- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

Even before Congress formally declared George Bush the winner of November’s presidential election, reports began circulating he would propose a defense budget for next year that one might have expected from the loser, Sen. John Kerry.

Actually, a President-elect Kerry probably would not have dared suggest the far-reaching cuts Mr. Bush plans. And he surely would faced difficulty getting them enacted, given pervasive concerns about his judgment on national security.

Yet, here we have the spectacle of $55 billion in extensive defense reductions being made by the man who beat Mr. Kerry — largely on the basis of precisely those concerns. It is no exaggeration to say Mr. Bush will be sworn in again on Jan. 20 because he was widely perceived to be a more credible and robust leader when it came to protecting this country.

As Donald Rumsfeld has observed, to considerable tut-tutting from the chattering classes, “You go to war with the army you have.” If President Bush does not reverse course, he will be condemning the U.S. military — perhaps on his watch, perhaps on his successors’ — to going to war with vastly inferior capabilities than they could have, should have and will need.

Worse yet, history teaches such conditions not only leave us less prepared to fight and win but tend to invite aggression. That could translate into otherwise avoidable conflicts.

Ronald Reagan, whom George W. Bush clearly admires and tries to emulate, offered an alternative approach. He called it “peace through strength.” And the military build-up that flowed from Mr. Reagan’s philosophy and leadership continues to provide the backbone of America’s capacity to project power around the world. The fruits of his investment in modern weapon systems and troops trained to employ them proved indispensable to success in the Cold War. They have also served us well to this point in today’s global conflict against terrorists and their state sponsors.

If Mr. Bush makes the mistake — political, as well as strategic — of emulating defense-cutting Kerry Democrats, there will be adverse effects especially for the services most critical to rapid power projection: the Navy-Marine Corps team and the Air Force. Unfortunately, these units stand to be reduced to the condition of the U.S. Army — too small, inadequately armed and not flexible enough to meet various challenges — for which the administration has lately been sharply criticized.

After all, to protect funding for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is making the cuts required by the Office of Management and Budget on key research and development and procurement accounts. For example:

• The Air Force will lose perhaps as many as 110 of the 270 of the F/A-22 fighter/attack aircraft it has intended to buy. These “Raptors” would permit the replacement of 30-year-old F-15s with stealthy planes capable of providing assured air superiority and support for ground forces, even against enemies with advanced anti-aircraft defenses.

• According to press reports, the Marines would be obliged to cut some $1.5 billion from their budget for the revolutionary V-22 “Osprey” tilt-rotor aircraft. This would involve delaying or reducing procurement of the mainstay of the Corps’ future combat capabilities, with potentially profound repercussions.

• The Navy will lose one of its 12 aircraft carriers, while its shipbuilding program will be kept at a level that will reduce the service to fewer than 270 ships — a number clearly inadequate to meet the nation’s worldwide missions. Particularly worrisome are the severe cuts envisioned in the needed modernization of the submarine fleet — arguably the most valuable and certainly among the most flexible of sea-going platforms, given their important roles in sea control and intelligence operations.

Nowhere is it likelier that John Kerry would have cut back Pentagon spending than in the portfolio of the Missile Defense Agency. Yet, here too, President Bush is said to be considering $5 billion in reductions over the next five years. These could essentially eliminate the most promising means of performing boost-phase missile intercepts (namely, using an airborne laser and/or from space); preclude building out the initial, very modest deployment of ground-based interceptors; and sharply curtail sea-based anti-missile defenses. So much for the robust, layered missile defense Mr. Bush promised to put in place.

If the proposed defense budget cuts go forward, the American people would be entitled to feel they have been subjected to a classic “bait and switch.” They rejected the candidate whose record had been one of voting against every major weapon system. They accepted the Bush-Cheney team’s criticism of Mr. Kerry that he could not be trusted to keep us safe.

Now, the guys they elected seem poised to hollow out the military in ways that will make the recent tempest over the lack of “up-armored” Humvees in Iraq pale by comparison.

The public understands the need for, and is prepared to make, sacrifices in time of war. Mr. Bush must ask them to do so — and avoid unduly increasing those already asked of our military.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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