President Obama must get serious about challenges facing the military

At a time when our military is faced with escalating threats abroad and a growing budget crisis at home, the men and women in uniform desperately need for their commander in chief to exhibit the leadership necessary to overcome these unprecedented challenges. Sadly, the budget proposed by President Obama last week chose political expediency over making the tough choices required of him. Instead of compromising with Republicans in Congress and giving our military leaders the resources and budgetary certainty they require, the president has chosen to recycle the gimmicks and failed fiscal policy proposals that have led us to this dire situation. Further, his budget proposal fails to seriously acknowledge the mandatory cuts associated with sequestration and lacks a plan to replace cuts that can actually pass Congress. 

Defense budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty have become a hallmark of this administration. The president has cut more than $600 billion from the military, while non-security related domestic spending has increased by nearly 30 percent. Siphoning defense funding away to fuel an astounding growth in government programs is significantly undermining the future reach of our military and has left zero-margin for uncertainty or strategic surprise, characteristics that epitomize the current global security environment. 

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The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently testified that the military cannot afford to give another dollar if they are to maintain current capabilities. Yet, in the White House’s new proposal, it intends to slice another $120 billion from the defense budget at the risk of creating a hollow force unprepared to respond to contingencies around the world. 

We need to stop this foolhardy argument that “runaway” defense spending is what’s driving our country’s unsustainable debt. It’s disingenuous and, more importantly, it’s wrong. Defense spending accounts for approximately 18 percent of federal spending annually while non-security mandatory spending accounts for 60 percent. 

We are now at a point in our nation’s history where our national military strategy is no longer guided by the threats we face. Instead, the discussion in Washington has been centered on how deeply we can cut defense. Our forces are now being asked to do more with less training, less equipment and less capabilities without assessing the increased risk on the battlefield and the increased risk to our servicemen and servicewomen making the ultimate sacrifice. We are coming dangerously close to the point where, as Gen. Martin Dempsey also told the Senate Armed Services Committee, it would be “immoral to use the force.” This is unacceptable.

We’ve made this mistake before. The military drawdowns of the 1970s and 1990s were budget-driven follies intended to realize a peace dividend that proved short-lived. It left the country with a military too small to meet the instability and rising threats of a changing world. 

With threats that are far more complex and widespread, a repeat of the failures of the past cannot be tolerated. I pledge to work with Congress and the president to overcome the sequester of the Defense Department and to help provide our military leadership the budgetary flexibility and certainty they desperately need. Our men and women in uniform, the American people, and our friends around the world deserve better than sequestration and it is our shared responsibility — both the president and the Congress — to ensure that it is replaced.  

But to get there, the commander in chief must take the lead in restoring certainty to our budgeting process and ensure that our military leaders have appropriate resources to develop and execute plans and manage the Department of Defense efficiently. The president must set aside political posturing and finally get serious about working with Congress to find a lasting solution to the many challenges facing our military. Our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.

Inhofe is the senior U.S. senator from Oklahoma and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.