WASHINGTON — It’s an unwritten law of modern America that a political campaign speech should last no more than 30 minutes. The lecture candidate Barack Obama delivered on the evening of Jan. 24 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol came in at just longer than one hour and six minutes. It was full of rhetoric we should expect to hear reiterated from now until Nov. 6. The president’s supporters declared his economic message to be “populist.” That’s liberal-speak for class warfare.
In the days since the State of the Union address, politicians and pundits of every stripe have parsed the lengthy remarks to find parts they can challenge or cheer. There is no doubt about what POTUS intends for the U.S. economy. Invoking what he calls the “Buffett rule,” Obama promises to raise taxes on the “rich” until they pay their “fair share” — an amount he has decided should be 30 percent of income. That’s important, but even more critical is what he does and doesn’t say about real national security and protecting the American people.
Our chief executive was less than two minutes into his oration when he reminded us that “for the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” Yet he is failing in his most important duty: commander in chief.
As he walked into the House chamber on Tuesday evening, the president already knew that U.S. special operators had rescued two hostages held by Somali terrorists. He has been told repeatedly by those who carry out these high-risk missions that they want to remain anonymous. But before ascending to the podium, Obama pointedly told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “Good job tonight!” Just hours later, Vice President Joe Biden told reporters how he had “been in country, in Afghanistan, in Iraq with these guys, these special operations forces. They are absolutely the most incredible…” By Wednesday morning, unnamed administration officials, eager to claim credit for the success, were describing how “members of Navy SEAL Team 6 parachuted into Somalia” to carry out the rescue.
Disclosure of operational details on how such missions are conducted jeopardizes future operations and makes it more difficult to obtain the cooperation of other countries. But leaks of classified information are now a hallmark of the O-Team efforts to validate a 10 percent increase in special operations forces, from 64,000 to 70,000 personnel, and a 30 percent increase in the number of remotely piloted aircraft — referred to incorrectly as “drones.”
Missed in all of the self-congratulatory rhetoric and noble promises to put military veterans to work rebuilding our “crumbling infrastructure,” create “clean energy jobs” and spur “innovation” are the drastic cuts being planned in our overall national defenses. On Tuesday evening, Obama urged Congress, “Take the money we’re no longer spending at war (and) use half of it to pay down our debt and … the rest to do some nation building right here at home.” Two days after the applause from that line died, we learned just how severe the cuts are going to be.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Panetta announced that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps would be cut by more than 100,000 personnel — 20,000 fewer Marines and 80,000 fewer soldiers. The U.S. Air Force will lose six of its 60 tactical fighter/attack squadrons and somehow “reduce, streamline and standardize” its airlift capabilities — the means by which we rapidly move men and materiel to trouble spots. Our Navy will “retire” aging cruisers without replacement, cut the number of fleet logistics and support ships, and delay building a new generation of ballistic missile submarines — an essential leg of our “triad” of aircraft, land-based missiles and submarines that serve as our nuclear deterrent. The cuts don’t stop there.
Procurement of the F-35 joint strike fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marines is being delayed for an unknown period of time. And perhaps most telling of all, the new budget promises that those who volunteer to serve in the most difficult and dangerous places on the planet will do so with reduced pay, unaffordable housing and reduced medical and retirement benefits.
According to the accountants now running the Pentagon, this will yield a “smaller, leaner” military that is “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.” Apparently, we can afford an unspecified “slight increase in risk” because of the “changing nature of conflict” and the “innovative partnerships” and “key alliances” that we supposedly have forged “elsewhere in the world.”
Unfortunately, neither the SOTU nor the defense budget proposed two days later identifies any adversary against which we must be prepared to fight. The president waxes eloquent about taxing the “rich” and the need to control defense spending, but he blusters about the effect of “sanctions” on Iran’s nuclear weapons program — and is mute on the rise of Islamist radicals in Egypt, horrendous drug-fueled violence in neighboring Mexico, and Venezuela’s threat to democracy in Latin America.
It’s important to continue building special operations capabilities. But doing so through Draconian across-the-board cuts in the rest of our defenses is pre-emptive surrender to an enemy who will pick the time and place for our next fight.