The hawks and neoconservatives continue to sound the alarm over projected cuts in the budget of the Defense Department. Needless to say, the exact size and scope of those cuts is far from decided, and according to various analysts, both liberal and conservative, more than $1 trillion could easily be sliced from the Pentagon’s budget with barely any pain at all—and much larger cuts are feasible. So far, however, the Obama administration has suggested cuts that don’t surpass $500 billion over the next decade. The twelve-member super-Congress is supposed to include DOD cuts as part of its slash-and-burn approach to spending this fall, and if they don’t agree then the Pentagon could suffer another $600 billion in cuts on top of the $400 billion or so President Obama has suggested.

A new report suggests that the Pentagon brass ought to start preparing now for a return to 2007-level spending, according to The Hill:

“Top Pentagon brass should craft plans so the Defense Department will be ready if a trigger in the debt-ceiling law is pulled, a move that would return the annual military budget to 2007 levels, according to a new report.”

The paper quotes a near-hysterical reaction from the Heritage Foundation, one of a trio of think tanks in Washington that have mobilized to block DOD cuts:

“The [debt] legislation is designed to impose deep and risk-laden cuts on our nation’s defense. The real-world consequence is that the American people will not be provided the level of defense they need and deserve. The nation’s vital security interests are likely to be undermined according to the debt-ceiling deal. History has repeatedly shown that these kinds of reductions in defense are penny-wise and pound-foolish, because they often serve to increase the likelihood of conflict. And weakness that invites war is much more expensive than deterring our enemies by maintaining an adequate defense budget all along.”

Perhaps the Navy’s decision to cut one of its super-expensive aircraft carrier groups is a sign that the armed services are anticipating future cuts.

But, as Winslow Wheeler, from the Straus Military Reform Project at CDI, points out, the panic among hawks ought to be even greater, because a new analysis of the debt legislation suggests that the cut might be even larger than $600 billion:

“The rhetoric of people rushing to rescue Pentagon spending from ‘completely unacceptable’ cuts is quite hysterical. Leading the chorus has been Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He termed the possible defense budget cuts (about $850 billion over 10 years according to most) a ‘doomsday mechanism,’ if the automatic sequestration trigger of Obama’s debt deal with the Republicans in Congress is pulled. Some think tank types, opining in the Washington Post and the New York Times, have deemed these reductions ‘indiscriminately hacking away’ at the Pentagon’s budget and something that could ‘imperil America’s national security.’ Their defense spending allies, including multiple generals and admirals sitting atop various Pentagon bureaucracies, confirm it all with descriptions like ‘very high risk’ and ‘draconian.’

“It should be pointed out that these people are underestimating the size of the potential cuts the new debt deal could theoretically cause. The $850 billion supposition measures the reductions against an artificial “baseline” from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that does not include the actual budget growth the Pentagon had scheduled for itself. Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments tells us in a useful analysis (‘Defense Funding in the Budget Control Act of 2011’) that the debt deal’s automatic sequesters, if implemented, would mean $968 billion in cuts over ten years from the DOD budgets heretofore planned—over $100 billion more in cuts.”

Another hysterical outcry comes from the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage’s partner in the pro-DOD thinktank alliance. Ignoring the bloated nature of the DOD’s budget, which equals the rest of the world’s combined, two AEI analysts writing in The Weekly Standard say that the US military is stretched too thin already:

“These cuts come at the worst time. The American military has been ridden hard for a decade and now faces the prospect of being put away wet. As the recent hearings on readiness before the House Armed Services Committee showed, this is a military that is slipping—and in some cases has already slipped—into a state that leaves it unprepared for any new major contingency.”

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