I'm not going to hollow out the force. Coming out of World War II, coming out of Korea, coming out of the Vietnam War, coming out of the fall of the Soviet Union, the problem was that cuts were made across the board, and the result was we weakened defense across the board. We hollowed out the force.Congressman Leon Panetta, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, quoted in the New York Times on January 31, 1990:
Pressure is also building to divert some of the money for costly Pentagon weapons systems and create a ''peace dividend'' that could be used to avoid big cuts in social programs. But Mr. Cheney has largely shunned suggestions to kill any new weapons programs, arguing that the United States military needs a modern force.
Representative Leon E. Panetta, the California Democrat who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that Mr. Cheney's 1991 military budget was ''very disappointing.''
Mr. Panetta said that when some members of Congress recently complained to Mr. Cheney about the absence of a peace dividend, ''he made the comment that the peace dividend is peace.''Don't worry, though: Uncle Leon explained this apparent discrepancy when he was over on the Hill back in June, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of his nomination. When asked by John Cornyn about his role in the post-Cold War defense drawdown, when he served as President Clinton's budget director, here's how today's SECDEF responded:
As Director of OMB, obviously, I was given the responsibility by the President to try to achieve significant savings as part of the economic plan that was adopted by the Congress that, by the way, reduced the deficit by almost $500 billion. And I think that, plus other agreements that were made in the Bush administration and, ultimately, with the Republican Congress all contributed to our ability to achieve a balanced budget.
Specifically, with regards to the defense area, my responsibility as OMB Director was to provide a number to the Defense Secretary and those at the Defense Department to determine how best to try to achieve those savings. And I do understand that that was part of what they proposed.
But looking at it in hindsight, it might not have been the best way to achieve those savings, but it was a decision that was made at the Defense Department.A lot to unpack there, but it basically comes down to I was for it before I was against it.
Panetta contends that he's not responsible for whatever negative effects were suffered by the '90s drawdown because he just did his job, just presented a topline number, while Defense officials made the program decisions necessary to get there. "[I]t might not have been the best way to achieve those savings," he says, presumably referring to the major cuts to procurement accounts that Cornyn brought up in his question, "but it was a decision that was made at the Defense Department."
Well, Mr. Secretary, now you are the Defense Department. And you're telling us that it's appropriate for the Congress and the White House to serve you up a topline number that jibes with political reality, just like you did for the Aspin Pentagon. And you're telling us that past procurement holidays might have been a mistake. And you're telling us that you're not going to hollow out the force. And you're telling us that you're not going to break faith with military personnel.
So now what are you going to do?
Are you going to "suck it up, do what's right for the country"? Are you going to "do the work that [you're] supposed to do"? Are you going to prioritize and make decisions and accept risk and put your own ass on the line -- are you going to show some leadership?
Or are you going to stand up in front of a bunch of guys in hard hats and say "damn" and "son of a bitch" a lot, get everybody chuckling at good ol' Uncle Leon, and feed them pathetic applause lines about what Congress needs to do for you?