This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., says he’s strongly in favor of the federal government living within its means. But that doesn’t mean, he adds, that the United States should put its national security at risk.
That’s what Talent fears is happening as a result of the latest round of defense cuts mandated by the “sequester” – mandated across-the-board budget cuts for the next 10 years that went into place a few weeks ago as a result of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and President Barack Obama, failing to agree on an alternate deficit-cutting plan.
“What’s happening with the defense sequester is the worst thing I’ve seen in 20 years,’’ Talent said Thursday during an address before students, faculty and others at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The title of his speech -- "The Decline of American Power and Its Consequences" -- cut to the chase of Talent’s concerns, which he aired in detail during his 80-minute presentation.
Using a chart recently published in the National Review, Talent – who has specialized in national security issues since leaving office in 2007 -- said that the nation’s defense spending already was inadequate before sequestration went into effect and forced another round of $85 billion in defense cuts during the next seven months.
Sequestration will force bigger cuts during subsequent years so that by 2023, Talent said, the United States will be spending “$100 billion less in real terms on its military than it was spending in 2010.”
Faults both parties for allowing sequester
The sequester’s military cuts are affecting recruitment, pay and benefits for the nation‘s already overstretched troops, he contended. But even worse, Talent said that military ships, aircraft, equipment, research and troop deployments also were being affected.
He noted that the sequestration deal had been set up in 2011 during the debt-ceiling fight, with the universal understanding that its consequences were so dire that all parties in Washington would work to come up with an alternative.
But such a deal didn’t happen, and Talent blames both major parties. “Democrats don’t like spending money on the military, and Republicans don’t like spending money on government,’’ he said.
Talent has served on several national-security commissions and panels and most recently has been named to a new 10-person bipartisan commission set up by Congress and new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Talent said he plans to lay out his case to various members of Congress, the Obama administration – and anybody else who will listen – over the coming weeks.
Talent passionately asserted that Congress and the White House were playing a risky, and ultimately costlier, fiscal game with the safety of Americans, the military and the nation.
“Funding defense on the cheap is not going to prevent the disastrous consequences,’’ he said. Among other things, Talent contended that – based on past experience -- rectifying shortsighted cuts in the nation’s military preparedness will cost more money down the road.
Gives Reagan, Clinton better marks on defense
Talent detailed his objections to how some presidents have approached national defense and the military, dating back to Democrat Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Talent’s critiques were directed at Republicans and Democrats in the White House, although he was most complimentary about the defense approaches taken by Ronald Reagan, a Republican (1981-89) and Bill Clinton, a Democrat (1993-2001).
Although Reagan and Clinton had their military missteps, Talent acknowledged, both men quickly recalibrated their approaches and were particularly strong on defense issues during their second terms, he said.
Talent hoped that Obama might try to follow suit. "When a president provides clear direction...they get bipartisan support,'' he said. When a president fails to provide leadership, Talent contended, they invite congressional pushback.
As Talent listed the foreign threat of attacks from North Korea and al-Qaeda, among others, he observed drily, “Sometimes I get tired of being scared.”
“We’re going to be embarrassed internationally,’’ he said, predicting that the national security risks, and pressure from allies – and enemies – will eventually force Congress to repeal much of the defense sequestration cuts.
At least, that’s what Talent hopes.