If President Obama's inaugural Twitter Town Hall this week was any indication about the mood of the country, Americans are just fine with the idea of a big cut to the Defense Department's budget. Anytime the wars or the military came up from questioners, it was always in the context of cuts, as potential ways to escape the U.S. fiscal quagmire. And in that context, Obama channeled the spirit of Robert Gates, cautioning everyone that this wasn't going to be as simple as taking a trim off the top.
Here's what the president said:
The one thing I’ll say about military spending -- we’ve ended the war in Iraq, our combat mission there and -- all our troops are slated to be out by the end of this year. We’ve already removed 100,000. I announced that we were going to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan and pivot to a transition process where Afghans are taking more responsibility for their defense.Let's not get carried away here -- the president's proposed $400 billion reduction in spending over the coming decade isn't a "relatively modest change," after the Building and its dependents have become accustomed to non-stop growth. But Obama's remarks do give the impression that, even in amidst his showdown with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling, the president wants to use a roadmap -- either from the Mother of all Reviews, or something else -- for the coming defense build-down.
But we have to do all of this in a fairly gradual way. We can’t simply lop off 25 percent off the defense budget overnight. We have to think about all the obligations we have to our current troops who are in the field, and making sure they’re properly equipped and safe. We’ve got to make sure that we are meeting our commitments for those veterans who are coming home. We’ve got to make sure that -- in some cases, we’ve got outdated equipment that needs to be replaced.
And so I’m committed to reducing the defense budget, but as Commander-in-Chief, one of the things that we have to do is make sure that we do it in a thoughtful way that’s guided by our security and our strategic needs. And I think we can accomplish that. And the nice thing about the defense budget is it’s so big, it’s so huge, that a 1 percent reduction is the equivalent of the education budget. Not -- I’m exaggerating, but it’s so big that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of head room to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that.