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Real Leadership on Defense



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Today, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nev. His speech, which followed President Obama’s address yesterday, was a much-needed argument in favor of continued American leadership even in tough economic times. He focused in part on the need for presidential leadership to avoid the devastating impact of looming sequestration cuts to our nation’s military.

This is in contrast to President Obama, who has already sought and won three rounds of defense cuts, which have reduced the Pentagon’s budget by $487 billion over the next decade. Now, unless Congress and the president agree to lift the provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011, an additional $500 billion of automatic, across-the-board reductions to defense will take effect at the beginning of next year.

America’s military and civilian leaders have made clear that sequestration will hollow out the military, significantly reduce the size of the force, and dramatically curtail its capabilities. The president’s initial round of reductions have “taken us to the edge” of acceptable risk, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted. Panetta has described further cuts to defense spending as akin to “shooting ourselves in the head.” The Army will be reduced by another 100,000 soldiers beyond planned force reductions, and the Marine Corps will be cut by an additional 18,000 Marines, assuming that the president does not choose to exempt military personnel. The Navy, already reduced to 286 ships, will be cut to its smallest level since World War I, and the Air Force will have its smallest tactical-fighter force in its history. Critically needed modernization programs, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, the next-generation bomber, and a new ballistic-missile submarine will be reduced or eliminated altogether.

#more#As Governor Romney correctly stated, “Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking.” His pledge not to allow sequestration to go through is welcome, but the onus is on our current president to prevent these cuts from occurring.

The world remains a dangerous place, as Romney observed, and these cuts are unconscionable when the United States remains in the middle of a fighting a war in Afghanistan, confronts challenges in the Middle East in Syria, Iran, and Yemen, and faces competition from China’s and Russia’s modernizing militaries. As Romney said, “If we do not have the strength or vision to lead, then other powers will take our place, pulling history in a very different direction,” adding that “a just and peaceful world depends on a strong and confident America.”

Romney is to be commended for taking a stronger stance on America’s national defense than some conservatives have during the past three years. In their zeal for tackling soaring budget deficits, some have at times abandoned the Reaganite tradition of peace through strength.

The governor’s pledge to reverse President Obama’s dangerous defense cuts and pursue a military budget that is 4 percent of GDP is a laudable and inspiring step toward rebuilding America’s strength and ensuring that this is another American century. President Obama likes to argue, as he did yesterday, that Governor Romney and his critics are defeatists who are talking American into decline. The reality is that it is the president’s policies, not those of his opponents, who are dangerously leading us down that path.

— Jamie M. Fly is the executive director and Evan Moore is a policy analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative.



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