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Spend Smarter, Not More | Commentary

This week, the government will run out of expenditure authority, but Congress is working to advance actual spending bills before the Wednesday deadline.

Our nation needs an open dialogue about government spending, especially on U.S. military programs that damage our national security by ballooning the national debt.

In January of 2012, President Obama released a new National Military Strategy designed to implement the revised 2010 National Security Strategy, both of which we believe are fundamentally sound. The 2010 NSS, in a broad redefinition of national security, stated that the United States must revitalize its economic, moral and innovative strength if we are to continue in a world leadership role.

The revised military strategy cited the country’s dire budget problems that necessitate more modest foreign policy goals and made a clear break in emphasizing working with the international community, over unilateral action, to seek global stability. While it did stress the need to maintain military superiority, it declared that we must be more restrained in employing military force. As a result, we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces, rid ourselves of outdated Cold War-era military systems and invest in the capabilities we need for the future with smaller defense budgets.

Pentagon spending is slated for a trillion-dollar belt-tightening over a decade as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The sequestration provisions for nonsensical across-the-board cuts have already been modified to allow greater flexibility in targeting spending reductions. Before the recent holiday recess, Congress gave the Pentagon a potential two-year sequestration reprieve with the Ryan-Murray budget deal and created the opportunity for a real congressional debate about how the Pentagon spends taxpayer dollars.

Top Pentagon civilian leaders appear dedicated to the task of adjusting to significantly lower military expenditures. In an interview last November, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “We’re challenging every past assumption, every past formula.” Anticipating more reductions, Hagel also described a strategy to build a Pentagon budget that rationally apportions lower levels of spending.

Of course, Hagel will encounter strong opposition from vested interests that will lose resources in the realignment. Lobbyists for defense contractors are bemoaning prospective cuts and decrying them for their negative impact on national security while members of Congress continue to mandate maintaining military facilities and programs in their states and districts.

Battles between and among the armed services for larger pieces of the smaller pie also are inevitable. As vividly reported in a Washington Post article, the Army is grasping for a new mission, one traditionally performed by the Marines, to justify its relevance in the pivot to the Pacific.

As retired military officers, we agree with former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and the 2008 National Intelligence Estimate that our national debt and economic crises are our greatest national security risks. We are confident that our military and civilian leaders have learned the lesson of the recent past that the employment of large-scale ground troops to conduct full spectrum counterinsurgency operations successfully is mission impossible. Congress can reinforce that lesson with the power of the purse.

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