Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to announce plans this week to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the Pentagon's budget. The cuts, precipitated by both the United States' fiscal situation and a deal passed to raise the debt ceiling last summer, will shrink the military so it will no longer be able to sustain two ground wars at once. The Pentagon will trim about $450 billion, or about 8 percent of its budget. However, it may be forced to cut an additional $500 billion if lawmakers on Capitol Hill go through with deeper reductions. Defense hawks say cutting $1 trillion from the Pentagon's budget would have a deleterious impact on national security.
The debt deal President Obama signed into law yesterday may bring about the end of years of huge Pentagon budgets. The Pentagon will need to slash $350 billion from the defense budget over the next decade, and that number could potentially increase to $600 billion. If the joint bipartisan committee created under the debt plan fails to reach an agreement on future spending cuts, a "trigger" mechanism will force across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next decade. While supporters say this is these cuts are overdue, critics and defense hawks argue they will undermine national security.
When lawmakers are looking at ways to balance the budget, the gargantuan amount of military and defense spending would seem an obvious choice. The Fiscal Commission has found nearly $100 billion in potential cutbacks within the military apparatus by 2015, which include reducing the size of the Navy, rethinking health care benefits for veterans and pulling troops out of bases in Europe and South Korea.
Another bipartisan group, the Debt Reduction Task Force, has gone even further. They released a report on Wednesday calling for a freeze of all military spending, and reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 30,000 by the year 2013. If Congress approved all of these proposed defense cuts, what effect would it have on America and its ability to defend itself in the future?
When the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says that the situation in Afghanistan is "deteriorating," that's not a good sign. That's exactly what Admiral Mike Mullen said on Sunday, unfortunately, going on to say that the Taliban has gotten "more sophisticated." For a military analysis of America's loosening grip on stability in Afghanistan, we talk with retired U.S. Army Colonel Paul Hughes. He is currently the senior program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has been killed in a U.S. drone attack. While it's not the first time reports of his death have surfaced, the Taliban has confirmed his death. Mehsud is known as Pakistan's most wanted man and has been suspected in the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Does his death mean that the U.S. is closer to success in its mission to rout the Taliban out of Afghanistan and Pakistan? As the American military comes to full strength in the Afghan surge, the Obama administration’s national security team is struggling to come up with specific measurements of progress. David Sanger is the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, and he's writing about the administration attempt to set benchmarks for success in Afghanistan.
Also joining the conversation is Andrew Exum, a fellow with the Center for a New American Security. He served two tours as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He is just back from Afghanistan where he was part of a team of independent analysts whose report is expected to help define the U.S. mission in Afghanistan going forward.
We also speak with retired Colonel Paul Hughes, who is senior program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace. In 2003 he served as the director of the Strategic Policy Office for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He believes that the fates of the missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are completely intertwined and must be closely coordinated.