Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s business expertise would allow defense budgets to grow, reverse troop cuts, build up the Navy, and modernize the Air Force without ballooning deficits, a father-son team of defense advisers to the former Massachusetts governor said Thursday.
A President Romney can do all that, and President Obama can’t, because of the superior management skills of the GOP presidential nominee, said Dov and Roger Zakheim.
“It all begins at the top,” said Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s comptroller under former President George W. Bush. “What the CEO does reflects down the chain,” he said.
Under President Obama, “you have a CEO who doesn't know what a bottom line looks like because he's never been in business," Dov Zakheim said. "Governor Romney, with his background and experience in the private sector, will absolutely be focused on making the (Defense) Department more efficient."
Dov Zakheim and his son Roger Zakheim, who is on leave as a Republican aide to the House Armed Services Committee, said the lack of management skills in the current administration played out in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Dov Zakheim said guards could have been pulled out of safer U.S. embassies in Ottawa, London and Paris to bolster security in Libya.
“It was not that they weren’t warned,” Dov Zakheim said. “What you don’t have is management focus or thought” on how to allocate security personnel, he said.
At a breakfast meeting with defense reporters, both Zakheims repeatedly returned to business and management expertise when asked for specifics on how Romney would pay for the proposed defense buildup.
They both scoffed at charges by Democrats and several independent analysts that Romney’s pledge to keep defense spending at four percent of the Gross Domestic Product over 10 years would add at least $2 trillion to the deficit.
Romney can achieve his goals by growing the economy to boost GDP and through entitlement reform, the Zakheims said, but they declined to give overall costs.
"The correct number will depend on GDP. If Romney's going to turn the economy around, then the GDP's going to grow" and the 4 percent bite from defense will be relatively smaller, Dov Zakheim said.
The problem with Democrats is that “they don’t want to address entitlements,” and not just on small-ticket items such as public television, Dov Zakhem said.
“It’s not a matter of Big Bird, it’s not a matter of school lunches – you’ve gotta get your arms around health care,” Zakheim said.
Both Zakheims sketched a Navy-centric defense plan that would boost the fleet size, scrap Obama’s goal of cutting 80,000 troops from the Army and 20,000 from the Marine Corps, and speed the process of acquiring a new long-range bomber for the Air Force.
Roger Zakheim said Obama’s vision for a strategic shift of emphasis away from the Mideast and to the Pacific wouldn’t work under the current shipbuilding plan that would add nine ships annually. Romney has proposed boosting yearly production to 15 ships.
“The so-called pivot (to the Pacific) is hollow,” Roger Zakheim said. “That’s absolutely the most eye-opening problem” in the entire Obama defense strategy.
“We don’t have ‘em,” he said, meaning the number of ships to meet obligations in both the Mideast and the Pacific.
Both Zakheims said that major cuts to the civil service workforce in the Defense Department were a certainty under a Romney administration.
Dov Zakheim did not offer figures on the number of jobs to be cut, but said Romney “absolutely will focus on making the department more efficient.”
Currently, "there are almost as many people in suits as there are in uniform," Dov Zakheim said. "There's a need to reduce the size of the civil service."