Thursday, February 7, 2013

where are the carriers?

The Navy announced on Wednesday that it was cancelling the planned deployment of the USS Harry S Truman later this week. This action will leave the United States with only one aircraft carrier near the Persian Gulf for the first time in over two years. One consequence of the action is to reduce America's ability to deter Iranian military actions in the Gulf -- or to support any military operations against Iran.

One purpose of this action is to build pressure on Congress to vote for some alternative to the sequester cuts coming on March 1. Another is to adjust to painful budget adjustments in a rational way.

This sure looks like a "Washington monument cut," the kind of dramatic action budget officials take to forestall cuts, as if the only reduction the Interior Department could make its its spending was to close the Washington Monument. On the other hand, the sequester creates genuine dilemmas for rational planners.

Of course the defense budget can be trimmed. Significantly. But the sequester cuts require equal cuts in every program, the good, bad, and ugly alike. In the case of the Pentagon, military personnel spending is exempt, so the cuts fall on "operations and maintenance," which includes all civilian personnel and the ordinary fuel and other cuts just to train, transport, and operate the armed forces.

I wish hawks and doves would agree that military spending can and should be cut, but not in the stupid way the sequester requires -- and then find other spending cuts and revenue increases that make more sense.

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