Defense fact check

Defending Defense: Defense fact-check

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“Governor Romney’s plan calls for…$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for.”  —President Obama, First Presidential Debate, October 3, 2012

The president has repeatedly attacked Governor Romney’s plan to restore baseline military budgets to roughly 4 percent of domestic product as unnecessary spending that the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t want.  In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden went even further, claiming it was the service leaders who “made the recommendation first” to make the latest round of cuts, which total almost $500 billion. “That’s a fact,” asserted the vice president.

No, it’s not.

The fact is that this round of defense cuts was first proposed by President Obama on April 13, 2011.  In an attempt to preempt the budget-cutting fervor of the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership, he said he would trim roughly $400 billion from the defense plan that he had submitted to Congress in February 2011.  The president did not even inform Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was set to retire that June, about the proposed cuts.

And no wonder.  Secretary Gates had already declared his opposition to such an approach: “Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country's security and vital interests around the world.”

And so President Obama has, conveniently, rewritten the standard of military strategy to conform to his defense-budget-cutting desires.  But as The Washington Post has observed, the president’s defense guidance rests “upon the dubious assumption that there will be no need to fight land wars in the coming decade … The shrinking Navy, in turn, is at odds with Mr. Obama’s strategy of building up forces in Asia against a belligerent China.” 

The Post also rightly pointed out that Governor Romney is simply proposing to “fully fund the four-year plan laid out by the Defense Department.”

In other words:  This “additional” spending previously was asked for by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and recommended to Congress by President Obama himself.

As commander-in-chief, President Obama has the prerogative to define U.S. defense strategy downward.  But he does not have the prerogative to define defense facts.  And he certainly should not hide behind the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he does so.

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