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Wicker Urges Permanent Fix to Imminent Defense Cuts

Obama Nominations Add to Debate About Future of America’s National Security Priorities

Monday, January 14, 2013

The new Congress must act quickly to prevent drastic cuts to America’s defense programs.  The recent “fiscal cliff” agreement only postponed the onset of harmful, across-the-board reductions to the Pentagon’s budget, which has already sustained $487 billion in cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act.  Congress now has less than two months to put a solution in place that achieves meaningful deficit reduction without jeopardizing America’s national security interests.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made it clear that the looming meat-ax cuts under current law would be devastating to military operations and preparedness.  The economy would feel the effects, too.  Thousands of jobs in Mississippi and more than a million across the country are at stake if the defense cuts take effect.

Future Strategy

The debate about defense spending comes at a crucial time for the future of America’s military strategy.  President Obama has selected nominees for top posts at the State Department, Department of Defense (DOD), and CIA.  These individuals will have influential roles in implementing the foreign policy objectives of his second term.

The upcoming Senate confirmation process for the President’s national security team should shed some light on the Administration’s foreign policy ambitions.  A rapidly changing world with grave threats to U.S. interests underscores the need for leadership and vision.

Hagel Nomination

Unfortunately, the President’s choice of former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to be the next secretary of defense extinguishes the spirit of consensus that would best serve the American public and our military.  Hagel’s controversial positions and public statements on matters affecting national security raise serious questions about what kind of decisions he would make at the helm of DOD.  Secretary Panetta earned unanimous Senate support, but the divisive confirmation process that Hagel’s nomination sets up establishes the wrong tone for dealing with urgent national priorities in the coming weeks.

Terrorism, Iran

Whoever becomes defense secretary will have to deal with wide-ranging national security interests, as unrest persists in the Middle East and the U.S. military begins its strategic pivot toward Asia.  Afghanistan will continue to be a top security concern, with significant changes in U.S. military involvement in the near future.

Continued counterterrorism efforts are vital to ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for al-Qaeda or its affiliates.  The same is true for other countries where the terror network has a presence.  The Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is a tragic reminder of the hate perpetuated by violent extremists against Americans.  Now al-Qaeda is targeting the U.S. ambassador and American soldiers in Yemen, offering a bounty worth tens of thousands of dollars for their murder.

It also remains to be seen how the Obama Administration will confront Iran, which grows closer to developing a nuclear weapon.  Congress recently passed tougher sanctions as a way to force the belligerent regime to abandon its nuclear program, but fears are rising that the program may soon become too advanced to stop.  Iran’s defiance of the international community and hostility toward Israel make the prospect of nuclear capabilities a dangerous threat to regional stability.

As the new Congress begins work, America’s defense budget and foreign policy priorities command immediate attention.  I am hopeful that the ensuing dialogue will reaffirm the importance of the United States’ national security interests and global leadership.  Preventing detrimental defense cuts by finding budget savings elsewhere is the right way to start.

January 2013 Weekly Columns