Washington: The Pentagon faces a lot of threats, but according to the incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the national deficit isn’t the biggest one.
White House nominee Gen. Martin Dempsey told members of Senate Armed Services Committee today that the growing fiscal hole in the nation’s economy was not the biggest national security threat to the United States.
Noting there is “unquestionably a relationship between U.S. security and the debt,” the four-star Army general made clear the success or failure of that relationship was not the preeminent concern that other top military officials have made it out to be.
“I would not describe our economic condition as the single biggest threat to our national security,” Dempsey said in his written testimony to the committee. “National security did not cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it,” he said.
A single-minded focus on debt reduction as a way to strengthen national security “neglects other instruments of national power,” Dempsey added.
For a nominee who many assumed would go along with the White House’s overall national security strategy and not rock the boat, Dempsey’s comments on the deficit were a break from the administration’s talking points.
And that was not all.
The current Army Chief of Staff told the committee that President Obama’s decision to accelerate troop withdrawals from Afghanistan put American lives in danger.
He told lawmakers that Iran was seeking a “Beirut-like moment” in southern Iraq, once American troops depart.
But it was the comments on the national debt that lit a fire under some committee members, particularly ranking member Sen. John McCain.
In a charged exchange that seemed more like a cross-examination than usual confirmation hearing bluster, the Arizona Republican laid into Dempsey, along with those on the Hill eying cuts to defense spending.
While standing by his statement, Dempsey admitted defense spending cuts tacked into several deficit reduction plans floating around the Hill — which cut $800 billion to $1 trillion from DoD over the next decade, depending on the plan — would put the United States in danger.
The Obama White House has put the Pentagon on track to shave over $400 billion in spending. Anything over that, Dempsey said, would be “extremely difficult and very high risk.”
Last week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon railed against a deficit reduction plan pitched by a bipartisan Senate group, which included an $866 billion cut to defense.
While the four-star general did go out on a limb on the national debt and its effect on national security, his response to how he would address military needs in a time of fiscal crisis was classic Washington.
“If confirmed, I will focus on delivering the military force the nation needs while endeavoring to be a good steward of our national resources,” Dempsey said.