The “cuts” Panetta fears so much are not reductions in actual military spending—they’re reductions in what the Department of Defense has planned to spend. The Congressional Budget Office has shown that even under the automatic cuts that are triggered if the Super Committee doesn’t reach a consensus (what Panetta refers to as a “doomsday mechanism”), defense spending will increase every year from 2013 to 2021. By 2021 it will be $37 billion more than it is now in 2011.
In one of his recent speeches, Panetta said: “A hollow military doesn’t happen by accident. It comes from poor stewardship and poor leadership.” On this point, Panetta is right.
A hollow military comes from poor leadership, such as that from a defense secretary who is unwilling to make hard choices and impose discipline on defense spending that is at levels higher than at any time since World War II, even after adjusting for inflation.
Pouring more money into the military is not the solution; it is part of the problem. Excessively large Pentagon budgets have enabled poor decision-making and waste. Not having to worry about the cash flowing from Congress has allowed the Pentagon to mask management shortcomings and skirt accountability.
One does not have to harken all the way back to President Eisenhower’s speech about the ability of the military industrial complex to oversell its value. Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the defense budget was bloated with excessive costs.
So why is Panetta evoking Cold War warnings and trying to create hysteria with loaded rhetoric about threats of attack?
Our enemies don’t see our military in terms of how much we spend on it, they judge it by its capabilities, which remain overwhelmingly superior to all of our current and potential adversaries combined.
And, with military spending set to increase even under Panetta’s “doomsday” scenario, this power gap won't be closing any time soon.
Danielle Brian is the executive director at the Project On Government Oversight.