He is the best of the presidents; he is the worst of the presidents. There is a lot of ammunition to support both points of view. When it comes to national security, in particular, President Obama’s record is, to say the least, mixed. He got us out of Iraq and is withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the way his administration engineered both opens the possibility for long-term instability and even the resurgence of al Qaeda in Southwest Asia. He authorized a massive worldwide expansion of drone strikes against Islamic terrorists which is good if you like that sort of thing. The Russian “reset” bought very modest reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals but at the cost of an effective defense against long-range Iranian missiles. A dictator was ousted in Libya but another is being allowed to recoup his position in Syria. Finally, when it comes to supporting overall U.S. national security and, more specifically, our military, while the nation avoided a government shutdown over the debt ceiling, it was the White House that orchestrated the 2011 Budget Control Act with its draconian cuts to the defense budget called sequestration.
Arguably, the single worst national security decision of the Obama presidency, at least so far, is to protect the personnel portion of the defense budget from the automatic cuts mandated by sequestration. The President protected the personnel accounts in FY2013, forcing procurement and operations and maintenance to absorb virtually the entire $37 billion reduction. Now, it is reported that he will again exempt personnel from its share of the $52 billion that must be taken from the proposed FY2014 defense budget. This means that once again procurement and O&M will take the additional hit of approximately $13 billion.
The requirement to absorb a reduction of about 15 percent of procurement and operating funds would, to employ that overused word, be catastrophic for any federal department, much less one still fighting a war. Even a proportional cut of $37 billion to procurement and O&M will likely necessitate breaking contracts for most weapons systems, grounding hundreds of Air Force aircraft, tying up dozens of Navy ships at the docks and a curtailing of Army and Marine Corps training. Add $13 billion on top of that and it is possible that the military will not just bend but break.
In addition, this decision sets the stage for continual growth in personnel costs. On its current trajectory, personnel costs will consume the entire defense budget by the late-2020s. Thus, protecting personnel spending means setting the stage for a hollow military down the road. This is a horrible legacy for any president. A bad decision, Mr. President; in fact, your worst in the national security arena so far.
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