Defense Writers Cheer Sweeping Pentagon Cuts

Robert Gates gets out his chainsaw

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has announced sweeping cuts to the infamously bloated Department of Defense budget. The first part of Gates's plan to cut $100 billion over five years, the reductions include the 5,800-person Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) based in Virginia, a number of private contractors, and redundant military intelligence programs. Here's what experts and observers have to say about the audacious plan, which some defense reporters have nicknamed "chainsaw Gates."

  • Winners and Losers  National Defense Magazine's Sandra Erwin summarizes: "Winners: Troops in uniform, ship programs, weapons systems that are needed to fight current and future wars. Losers: Bloated defense and intelligence agencies, redundant bureaucracies, four-star generals and admirals guilty of 'brass creep,' report writers, white-collar contractors."
  • How It's Not Really a Cut  The Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes points out, "The reductions, which Mr. Gates is proposing in an attempt to stave off the prospect of deeper cuts by Congress, will not reduce the defense department's overall budget, but will be used to fund future weapons-modernization programs, with the aim of ensuring that future budgets increase only modestly. The Pentagon unveiled a budget earlier this year of $708.2 billion, which included a $548.9-billion base budget and $159.3 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The planned cuts will come from the base budget."
  • Life Without JFCOM  The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum writes, "Rumors of JFCOM's demise have been floating around for some time, though, so this cannot be completely unexpected. One of the wisest military analysts I know remarked, upon hearing the rumors, that JFCOM does three valuable things that either the joint staff or another command will now have to pick up: 1. Writing joint doctrine; 2. Monitoring force readiness and modernization across the services; 3. Coordinating U.S. and NATO modernization efforts. Other than that, I myself am unsure of what else we're losing." 
  • Why Congress Couldn't Do It Without Gates  Defense blogger Matt Lewis explains, "With the large budget deficits in our future, defense deserves a large amount of scrutiny. Gates and the White House seem to realize this. Congress, however, doesn’t seem to share the appetite for budget cuts. This has led to some fierce battles over specific programs. The problem is that there are defense industries in every state and congressional district in the country. No congressman wants to give up the jobs that come with, for example, a second engine for the F-35, even if the Pentagon doesn’t even want it."
  • Finally Addressing Post-9/11 Problem  Time's Mark Thompson calls this "a key step in weaning the U.S. military off the post-9/11 defense-spending binge, and it will be only the first in a string of tough cuts to come. The announcement marked the first time in recent memory that a Defense Secretary has called for scrapping one of the major commands — institutions with all the defenses of any medieval moated castle."
  • The Sharp Politics of Gates's Cuts  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder maps it out, "Gates is the cabinet's superstar. He has the credibility among all constituencies -- the military, Congress, Republicans -- to rationalize and restrain the defense budget in a way that President Obama could not do on his own, and in a way that a Republican president might not have the fortitude to ask for. Since the budget isn't actually going to be cut, Obama is not going to get credit from those on his side who will find Gates's measures cosmetic. But Gates, wittingly, provides Obama plenty of cover heading into 2011 and 2012, when many of these measures will take effect, and when congressional districts across the country will feel losses, and when Republican presidential candidates begin to make a case against Obama's stewardship of the national security establishment."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.