The Deficit of Prudence

Tommy Pochedly

September 10, 2014

“The lack of major armed conflict tells us that reductions are possible. But it does not tell us that reductions by arbitrary amounts set solely on the basis of political or fiscal considerations are the answer. It frightens me when I hear someone propose a hundred-billion-dollar cut in our armed forces without any rationale other than that the money could be used elsewhere.” – General Norman Schwarzkopf

In light of our recent foreign policy troubles in Syria and the recurring battle over the debt ceiling we should keep General Schwarzkopf ’s words in mind. Reducing the deficit is essential to the welfare of our country. However, we should not be so quick to sacrifice the defense of our country in order to relieve debt incurred through irresponsible spending. Our armed forces perform a crucial role in protecting American interests across the globe. Irresponsible cuts, such as sequestration, threaten not only the safety of our homeland, but also our interests and allies abroad. Attempting to remedy our irresponsible spending by way of irresponsible cuts is like trading one problem for another; it is not a solution at all.

As General Schwarzkopf wrote, reductions to our military are possible and, in my opinion, should be made. With the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, we no longer need our military to operate at wartime strength. However, all cuts should be cautiously considered, not bulldozed through Congress as part of a last-minute political bargain. The transition from military to civilian life is challenging for many veterans. Responsible cuts which are implemented at a moderate pace will give veterans the time and assistance they need to adjust to civilian life. Immediate cuts will leave these veterans stranded without help as they return from war. Thus far, Congress has done a poor job of easing into these reductions.

Consider the Budget Control Act of 2011. On the surface, this law looks like a bipartisan compromise: Republicans allowed the debt ceiling to be raised and Democrats supported significant automatic spending cuts over the next decade. However, hidden below its alluring surface there is cause for concern. Sequestration, as these automatic cuts are referred to, embodies everything that General Schwarzkopf warned against. There are two reasons for this. First, the Department of Defense (DoD) had little to no input leading up to its passage. Naturally there is going to be protest from any department when reductions are proposed, but on this occasion the protest was well founded. The DoD was not given the chance to conduct an assessment as to which areas of their budget were essential and which could be reasonably cut. Instead Congress’s sole consideration was slowing the growth of the deficit at all costs.

Second, these cuts are incredibly large and were implemented with little warning to military personnel. Out of the $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade, the DoD was shouldered with $600 billion. The DoD now has to determine the best way to budget around these cuts while trying to maintain the many areas for which they are responsible. Areas such as research and development, military training, and intelligence gathering, which are important to the long-term security of our country, all stand to lose substantial funding in a short period of time.

Look at how these cuts are already affecting military bases in the United States. Instead of an orderly reduction, we are seeing military bases scrambling to cope with this loss of funds. As a result, base residents are facing furloughs, reduced access to medical treatment, and restricted overtime pay. Businesses which rely on military personnel as a source of revenue have also suffered. This is clear evidence of what many economists feared would happen. A drastic, sudden cut in federal spending has decreased revenue to areas surrounding military installations, resulting in an economic downturn. Since military personnel have less money in their pockets, they are not buying the goods and services that they usually would.

To make matters worse, this economic slump is impacting specific areas of the country, as opposed to being distributed evenly over the whole country. The effect is amplified onto a small group of people. Since the majority of America is not being directly affected by these cuts, there has not been a serious effort to change how cutting is done. The result is that the people unfortunate enough to live around military installations have to cope with the negative economic effects caused by sequestration, but lack the power to change their situation.

In addition to these domestic consequences, there are more serious foreign issues to consider. Lieutenant General Khalid, a Saudi prince who worked side-by-side with General Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm, said in a speech that, “If the world is only going to have one superpower, thank God it is the United States of America.” Every American needs to consider the role of our country in the world community. For many, we have been a force of liberation, the protectors of freedom. For a few, plotting in the dark backwaters of the world, we are the primary target for their attacks. In order to carry out our responsibilities and protect ourselves we need an adequate military.

Anyone who believes that we are no longer facing serious threats from abroad is sadly mistaken. Yes, we have achieved many victories which have brought us closer to peace and security – the death of Bin Laden, for example. But new threats are always emerging – most recently, the trouble in Syria and Russia’s insistence on selling them weapons. Even more troubling is Iran’s steady march towards nuclear armament. Winning a few battles is no reason to become lackadaisical about our security. If anything we need to maintain the ground we have gained towards our long term security, not allow new threats to gain strength.

Sequestration represents a lack of prudence in our country. It circumvents the thought and discussion necessary to reach a prudent solution. A prudent country doesn’t avoid tough issues by pushing them to the last possible moment, it examines them with reason before they become pressing. After the issue has been thoroughly investigated, a solution can then be made to alleviate the problem in a prudent way. We chose to forego the first part, thought and investigation, and jump into determining the means. As a result, our solution was the equivalent of a die-roll – a matter of chance as to how well it would work. Like General Schwarzkopf urged, we need to identify the problems first, discuss and investigate them fully, and finally decide by which means we should seek to alleviate them. This is prudence; this eliminates, as much as is possible, the influence of chance on the effectiveness of our measures.

The current plan of attack is not failing because we lack the capacity as citizens; we simply have the wrong strategy. Now is the time to collect ourselves, to regroup, and evaluate what works. Passion and chance are ineffective. As long as these are the cornerstones of our strategy, we have little chance of reaching a prudent solution. Only through thought and reason can we reach a prudent solution.

Tommy Pochedly is a sophomore from Hiram, Ohio majoring in Political Science.