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LYONS: Lessons never learned

Today’s defense cuts are recreating conditions that led to Pearl Harbor

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As we mark the 70th anniversary of Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor of Dec. 7, 1941, America is on the verge of committing the same mistakes that helped plunge our nation into its most grievous war.

The first mistake then was to impose the strategic restraints of "political correctness" on our Hawaiian military commanders. Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold R. Stark to prepare the fleet for deployment but not do anything provocative that might offend the super-sensibilities of the Japanese. Lt. Gen. Walter G. Short, commanding general of the U.S. Army Force in Hawaii, who was responsible for the air defense of the Hawaiian Island including Pearl Harbor, was ordered not to take any offensive action until the Japanese had committed an "act of war." Does it sound familiar?

The political correctness imposed on our commanders leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, regretfully, resonates in today's military, including the war on terrorism and our efforts to defend ourselves from China.

A second mistake then - about to be committed again - is the gutting of our military readiness, which, at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was a national disgrace. It was so bad that Gen. George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the Army, and Adm. Stark wrote a joint letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking him not to issue any "ultimatum" to the Japanese because they knew the U.S. Pacific Fleet was numerically inferior to the Imperial Japanese Navy. Compounding the problem, Gen. Short was not provided with basic resources, including adequate surveillance and fighter aircraft. He was given only three mobile radar stations with coverage out to 120 miles that could only be operated between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. each day due to lack of personnel and power.

Fortunately, over the years we have learned the hard lesson that unpreparedness invites aggression. President Reagan's "Peace through Strength" is as valid today as it was 30 years ago. The Cold War was won based on that strategy. Today, however, with fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military as well as our resources have been severely strained. While we still have the resources to protect our national security and achieve our objectives, political correctness has imposed restricted "rules of engagement" on our warfighters, resulting in many unnecessary fatalities.

No enemy has been able to defeat our military. Our forces represent the best of America and guarantee not only our national security but provide the recognized military underpinnings to support our friends and allies against aggression.

The threats we face today cannot be ignored. We are being challenged by China not only in the western Pacific but globally. Their spread of nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Pakistan and Iran has been destabilizing. Nor can their transfer of weapons and missiles to Iran be swept under the rug. A resurgent Russia, plus an unstable Middle East with a nuclear-equipped Iran, must be factored into any threat equation. Since we have not displayed political will when directly confronted by Iran, a nuclear Islamic Republic will be uncontrollable in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere.

While our military has always had the conventional resources to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapon infrastructure, that capability will be severely constrained in the future as a result of the supercommittee's budget stalemate. This failure in deficit reduction will now trigger debt "sequestration." The military is currently struggling to manage $450 billion in mandated cuts. Sequestration, if enacted, will cut another $600 billion for a total reduction of more than $1 trillion to support our military forces. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta has stated that such severe cuts will "gut the military." With the threats we now know exist, our national security will be in danger.

There are some members of Congress who have suggested that the mandatory cuts to defense should be modified. In a recent Politico-Battleground poll, the American people by an overwhelming 82 percent reject further cuts to our national defense. However, that sentiment does not appear to resonate with President Obama, who has categorically stated that he will veto any change to the mandated defense cuts. Clearly, such draconian cuts place our national security in jeopardy. One of the president's key duties under our Constitution is "to provide for the common defense." A presidential veto would raise the question: What is the real objective? What lesson do we have to learn over again?

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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