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Obama's 'review' could be DoD's lifeline

As expected, President Obama said today that DoD's budget will be included in the whole-of-government effort to get America's deficit and budget under control. He proposed a total savings of $400 billion by 2023. (That would be on top of whatever the U.S. saves as operations wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or so the White House hopes.) The Pentagon just did a big budget drill to look for the $78 billion in "savings," much of which is projected lack of growth, that Secretary Gates sold to the White House. Now, apparently, everybody's going to do it all over again.

Here are the relevant paragraphs, per the White House's official version of the speech:

"As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world.  But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt.

Just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense. Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending.  I believe we can do that again.  We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.  I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete."

It didn't take long for the Pentagon to warn that cuts at this level would mean real-world effects across the Corporation: "'[Gates] has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without reducing force structure and military capability,' said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell," as Reuters' Missy Ryan reported.

That's true, but by agreeing to make cuts only after a "review," the White House has given DoD a chance to chart its own course through this sewer, rather than be dragged along. Gates, Mullen and even their successors -- depending on how long this exercise lasts -- will get a chance to offer up the programs and expenditures they like least, rather than just getting an email saying, "cut your budget by 15 percent."

The next phase in this saga will be: What goes away? The Marines' F-35B, perhaps? The Air Force's beloved next-generation bomber? The Army's Ground Combat Vehicle? The Navy's next-generation SSBN? The services all would say their programs are super-essential to America's security, but at this rate, the budget-cutting fever in Washington may never break, and it could burn up still more major programs. Maybe programs will stay in effect but troops stationed overseas could begin coming home. Maybe the end strength cuts Gates has proposed for the Army and Marine Corps will be deeper and sooner than planned.

What do you think will be on the chopping block? What should be? What should DoD protect at all costs?

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