- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2014

President Obama has spent about $120 billion on climate change initiatives since taking office. That is the equivalent of 1,400 F-35s — the Pentagon’s most expensive fighter jets, according to estimates by Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon, dealing with unprecedented spending cuts, plans to slash the Army’s size to pre-World War II levels. Top brass are grappling with which programs to cut and are questioning military readiness.

At the same time, the White House is pushing its climate change agenda at the expense of other programs and perhaps national security, Mr. Inhofe said.

“When you have the top person in the military — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [Gen.] Martin Dempsey saying our force is so degraded and so unready that it would be immoral to use force. That’s big time, that’s serious,” said Mr. Inhofe in an interview with The Washington Times.

“Our capabilities historically since World War II have been what our strategy was: to be able to fight in two fronts in two separate wars — we can’t do that now,” said Mr. Inhofe. “I’ve got 20 kids and grandkids, and when I bail out of here I want to make sure that we have a military that’s going to take care of them.”

That means spending a little more than 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product on defense — roughly the level to which payments have dropped under the Obama administration, Mr. Inhofe said.

Last year, Russia outspent the U.S. in defense for the first time in more than a decade, allocating 4.8 percent of its GDP to military arms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“There are people who don’t want to believe that the threat is real out there,” said Mr. Inhofe, noting that China has increased its arms spending by 300 percent while the U.S. has been cutting back. “And it’s so convenient not to believe it. I’d give anything to say, ‘Oh we’re still the strongest, and have the most modern stuff,’ when we don’t have the capabilities that the American public believes we have.”

Military analysts agree with the senator. The president’s defense cuts, combined with sequestration — automatic cuts that are scheduled to shave $492 billion from the military’s budget over a period of 10 years — are having a negative impact on the readiness and ability of our nation’s defense.

“The sky technically is falling for the Defense Department, but it’s more of a slow bleed rather than one significant event or precipitous moment,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a national security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “All defense priorities are taking a hit including readiness and people — the two things that politicians have hoped to avoid. There’s a squeeze and it’s real.”

In a May hearing, Gen. Dempsey told Congress that budget cuts were causing the military to “hemorrhage readiness and cutting further into modernization. [This means] risk to the performance of our mission and risk to those who serve continues to grow.”

With sequestration, military and combat readiness are usually the first to go because they are the easiest to cut with the fastest monetary return, said Nora Bensahel, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.

“The defense cuts of the past few years and that will extend as a requirement of sequestration really are having an effect on the military readiness,” she said. “There is great pressure to find savings quickly to meet the required level of cuts. Operations and maintenance funds — the funds the forces use for readiness — are the easiest way to get your hands on money really fast. That includes everything that a unit needs to operate, to deploy on a rotation to the national training center, to maintaining equipment, and buying ammunition comes out of those funds. So when they get cut, readiness levels go down.”

Yet the White House has other spending priorities.

In 2009, the White House guaranteed a $2.1 billion alternative energy loan to Solar Trust of America — which later went defunct — leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. That money was enough to patch the 2015 budget shortfall for military pay and housing, Mr. Inhofe notes.

This year, the president has pledged $757 million for the Global Climate Change Initiative to help build green power plants abroad. That is the equivalent of 50 Black Hawk helicopters that the National Guard and reserve units need under the Army Aviation Restructure initiative.

Even the Defense Department’s budget is full of green initiatives that the president ordered. To cut fossil fuels in the combat theater, the military has been taking action such as adding solar panels to tents and backpacks and sealing camps with an insulating coating so cooled that air does not leak.

The Defense Department now dispatches energy teams to operating bases with policy knowledge of how renewable energy systems can be used, and they can work with soldiers on the ground to ascertain the best practical implementation. Biofuels have been ordered to be used to fuel equipment, and a pilot program is underway to try all-electric vehicles on six bases in five states.

Last month, a Government Accountability Office report found that the military was spending as much as $150 a gallon on alternative jet fuel derived from algal oil rather than $2.88 a gallon for conventional jet fuel.

“Why should the Defense Department be paying for solar panels? Why should defense be paying for biorefineries? Those are not defense items. We have a Department of Energy that’s supposed to be doing that stuff. The disarming of America is not just what he’s been doing in cuts or delays like the F-35s, but less obvious is what he’s puts in [the defense budget] that we’re spending money on that should be spent on defense as opposed to his agenda.

“Now, [the president’s] true to his agenda, and you may agree with it and that’s fine. I don’t,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Still, the Pentagon is no harbinger for fiscal responsibility, said Sen. Tom Coburn, a fellow Oklahoma Republican.

In his 2014 infamous waste book, Mr. Coburn found it offensive that the Department of Defense was destroying $7 billion worth of usable vehicles and other military equipment — rather than selling it or shipping it back home — as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were drawing down, and that $82.5 million was gifted to local law enforcement agencies in the form of surplus mine resistant ambush protected tactical vehicles.

Mr. Inhofe acknowledges that fiscal strings could be tightened. He is proposing putting more authority in the hands of the military — rather than other government bureaucrats and contractors — to decide how to modify plans when a ship or plane encounters cost overruns.

He also is recommending no contract cancellations after a certain milestone has been met. Many times, projects are almost completed before they are canceled, he said, which has been a significant contributor to time and money waste.

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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