' resources well?
REHMLawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. Thom Shanker, you've been watching this debate, watching these numbers, a $2.7 trillion budget going forward. What might it have been had there not been the cuts proposed by DOD?
SHANKERRight. Well, the previous Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted a growth in defense spending that would beat inflation every year. And Larry is, of course, absolutely right. It's mostly a cut in anticipated spending. But the math we did at The New York Times, depending on how you look at inflation, it's about a 1.6 percent cut, so hardly catastrophic. But the numbers are going down slightly in a budget that's doubled over the past 10 years.
SHANKERI think overall, Diane, it's a very deliberate defense proposal for spending over the next five years. It took a lot of tough decisions, but certainly not revolutionary decisions. My major takeaway, as I was listening to Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey brief this, it's a budget proposal that emphasizes high technology and future weapons, protect special operations, intelligence and surveillance platforms and cyber warfare and focuses on Asia.
SHANKERI was in the Pentagon on Sept. 10, 2001, when former Secretary Rumsfeld briefed his vision for the future, which was leap-ahead technology, focus on Asia, cut the army, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance and special operations. Twenty-four hours later, we had the 9/11 attacks, and it was a different world. So I think that the budget and the strategy is very thoughtful and deliberate.
SHANKERBut the enemy gets a vote, and there are reversible points in the budget to anticipate this. But the Pentagon, like any institution, needs to be on guard for hubris.
REHMThom Shanker of The New York Times, co-author of "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda." You can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Tom Donnelly, you've got Democrats saying, cut more, cut more. Do you think that's likely to happen in the debate process?
DONNELLYWell, you've got Republicans who want to cut more. I mean, the Tea Party tide has ebbed a little bit, but that libertarian strain in the Republican Party is still pretty strong. And there's a difference actually between the Republican candidates on this, so the defense consensus -- the consensus -- the Cold War consensus amongst sort of, like, Truman Democrats and conservatives is kind of in tatters on the floor, to put it mildly.
DONNELLYAnd, of course, everybody's first political priorities are for the Democrats to preserve entitlements and for Republicans not to increase taxes. Defense is nobody's number one priority, and I think that goes a long way to explaining the situation that we're in now.
KORBWell, you talk about -- Tom Coburn has said, you could cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years. This was part of the Gang of Six, three Republicans and three Democrats. You've also had President Obama set up a deficit reduction commission, Bowles-Simpson. They said you could double the number of cuts over the years. So I think that -- basically, I agree with Thom and George. It's kind of a good beginning, but you got to do much more because, if you don't, basically, you're going to be spending money that you don't need to spend while we have all kinds of other priorities.
SHANKERYou know, Larry made an interesting question talking about Sen. Coburn of Oklahoma. In his study, he also envisioned major cuts in the nuclear force. I think your listeners should be aware that in the budget proposal rolled out, there are no cuts in America's nuclear arsenal, except a delay by two years of the next class of missile-carrying submarine. Now, this is a president who has pledged an aspirational goal of getting to zero. And maybe the policy is not there yet, but this budget, Diane, does nothing to reduce the nuclear arsenal.
REHMThom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more both about the Middle East stand, the Far East, take your calls, comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about proposed spending cuts by the Department of Defense, which total $1.7 billion -- trillion.
SHANKERNo. Their proposed cuts are $489 billion over 10 years. Bowles-Simpson and Coburn were proposing close to a trillion dollars over the next 10 years.
REHMOK. And here is a posting on Facebook by Bruce, who says, "The U.S. currently accounts for half of all military spending in the entire world. We could cut our military spending in half and, A, still account for a third of all military spending in the world and B, still spend far more than any other single country. It's about time we cut back on military spending." George Little.
LITTLEWell, thank you again, Diane. I think that you're comparing ourselves in an abstract manner to other countries or their spending probably isn't the right way to go. We need to look -- take a look at what threats face the United States, what the priorities need to be, and then how our military needs to support our effort to confront those threats. Let me just take a moment to respond to a couple of my esteemed colleagues on the panel.
LITTLEFirst, when you have Larry Korb and Tom Donnelly, two respected voices in the defense community, disagreeing about this, it probably means we've done the right thing, both in terms of the strategy and our budget decisions. Look, no one likes to have to cut. The Congress has required that we cut up to $500 billion, and that's tough. And we don't necessarily like to do that ourselves. But we need to do it in a responsible way, and it's an inflection point for our country.
LITTLEIn terms of Asia-Pacific, it's not just about putting more troops in the Asia-Pacific region. It's also about leveraging our partnerships with our allies in the region. We have an arc of interest and alliances that stretches from Japan, Korea, Australia, all the way over to India, and it's about energizing those partnerships in a way that protects American interests and those of our allies.
LITTLEI guess I would take strong issue with the notion that we're somehow retreating. We are not. We're looking ahead at what the threats of the future are, and we're confronting them head-on.
REHMWhat do you see as the greatest threats in the future?
LITTLEWell, we continue to look at states like Iran and North Korea. We still have al-Qaida to confront. We have cyber issues to deal with. We have a range of threats that confront us, and we need to be ready to confront the full spectrum of threats. And we are prepared to do that. This strategy acknowledges that. And then, finally, just a point on $1 billion -- or, excuse me, $1 trillion in cuts, that's roughly what would happen if sequestration, this across-the-board kind of haircut across the defense budget, would require us to do. We think that would be devastating.
LITTLEThe secretary has said it would be a doomsday scenario. It would result in the smallest Army and Marine Corps in decades, the smallest Air Force in the history of the service and the smallest Navy in a very long time. We think that's irresponsible. And, oh, by the way, it would likely break faith with service members in uniform.
DONNELLYThere's a certain "Groundhog Day" aspect to this conversation. Every year, Washington wakes up and starts measuring defense cuts from the last year's budget. This is a process that's been going on essentially since the end of the Cold War. The size of the services has gotten smaller by about a third to 40 percent, depending on what service you're looking at. The weapons that they're using are older and less capable, and replacement systems have not been fielded.
DONNELLYReally, the measure of military power is the output, not the input. So when you look at the forces that America can field, they're smaller, they're less capable than they were intended to be and partly because we've been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years. The investment that we have made has gone to try to win those contests or conflicts. So, you know, money is an important measurement, but it's not the most important measurement in war.
DONNELLYAnd when you're talking about the fiscal condition of the government, these are trivial sums. Cutting $50 billion out of Defense Department next year, when the federal deficit is likely to be something like $1.5 trillion and the economy is likely to be over $16 trillion, this is a drop in a very large ocean.
REHMI'd be interested especially in force reduction, Larry Korb, and what it means in terms of numbers of volunteers that you may be getting into the armed forces.
KORBWell, beginning in 2005, when people realized that the war in Iraq was not going to be a cake walk and Afghanistan was not going to turn out like they thought, they started increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. Basically, the cuts proposed by Secretary Panetta will keep us above that level. You're not going back to where you are at that particular time. And when you withdraw your forces from combat theaters, that's essentially what you should do, but it's going to done between now and 2017.
KORBYou can basically change your recruitment quotas. And my understanding is they're going to try and keep the experienced, you know, people in. But you ought to realize that after 20 years, 50 percent of the people who get to 20 years retire anyway, so you -- it basically -- it's not that a big a reduction. And, you know, people used to talk, and they would say, oh, my goodness -- look in the '90s, when the first President Bush and President Clinton cut the size of the forces the way Tom was talking about, they were terrible.
KORBThese people marched to Baghdad in three weeks. They got out al-Qaida and Taliban out of Afghanistan in less than a month. The problem was the civilians who sent them there didn't have a clue about what they were doing. And don't forget, Tom was talking about the money going to fight the wars. That's over and above. We're not even talking about that. We have -- this is the first time in our history where we have funded wars through supplementals, and they're well over $1 trillion.
REHMHere's an email from Greg in Bloomington, Ind. He says, "Last year, I called Sen. Dick Lugar, Republican from Indiana, and asked him to slash defense spending. He sent me a letter that said 'base closures.' Seriously, I kept the letter. If even Sen. Lugar is on board, isn't it time to admit our military is larger than it needs to be?" George Little.
LITTLEWell, we've actually suggested that a BRAC-like process be instituted in the coming years. That's part of our set of budget proposals. It's not inside the $487 billion that we're required to cut over the next 10 years, but we think it's the prudent thing to do. No one likes to have to go through a BRAC process. We've been through it before. It is tough for local communities. That's why we need to talk with local communities. Congress has a vote in this, of course, and the department, of course, needs to be in dialogue as well.
LITTLEBut we think it's a responsible thing to at least consider a BRAC-like process going forward. If don't -- if we have a smaller force, a leaner force, then we may have an infrastructure we don't need, and we can save cost.
REHMThom Shanker, every time there's talk of base closings, everybody says, NIMBY, not in my backyard. How is this going to move forward?
SHANKERWell, a move forward very slowly and over a number of years. I think the only two bases that are really in jeopardy are in Germany, which is in nobody's congressional district. The Army, to drop from 570 to 490, is bringing two heavy brigades out of Europe. They won't go to anybody's district, even though many senators raised their hand right away. They'll case the colors of those two brigades, and they'll fall off the books. And those communities in Germany will certainly suffer economically.
DONNELLYOne of the themes that the Defense Department emphasized in rolling out this new strategy is that they could reverse things. They talked a lot about reversibility. One of the bad things about BRAC, even though it would create -- you know, if you have a larger base structure than a force to man it, there are overhead costs associated with that. But it sort of undercuts this notion of reversibility.
DONNELLYMy view is that this administration intends to reduce the permanent defense establishment of this country and make it very difficult to reverse course. They're not only trying to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but take the mischief-making tools, if you weigh -- if you will, away from future presidents who may see the world quite differently than this president does.
KORBWell, when you talk about reversibility, they're not cutting the guard and reserve. And we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan how well they can perform, so that's what you're talking about, reversibility. And remember the reason for BRAC. People don't understand. This is something I worked with Sen. Goldwater to set up. The Congress in the late '70s passed a law. It said you couldn't close a base unless you did a year's study, and it could go to court and all that. So the BRAC is one way to put it on fast track, and it's not just the Department of Defense.
KORBYou have an independent commission (word?) support -- you know, put in there by the Congress who can say if this makes sense. In fact, in 2005, they refused to close a couple of the bases that were on the list, like New London, for example.
LITTLEReversibility is about people, skills and expertise, not about installations and infrastructure. That's what we're talking about. We're talking about the ability to mobilize quickly in the event of a need to grow, you know, our forces in the future in the face of unknown threats. So I would take issue with the notion that this is somehow not the right thing to do. We need to quickly mobilize, and the National Guard and Reserve are a key component of that.
REHMThom Shanker, how do you read the administration's plans for the Pacific? Are they adequate to deal with whatever China has in mind?
SHANKERWell, they certainly seem adequate because it's a matter of attention. And one thing that -- you know, the Pentagon and the White House like to say this is not a budget-driven strategy, but the reality is the budget is how you unlock the code of the strategy. And they are putting a lot more money to watching Asia, but nobody anticipates a pure rival war with China. It's just having a presence in the region to manage a rising China that may try to run afoul of American interest.
SHANKERBut we do have a very strong alliance structure there, and we'll have -- you know, the Marines coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan can reposition west of Hawaii. Littoral combat ships will be, you know, staying on the roster. And the aircraft carrier force, the crown jewel of the Navy, there were many proposals to cut it from 11 to 10, or even nine. But I was told the president himself made the decision to keep the carrier fleet at 11 because of the focus on the Pacific.
DONNELLYHere's where the devil is really in the details. And if you don't connect to the military facts with your strategic rhetoric, you end up very much in trouble. You can't pivot to the Pacific. You know, Thom mentioned the littoral combat ship, which is a small -- a smaller surface combatant ship, a smaller ship. We're reducing the number of those. Carriers are fine, but they're only as valuable as the airplanes that are on those decks and the carrier battle group that escorts the carrier.
DONNELLYSo if the fleet is smaller but more -- has more carriers and fewer escorts, and the planes that are flying off those carriers are not the most modern, but are less capable, older, shorter-legged planes, then it doesn't add up to a posture in the Pacific that will reassure our allies or deter the Chinese or the North Koreans or anybody else. The enemy and our allies can see the details, and that's what they take as a measure of commitment.
REHMTom Donnelly, he's with the American Enterprise Institute, co-author of "Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." George Little, what about personnel who are already part of the military? What's going to happen to, say, pay increases, retirement funds, insurance fees? What's going to happen there?
LITTLEThe core component of our strategy and our budget decisions is not to break faith with the men and women in uniform. We have elected not to cut pay raises for active duty service members. The rate of pay growth in the out-years may slow a bit, but there will be no pay cut. We've also proposed a retirement commission. We don't know everything we need to know about the implications of changing the retirement system for military retirees.
LITTLESo we believe that, over the next year or so, we need to have some smart people looking at this issue. We understand the implications of changes to the retirement system, and we want to do it in the smartest way possible. But the bottom line is that we don't want to break faith. And in terms of retirement for active duty service members, the secretary has been clear that a red line for him is that they need to have the retirement benefits they were promised when they joined. So grandfathering is an important component.
REHMLarry Korb, what are the risks for President Obama on this budget moving forward?
KORBI don't think there are any risks because the American people basic, A, support cutting defense spending, and, B, American people basically are tired of, you know, trying to save the world ourself. You know, it's very interesting. You look at the Republican campaign. Who gets the most contributions from military people and retired military people? Ron Paul, of all of the candidates, because I think people have recognized we have to be a balancer and, you know, have offshore balancing rather than trying to re-engineer societies.
KORBAnd I think that that's really the key. I think, if anything, the American people would be more sympathetic to Bowles-Simpson. You know, if you did Bowles-Simpson or you did sequestration, you'd be back to where you were, in real terms, to 2007. I don't ever remember anybody complaining about defense. This is the base budget. I'm not talking about the war funding. And what's happened is we've gotten so used -- in fact, you know, Adm. Mullen, when he was chairman, said, we don't have to make any hard decisions.
KORBGen. Cartwright, who was his deputy when this 489 or $487 billion cutback, you know what he said? He said, that was easy. We still haven't made the hard decisions yet. So you got used to this what Gates called this gusher of defense spending. Read what John McCain said on the Senate floor on the 15th of December, when he talked about the V-22, the tilt-rotor Osprey, now costs as much as the F-35. The F-35 costs us double. The F -- he called the F-22 -- and this is back to my old days flying for the Navy -- a glorified hangar queen.
KORBAnd you had horrible management 'cause the budget was growing, and nobody had to make tough decisions. This is what's good. You're going to have to make some tough decisions now. And that's the way it's always been.
REHMThom Shanker, how are military personnel themselves looking at all this?
SHANKERThey're looking at it with great concern, Diane. The problem for them is those who are separated by choice, or perhaps even forced out of the military, are entering an economy where there just aren't a lot of jobs. I think that could be a huge political issue for anybody in office or running for office. The other challenge -- you know, I spend a lot of time embedded with the troops down range.
SHANKERWe have the most experienced military since the time of Alexander the Great. They're combat-tested. They're combat-trained. As the military comes back to garrison, the problem is not only figuring out the right numbers to match the budget, but how you keep your best officers and senior enlisted personnel interested in their jobs when they're pushing paper and not conducting fascinating and important missions.
REHMAnd, George Little, I would imagine that special operations and SEALs are not going to be cut.
LITTLEWell, there will be a focus on our special operations' capabilities going forward. That's an important component. You saw the special operations do a great work in Abbottabad, for instance, and special operations aren't going away.
REHMGeorge Little of the Department of Defense. Short break. When we come back, your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones. First to West Brookfield, Mass. Good morning, Tracy.
TRACYGood morning. I just wanted to comment on a statement made at the beginning of the show that we -- if we spend less, we'll get less. And in the 21st century, if you even look at a basic principle like Moore's law, every 10 years, with transistors or microprocessors, speeds are increasing by 100 percent, and the sizes are getting smaller and smaller. We can do more with less. We need to make the right choices, tough choices.
TRACYAnd I would also point to Obama's Nobel Prize-winning speech, beginning of his term, that, I think, as far as paying -- coming due with our union dues or United Nations dues and making this wonderful speech about humanitarian and people pulling together and diplomacy. It's important -- we've got (unintelligible)...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Tom Donnelly.
DONNELLYWell, you know, war is not like a computer design, unfortunately. It's its own art, if you will. And the Pentagon, thankfully, and the administration has promised to keep the U.S. military the best force in the world. I hope that's true. But the problem is not quality. The problem is quantity. We should -- that should have been a takeaway from the last 10 years. Our military was superb. It adapted to war that it didn't understand and didn't expect from the start.
DONNELLYBut the problem was that it wasn't large enough. The forces deployed were not large enough to execute the mission that they were given. So in -- you know, in war, quantity still matters.
KORBWait a second. We had more than enough forces. The problem was, when we set up the volunteer military, which I had something to do with, we said we're going to have a comparatively small active force, a Guard and Reserve to be a bridge to selective service. That's why we make young people register. And what happened is the military and political -- particularly the political leaders in this country didn't want to tell the American people how many forces you would need in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly Iraq.
KORBHad they done that, you'd had more people ask questions before we went there. But it was a failure of leadership. There's plenty. You got 20 million people registered out there. You could have easily done that after you called up the Guard and Reserve.
REHMAll right. To Brandenburg, Ky., good morning, Ron. You're on the air.
RONGood morning. Yes. I'm a longtime military serviceman, eight years Guard, over 20 years active. Hope to retire this summer if my wife will let me. I've been in an enlisted infantryman. I've been a -- served the Ranger Battalion, Special Forces operator five years, and now I'm retiring as a medical officer. My wife is active duty officer. You know, my own personal self-interest would be to say no cuts, absolutely not. But that's not why we serve.
RONThe interest of our nation dictates that we have to have cuts. You've had -- as your usual brilliant callers have pointed out, we spend more than the rest of the world combined, yet we have 10 percent of the world economy. That doesn't balance out. We have more than doubled the cost of our military DOD side since 9/11, yet we're (word?) back only a small fraction of that. And that's debatable. It becomes a point of diminishing returns. I think we have long exceeded that point of diminishing returns.
REHMAll right, Ron. Thanks for your call. Following up on that, here's an email from Gene in Brookeville, Md., who says, "U.S. security is not simply defense from foreign threats. It also includes economic security. We need investments in education, infrastructure and energy independence. That is more important than supporting a bloated military. We should be prioritizing our funding for those domestic needs." You've got military, you've got non-military supporting these kinds of cuts, following up on this idea that the country needs to spend less. Thom Shanker.
SHANKERWell, Diane, I think Adm. Mullen said it best when he, you know, testified that this country is not safe if it's broke. I think the military fully understands it has to accept the cuts. They just want them done fairly and in a smart manner and that the tough decisions are made correctly. But it's an art, not a science, and they need to be aware.
REHMAll right. To Bristol, Tenn., good morning, Steven.
STEVENGood morning, Diane. I just want to say I love you, and you give journalism a really great name. And I appreciate being on the show.
REHMThank you so much.
STEVENMy father was a Korean War vet, an Army vet. And my best friend from college was in the Air Force for 21years, so I get kind of an inside view from their viewpoints. And I don't personally agree with how we're so globalized in what is called nation building. But what I am most concerned about coming up this year is with the election of -- in the American electorate, will we get accurate information? Because I've already heard Romney and Gingrich blast our current president as being weak and weakening our military.
STEVENAnd so it really concerns me that the people that are going to choose to vote will get the right information to say, you know, I don't see how we're going to somehow not be still the best and most capable military on the globe. I think it's how we implement that. So I figure I really would appreciate hearing, and I appreciate that. Thank you.
REHMThank you. Larry Korb.
KORBYeah. I think -- and I spent 24 years in the Navy, counting active and reserve, so, you know, I've seen that. And you can always argue you need more. Everybody does that. They do it when I was a dean at the University of Pittsburgh. Everybody wanted more. The real question is, do you spend it smartly? And I think that's the real issue. As I say, people said, well, our-- Thom was saying, well, our planes and stuff are getting old.
KORBDo you realize, in real terms, the procurement budget where we buy things went up, according to a Stimson study, by 70 percent? I'm not talking about the war funding. If you didn't do it, you weren't running it. Even if you go back to the 2005 BRAC, didn't save a nickel 'cause they did it so poorly. I have never seen the Pentagon -- you guys are new, so you're just there. I have never seen it so poorly managed. The money was there.
KORBNobody was making the tough decisions. And that -- you know, you got to -- you know, you have this Nunn-McCurdy law that says when it goes over 25 percent, you know, you got to cancel it -- didn't cancel a single thing this decade. You know, you got to do the -- if you go back and you look at people like David Packard and Don Atwood when they were deputies, boy, they made things happen.
REHMThom Shanker, what about Steven's question regarding the political outlook and whether Republicans who are already calling Obama a weak president will look at this defense budget and use it as evidence?
SHANKERWell, I think the Republican Party is an interesting place. And again, as a Pentagon beat reporter, I'm not the best person to dissect the Republican campaign. But I think it's obvious that the Republican Party is very divided among itself. You actually have a lot of leading Republicans and grassroots Republicans who are more vocal about defense cuts than some Democrats. So I don't think the Republican Party is a juggernaut marching forward with one view on military spending.
DONNELLYWell, it's true, and especially Speaker Gingrich, who once promised to turn the Pentagon into a triangle...
DONNELLY...he has never met a reform idea that he didn't want to...
SHANKER(unintelligible) How'd that go, by the way?
DONNELLYThe way most of his ideas pan out, I'm afraid. It passed very quickly. But, look, the caller mentioned, you know, will the -- will voters get the information? That information is out there, and the basic facts are this: The American economy is huge. We will produce more than $16 trillion of good and services in 2013. Federal government spending is expanding, but defense spending is shrinking. The $525 billion that the president proposes represents 3.2 percent, less than 4 cents on the dollar of our economy.
DONNELLYThe entitlement programs, our federal debt, our federal deficit represent where the -- you know, we have to take the Willie Sutton, you know, angle to this: Go where the money is. And if you really want to constrain federal spending, you could eliminate the Pentagon entirely and still only cut the annual deficit in half. So you need to compare the relative size of these things one to the other.
DONNELLYAnd the bottom line for me is we can afford what we need strategically and militarily. We don't have to choose to cut the Army or to retreat from the Middle East. We can afford to do it.
DONNELLYThe question is whether we will.
LITTLEWell, we're not retreating from the Middle East, Tom. That's for sure. We're going to have a sizable force presence there for years to come. I think in terms of the president's record on national security, I think that people on both sides of the aisle will recognize that this is a president who has a very strong record on national security, from diminishing al-Qaida to transitioning in Afghanistan.
LITTLELook, the last fighting season in Afghanistan was a much different fighting season than in past years, and that has been a mark of leadership both by the president and our military commanders. And, you know, we wound down the war in Iraq. This nation is stronger today from national security perspective than it was just a few years ago.
REHMAnd you've raised an issue I do want to ask you about, George Little. In an interview with "60 Minutes," Defense Secretary Panetta said he believes Pakistan officials must have known where Osama bin Laden was hiding. Given the current tensions with that country, were you at all surprised by your boss' candor?
LITTLEWell, let me clarify what you just said, Diane, if I may. Last October, he gave an interview to "60 Minutes," and he said that he had no definitive proof, no evidence that there was official Pakistani support for bin Laden inside Pakistan. What he said was he thought that there was some kind of support network for bin Laden inside Pakistan, but he did not say official Pakistani government support. That's a very important distinction. We realize that our relationship with the Pakistanis is important.
LITTLEWe've gone through a rough patch, especially over the last year. We want to get it on solid footing. That's why it's important that we continue to talk with our Pakistani partners to find ways of cooperating. And we think that at the end of the day, that will happen.
REHMThom Shanker, distinction without a difference?
SHANKERWell, I think that the best reporting we've done at The Times has not come up with any official support or official knowledge. That doesn't mean that there weren't people in the official bureaucracy, but it does not -- we've uncovered nothing that says a state supported safe haven for bin Laden.
DONNELLYWell, they're either complicit, or they're incompetent. I can't tell. I don't know the answer to the question, but neither is a good story for American policy when it comes to Pakistan.
KORBI think President Obama has got to get a lot of credit for that mission because we didn't know before we went in, took a high risk. Secretary Gates, your predecessor, was opposed to it. They thought it would end up like President Carter trying to rescue the hostages from Iran. So, I mean, that was a very daring mission because you weren't quite sure. You were flying the planes over another country without -- I mean, to me, that's one of the best military operations we've ever had.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To St. Petersburg, Fla., good morning, Ed.
EDGood morning, Diane. I have a special perspective to introduce to your guests. It's a report by voters in New Hampshire during the recent presidential primary. And I'm involved with democracyorempire.org. We're with five other organizations in New Hampshire, and we put in $140,000 on America's Future, which were distributed during the primary to New Hampshire voters.
EDAnd I'd like to share those voters' responses are the -- the responses so far because I think it's related to this discussion. And the other groups, by the way, were New Hampshire Veterans for Peace, New Hampshire Letter Carriers, New Hampshire Occupy, New Hampshire...
EDAnd so the question -- two -- the U.S. has over 820 overseas military bases in countries around the world and an estimated 6,000-plus in the U.S. and its territories at incalculable cost in part since the Defense Department is unable to and never fully accounts for where it spends taxpayer's fund, unlike every other federal agency.
REHMOK. So -- and how did they respond?
EDRight. OK. A, should the number of these bases be significantly reduced by a 7-to-1 margin? People responded, and remember this was a record-breaking Republican turnout in that primary. And then the other question along these lines, let's see, over the last 10 years, the U.S. military budget has more than doubled -- $290 billion to $695 billion -- despite no meaningful increase in foreign press to U.S. citizens.
REHMAnd the reaction?
EDYeah. This year's proposed budget, $675 billion, with some experts indicating the true figure to be close to $1.3 (unintelligible)...
REHMOK. Just give me the result.
EDThe -- yeah, the yes and no is 6-1. Do you think it is time to significantly cut the defense budget? Six-to-one responded, yes, it was.
REHMAll right. Tom Donnelly.
DONNELLYYou know, that -- the sentiment that the caller reflects is one that's definitely out there in the country, to be sure. But that has always been the case. I mean, there were charges of the military-industrial complex during the Cold War or the National Security State. It also happens to be the most liberal period of American society when the civil rights movement, you know, expanded rights for African-Americans, where the women's movement expanded rights for women, where the gay rights movement expanded rights for gays.
DONNELLYSo you have a curious contrast between a country that's supposedly, on this narrative, becoming more imperial and repressive at home, but, in fact, domestic liberties that have expanded far beyond what they were in previous times where the government and the military was smaller. I don't know why that is, but it is an anomalous fact that would seem to contradict this fundamental argument that American military power is a threat to domestic liberty.
REHMAnd one thought would simply be that this country has become war weary and is ready to move on to more domestic -- domestically-focused issues and ready to make what we started out with that pivot. Thank you all so much, George Little of the Department of Defense, Thom Shanker, New York Times, Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts, and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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