Some in Congress are pushing to cut defense even more deeply as part of a broader effort to shrink the government’s deepening budget deficits; the shortfall in the current budget year alone is expected to reach $1.5 trillion.
That political momentum is reinforced by a perception that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming to an end, and that the killing of Osama bin Laden means the war on terror is winding down. Gates, however, is quick to point out that Afghanistan remains unstable and military crises tend to erupt without long lead times.
“Since Vietnam, we have had a perfect record in predicting where and when we would use military force. We have never once gotten it right,” he told a group of Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., two weeks ago. “If you’d asked me four months ago if we’d be in Libya today, I would have asked you what you were smoking.”
More worrisome are potential future conflicts in Iran or Korea or setbacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq.
The central question in the budget debate, Gates says, is what pieces of military might is the country willing to give up?
What among the many things the military is doing today in all corners of the world should it stop doing?
What can be curtailed or eliminated, and at what risk to U.S. security?