The specter of sequestration
Damocles, the Greek courtier of the 4th century BC, who sat through a feast with a sword suspended over him by a single horse hair, circa 350 BC. (Getty Images)
February 24th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

The specter of sequestration

Editor's NoteMackenzie Eaglen is a fellow in national security at the American Enterprise Institute. Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity.

By Mackenzie Eaglen and Michael O’Hanlon - Special to CNN

Last year, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “super committee,” failed to agree on over a trillion dollars in budget cuts. This failure has triggered the looming “sequestration” of an additional $500 billion in defense dollar cuts over the next 10 years, among other mechanical cuts to other parts of the budget. But you wouldn’t know that from the budget released this week by President Barack Obama. Rather, Obama’s budget numbers hue closely to those in last year’s debt ceiling deal known as the Budget Control Act, as if the super committee had never existed. This is understandable at one level. But ignoring reality will not make the most drastic cuts to the military in U.S. history go away.

Sequestration was written into the budget control act as a Sword of Damocles over the super committee and Congress. Few favored it or even considered it a plausible outcome, and even today, not many appear to take it seriously. Rather, Congress, the White House and the Pentagon have embraced the hopeful but irrational belief that the necessary spending cuts or revenue increases to offset restoring the next $500 billion will happen during the expected lame duck session of Congress after the November elections. The hope appears to be that one party will have a clear mandate by then, or that a looming crisis will force rationality upon lawmakers. But the crisis is already looming. And since when do we expect clear mandates from elections, especially when the country’s politics are so closely divided?

This budget can cannot be kicked down the road. The two of us disagree about the advisability of the first round of budget cuts, as reflected in the new Obama budget. But there is widespread agreement among defense analysts that sequestration would be a nightmare. The implications of yet another round of 10 percent reductions in the military - coming on top of the 10 percent reductions resulting from the August stipulations of the Budget Control Act, yet another 8 to 10 percent that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had put in place during the first two years of the Obama administration, and another 20 percent resulting from the gradual winding down of the nation’s wars - would be enormous and dangerous.

Simply put, the cuts already baked into the cake and the sequestration that will happen without specific action to reverse it will make it nigh on impossible for the administration to maintain what it rightly considers irreducible strategic requirements for simultaneous military presence, crisis response and warfighting capability in both the Western Pacific/East Asia region as well as the broader Persian Gulf and Middle East.

But it’s worse than that. Sequestration will cause its greatest disruptions immediately in early 2013, when mechanistic and severe cuts have to be imposed overnight. The military can adapt to reductions that it sees coming; for all the inefficiencies of the Department of Defense, it is still one of the world’s most competent planning bureaucracies. But this is a whole different kettle of fish: Because spending would have to decline for 2013 based on cuts taking effect only in January, there would be no opportunity to use natural attrition in the force to cut personnel costs, no opportunity to use the natural annual cycle of working with defense industry to restructure contracts and keep alive those weapons programs that are needed and desired, no realistic way to scale back training carefully in a way that saves money yet keeps the military ready. And all this would happen at a time when the president’s new budget anticipates we will still have 68,000 troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan.

The military’s warfighting budgets would, in theory, remain untouched, but the entire institution that supports our fighting men and women would be left teetering on the brink of peril not seen since Vietnam and the immediate post-Vietnam years. The accomplishments of the last 30 years of building the world’s finest military would be at risk based on a law cobbled together in a few weeks one Washington summer that was never intended to take effect even by its proponents.

How do you slash 10 percent in an organization as large as the military overnight? The types of choices available are all ugly. The President could choose to cut military and civilian pay by up to 15 percent immediately (military health care costs will be hard to cut, so salaries must bear the costs disproportionately); he could chop retirement payouts; or he could cut funds for major weapons systems by up to 20 percent (as legal penalties for making unexpected cuts to contracts will cost money, too). Actually he may have to do all three.

Other options include nickel-and-diming combatant commanders, cutting back their training and operating budgets by up to a quarter since these are among the only accounts that can be easily accessed when immediate saving are needed. And of course, the President will be required to make these choices at just the moment we are supposedly trying to signal Iran, North Korea, and China that the United States remains as firmly committed to our interests and allies as ever.

Some will suggest that these choices are exaggerations or worst case scenarios to make a case. But the reality is there are no secret pots of money, trust funds, or bailout resources from which the savings can otherwise be found.

Sequestration cannot stand - and it cannot wait for the lame ducks of December. It is little more than a dream to suggest that Washington can reclaim bipartisanship and a spirit of compromise in that brief period of time. Policymakers must appreciate the seriousness of this challenge, appreciate the very real threat to our national security that sequestration represents, and make the needed deal now. In this case, leadership of this great nation requires compromise - and a sense of urgency.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mackenzie Eaglen and  Michael O'Hanlon .


soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. syria and iran are the evil and hizboallah are the arms

    we must stop this evil before it is too late, remember HITLER......
    those shiia thugs have no value for life...they are killers with stupid thyology of islam the shiia are cult and
    they breed evil, now they are killing there own people in syria UN MUST ACT, THEY ACTED ON LIBYA IN NO TIME AND THEY DID IT IN IRAQ , WHILE IN LIBYA AND IRAQ IT WAS ONLY FEW HUNDEREDS WERE KILLED NOW WE HAVE MORE THAN 12,000 CEVILIANS KILLED AND MURDERED BY BASHAR AL KALB IN SYRIA BY IRAN MONEY AND RUSSIAN ARMS, we must sanction russia and get red of all the embassies and cut any deals with them.
    arm the resistant to fight russians on there land,and fight iran and syrians thugs we must not stand silenet when we see evil at action.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
  2. nori al maleki of iraq helping syrian killers

    يا أبناء شعبنا الصابر
    يا أبناء امتنا العربية
    منذ أن أُبتُلي العراق بالاحتلال الأميركي الصهيوني الفارسي البغيض نفذ المحتلون وحلفائهم الأشرار وعملائهم الأخساء سلسلة من عمليات الإبادة للشعب العراقي كانت حصيلتها اكثر من مليون ونصف المليون شهيد عراقي ، فضلاً عن ملايين الجرحى والمعوقين وخمسة ملايين مهجر ، ناهيكم عن عمليات التجويع والإفقار والحرمان من الخدمات بل وتدمير العراق أرضاً وشعباً وحضارةً واقتصاداً ، حيث شُلت الصناعة والزراعة وأستحوذ السراق من العملاء على التجارة والخدمات ووظفوها في خدمة مصالحهم الخاصة .

    وبسبب ذلك كله والانهيار الأمني المريع فقد تتالت التفجيرات الإجرامية وغطًت أيام الأسبوع كله ، والتي سميت كلها بالأيام الداميات والتي تكررت فيها التفجيرات الدامية وآخرها وليس أخيرها تفجيرات يوم الخميس الثالث والعشرين من شباط الجاري والتي راح ضحيتها المئات من الشهداء والجرحى في بغداد وصلاح الدين وبابل ونينوى وديالى وكركوك وبقية محافظات العراق .

    وكانت وما زالت وستبقى التفجيرات الإجرامية المتتابعة في العراق لطخة عار صارخة في جبين حكومة المالكي العميلة التي استمرأت عمليات ذبح الشعب العراقي بهذه التفجيرات الإجرامية والاغتيال بالكواتم وحملات الاعتقالات الغاشمة الواسعة النطاق المصحوبة بالقمع والتعذيب الوحشي ، والتي شملت الآلاف من المناضلين البعثيين وضباط وطياري وضباط صف الجيش العراقي الباسل وأبناء شعبنا الأبي في الشهور الأربعة الماضية والمضافة الى مئات الآلاف من المعتقلين على امتداد سنوات الاحتلال البغيض .

    يا أبناء شعبنا المكافح
    لقد حاول العميل المالكي وبطانته الشريرة استثمار ظروف هزيمة المحتلين الاميركان بفعل الضربات القاصمة والعمليات الجبارة لمجاهدي البعث والمقاومة بالإفصاح عن عمالته المباشرة لإيران الصفوية التي سلمها المحتلون الاميركان خسئوا العراق ، فراح هذا العميل الصغير المالكي يُصَعد من عملياته القمعية ونهب جلاوزته لثروات وأموال الشعب العراقي وتجنيد ( الميليشيات الإرهابية المرتبطة به مباشرة ) لتكريس سلطته القمعية الديكتاتورية في محاولة بائسة لتجاوز هزيمة العملية السياسية المخابراتية بهزيمة صناعها المحتلين الاميركان عبر تصعيد عمليات التصفية والاحتراب بين أطراف هذه العملية ، والتي بلغت ذروتها عبر فبركة الجرائم وتحميل هذه الأطراف مسؤوليتها والإمعان في شل أجهزة الدولة التي دمرها المحتلون وتعطيل حركة الحياة في ميادينها الاقتصادية والاجتماعية والسياسية والثقافية كلها .

    وقيادة قطر العراق لحزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي إذ تستنكر ممارسات حكومة المالكي العميلة المدانة كلها فأنها تستنكر بشدة التفجيرات الإجرامية المتواصلة ، وتحمل هذه الحكومة العميلة المسؤولية الكاملة عنها بوضعها تحت قصاص الشعب العادل الذي لن يصبر طويلاً على جرائم المالكي وزمرته العميلة ، وسيواصل نضاله وثورته العارمة وحتى التقويض الكامل للعملية السياسية المخابراتية التي راح أطرافها يتلهون بمناوراتهم الخائبة دائرين ظهورهم لأبناء شعبنا الأبي الذي يرسفون في معاناتهم القاسية عبر اللعب على النغمات النشاز من قبيل السعي المحموم لعقد ما لم يتفقون على تسميته من قبيل ( المؤتمر ) أو ( الملتقى ) أو ( الاجتماع ) ، فالجميع يعتقدون واهمين أنهم يكسبون الوقت على حساب معاناة أبناء شعبنا الصابر الذي لم ولن يَبُت على ضيم وإنما يُواصل جهاده الملحمي وحتى الإسقاط النهائي للعملية السياسية المخابراتية وإقامة حكم الشعب التعددي الديمقراطي الشعبي المستقل والعادل ويمضي قُدماً على طريق النهوض والتقدم الحضاري والإنساني الشامل .

    وإن غداً لناظره قريب .

    February 24, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
  3. Travis

    If those idiots in Washington had any sense at all, they'd reduce the military spending from the current level of $782B to less than $300B this year alone and then make similar reductions further on down the road. More than that, we need to quit getting into all these idiotic wars overseas which benefit only the war profiteers and the right-wing politicians.

    February 24, 2012 at 10:01 am | Reply
  4. S.V.P.YADAV

    Respeced,Mr.mackenzine Eaglan and r. Michael O Hanlon Garu, This issue is your internal Drama, do not expose, and do not write in the publishing. and your sovereignty will fall down. Only take nessesory step.

    February 24, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Yes, let the Sword of Damocles fall and the spectre will disappear!

      February 26, 2012 at 4:19 am | Reply
  5. iran is evil along with syria

    Retired businessman Christopher Tappin had said he was leaving the UK feeling he had fewer rights than a terrorist.

    Mr Tappin, 65, from London, is being flown from Heathrow Airport to El Paso, Texas, escorted by US marshals.

    British judges say the extradition is lawful and the European Court of Human Rights has refused to intervene.

    Mr Tappin, of Orpington, south-east London, has fought against extradition through the British courts after being charged in the US with conspiring to export batteries which could be used in Hawk air defence missiles.

    He faces a trial in El Paso and a possible 35-year jail sentence – but says that he is the victim of entrapment.

    Mr Tappin's lawyer, Karen Todner, said it was "very likely" her client would now enter into a plea agreement to reduce a sentence.

    Advertisement
    Lawyer Karen Todner: "He will be wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs"
    "If Mr Tappin does not enter into a plea agreement and is found guilty he will have to serve the whole sentence in America, which may actually effectively be the rest of his life, rather than serving a sentence in the UK, therefore I think it's very very likely that he will enter into a plea agreement," she said.

    Last week the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene in his case. Mr Tappin, a former president of the Kent Golf Society, was ordered to present himself to Heathrow Airport to be taken to the US for trial.

    He was seen departing from his house around 08:00 GMT and arrived at Heathrow police station accompanied by his wife Elaine.

    Shortly after 10.30am, Mr Tappin's lawyer said British extradition officers had taken Mr Tappin to a plane where he was being handed over to US marshals. The flight was due to land in Texas around 16:00 local time (23:00 GMT).

    "He will be arriving in El Paso this afternoon. He will be appearing in court on Monday morning, so he will be in custody over the weekend." The earliest he could be granted bail would be Thursday or Friday, Ms Todner said.

    She urged Home Secretary Theresa May to help Mr Tappin intervene with the US authorities to ensure they did not object to bail being granted.

    Ms Todner later wrote on Twitter: "Mr Tappin has left for America. Was v distressing when he said goodbye. The extradition treaty is inhumane."

    Arriving at the airport, Mr Tappin told reporters it was "a shame, a disgrace" that he was being extradited.

    Continue reading the main story

    February 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  6. iran=syria=hizboallah=shiia=terrorsists=evil

    المخابرات العراقية تحذر من استخدام المدارس الايرانية في العراق لتجنيد شبان عراقيين ونقلهم خارج البلاد لتنفيذ عمليات لصالح المخابرات الايرانية
    دبي-الشرقية 25 فبراير: حذرت المخابرات العراقية من استخدام المدارس الايرانية في العراق لتجنيد الشبان العراقيين ثم نقلِهم الى خارج البلاد للقيام باعمال لصالح المخابرات الايرانية وقال ضابط في المخابرات العراقية رفض الكشف عن اسمه اِن لدى دائرته معلوماتٍ عن وجود اكثر من ثلاثين مركزا تعليميا ايرانيا بصفة مَدرسة او مركزِ تدريب في مختلف مدن العراق يعمل تحت غطاء شرعي ولكنه في الحقيقة يركز على الشبان العراقيين لكسب ولائهم عقائديا وسياسيا واجراءِ عملية غسيل دماغ منظمة لهم حيث يُنقل شبانٌ مختارون منهم الى ايران في فترات العطلة لاكمال اِعدادهم ثم تجنيدِهم . وقال الضابط اِن الهدف هو الحصول على ولاء مطلق واعمى لهؤلاء الشبان بعد غسيل الدماغ المنظم والتجنيدِ الاستخباري المحسوب واشار الى ان المخابرات العراقية رفضت محاولاتِ نقل بعض هؤلاء الشبان الى دول عربية قريبة من العراق لاستخدامهم في مهمات استخبارية شبهِ عسكرية .واشار الضابط الى ان تقاريرَ بهذا المستوى رُفعت الى الجهات العليا منذ عدة اشهر وان القرار متروكٌ لهذه الجهات لتُقرر الاجراءات التي تراها مناسبة ًللصالح العام في العراق .

    February 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply

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