Last Wednesday, Barack Obama promised another round of deep cuts in the Pentagon’s “wasteful” spending, prompting a retort from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that any further cuts would require a rethinking of global commitments. Today, we find out that the Obama administration has been recalculating America’s strategic reach, but not in the way Gates imagined. Obama has cancelled the return of one combat brigade from Europe planned by George W. Bush, and two administration officials promise an even bigger military presence in Europe than in the past decade.
Assitant Secretaries of State Philip Gordon and Alexander Vershbow wrote to the Financial Times in response to “diplomatic rumors” that the US would start drawing down its European commitment, emphasis mine:
Sir, We read with interest, but also surprise, Philip Stephens’ comment on America’s presence in Europe. (“Hooray! The Yanks are going home”, April 14). Given the broad array of challenges that the US and Europe face together, we applaud Mr Stephens’ call for more and smarter European spending on defence. But those challenges, and the importance of the US-European partnership in meeting them, also explain why, contrary to Mr Stephens’ assertions, the US is by no means reducing its commitment to Europe.
We are adapting that commitment to new realities – the troop decision Mr Stephens refers to being one case in point. After extensive review and broad consultations with allies, President Barack Obama decided to reverse the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw two of the four US combat brigades in Europe and instead decided to retain three, as of 2015. Those brigades will be complemented by new forward deployments of Aegis ships and special operations aircraft, a permanent aviation detachment in Poland, and land-based missile defence systems in Poland and Romania. In the end, with the winding-down of the mission in Afghanistan, there will likely be more US forces in Europe in 2015 than there have been for the past decade.
To borrow from Glenn Reynolds, they told me that if I voted for John McCain, we’d get more Yankee military imperialism than even George Bush could muster — and they were right!
This morning in Annandale, President Obama once again promised to cut defense spending even more, doubling down on his Wednesday pledge to find another $400 billion in reductions over the next decade. That will be difficult to do while adding to troop levels in Europe. How exactly does Obama plan to pay for the additional troops, and how does he plan to get a net $800 billion reduction in defense spending while increasing overseas deployments? There is only so much “waste” to find in Defense spending, although it’s almost certain that we haven’t yet wrung it all out.
There is a legitimate debate to be had on our international commitments to global security and our ability to fund them. Europe, especially western Europe, looks like a good candidate for serious reductions. We no longer have a line to hold against the Soviet Union at the Iron Curtain, and our threats are more mobile and less state-based. Europe needed American protection during the Cold War but now should carry that burden themselves. But this approach by the White House to talk about cuts in Defense spending while committing to even higher troop levels in Europe is not just irresponsible, it’s fiscally insane.