WASHINGTON: State governors are complaining to Congress about Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s offer to give the Air National Guard two dozen C-130 aircraft and add back almost 1,200 jobs, saying it isn’t enough.
The president’s budget originally proposed cutting 5,100 Air Guard jobs; last week, Panetta offered to restore 1,179 (by the governors’ count) and even to give the Guard two dozen C-130J aircraft being retired from the regular active duty force. But on Friday the governors officially said “not good enough” in letters not only to Panetta but to key lawmakers, asking them to overrule the Pentagon.
Our Huffington Post colleague John Celock has an interesting story on this campaign by the bipartisan Council of Governors and its parent group, the National Governors Association. The big picture here is how hard it is to make even relatively small cuts to the Defense budget – just look at last week’s House Armed Services Committee mark-ups, or how bitter fights over even a small program can be. It’s doubly difficult in a recession, when any downward pressure to trim spending meets the upward pressure not to cut a single dollar that helps keep voters employed.
The National Guard’s home-state roots make it a favorite protégé of Congress. Especially popular are units that serve a dual role, with missions both in wars abroad and disaster relief at home, such as transport helicopters and the C-130 cargo planes that Panetta has offered to restore. But even the hardcore combat functions of the Guard can benefit, for example in the HASC’s current proposal to add $383 million to the budget to get the Guard more modern tanks and other heavy armored vehicles that have no application (we hope!) to domestic emergencies – a two-fer benefiting both the Guard units and the manufacturers.
Meanwhile, there’s unnerving discussion of cutting aid to the Afghan army and police after the US and NATO withdraw their “combat forces” (but not advisors) in 2014. The idea of downsizing the combined Afghan National Security Forces from their current 352,000 personnel to just 230,000 has already drawn ire from a bipartisan quartet of key Senators: Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin, Republican Lindsey Graham, former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, former Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. (Since Lieberman’s now an independent, the group’s arguably tri-partisan).
It’s true the Afghan government is nowhere near being able to afford such huge forces on its own, so it will require foreign aid indefinitely to sustain them; but then the news out of Afghanistan is hardly so good as to suggest that they’ll need fewer Afghan forces to keep order after ours are (mostly) gone, and as a means of achieving foreign policy goals, subsidizing Afghan soldiers is a lot cheaper in American dollars, let alone American lives, than sending US ones. The problem is that it’s politically far more palatable to cut funding for foreigners – even foreign allies we’re potentially leaving in a life-or-death lurch – than for any program, cost-effective or otherwise, that spends money at home.