The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said on Wednesday that the world remains more dangerous than ever and criticized the Obama administration for its lack of commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
“I know that the American people are heartsick over what has become of the Afghanistan mission,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.) said during a major speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
“I share their fear that we may be adrift, and I am certain that we are suffering from a lack of commitment at the highest levels.”
McKeon said in an interview with the Free Beacon after the speech that the president’s lack of commitment is shown by the fact that he has given only three speeches on the war in Afghanistan. By contrast, President Bush gave more than 40. Keeping the American people informed during wartime is crucial for support the war efforts, especially when things go wrong, he said.
“So when we have a tragedy like happened over the weekend with a soldier that went berserk, people are just ready to get up and leave the mission,” he said. “And that’s a real problem.”
A U.S. soldier killed 16 civilians on Sunday, severely undermining soft power U.S. counterinsurgency efforts, which include seeking to gain the support of the local population against the Taliban.
“The lack of leadership, the lack of direction from leadership just kind of leaves the American people bewildered,” McKeon said.
McKeon noted that the Obama supported Afghanistan as the so-called “good war,” compared to Iraq, but the administration is not supporting the effort.
“So I think it would be helpful if just periodically he gave some kind of an update to people to let them know what’s going on,” McKeon said.
“People are tired. They’ve been fighting this war for 10 years and they are war wary, but they don’t hear anything but the bad news,” he said.
The mission in Afghanistan, to block the Taliban and al Qaeda from coming to power again, is not complete, McKeon said.
“I happen to believe the mission is worth undertaking and so if it’s worth undertaking and worth making all the commitment we’ve done, it’s worth finishing.”
Frequent apologies by the president and senior administration officials send the wrong message to both the Afghans and to the American people, McKeon said.
If the president gave more high-profile speeches on what’s going on in Afghanistan, more people would hear about the good things being done to stabilize the country and not just the bad things, he said.
The powerful committee chairman, with influence over budgets and policy at the Pentagon, harshly criticized plans for cutting up to $1 trillion in defense spending over the next 10 years in the speech.
“These cuts are real, and we will all start feeling them soon,” McKeon said. “They will affect every American base, installation, and military unit in the world in some way, shape, or form. And they won’t just hurt our national security. These cuts, deeply damaging to our defense, will hurt everyone associated with the military.”
McKeon said the Pentagon’s plans to cut 80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines was “shameful,” and that he is opposing the current budget plan to shave $43 billion, along with 23 warships and 150 Air Force cargo planes.
McKeon said the administration views large-scale cuts to defense spending as tossing the military “overboard” in an effort to keep the government that is sinking in debt afloat.
“That’s a bunch of baloney,” he said, noting that if the entire defense budget were cut, the United States would still be running a massive deficit because of expensive entitlement programs.
“They now threaten our first and most sacred entitlement: the right to safety, life, and liberty.”
McKeon said the U.S. military must first be protected during the fiscal cutback and then restored.
“I will not be a partner to the management of this great nation’s decline. I will not be complicit in the dismantling of the Reagan military,” he said.
Key priorities for Congress this term are to resolve the potentially disastrous budget sequestration that will cut $600 billion from defense. That comes on top of current plans to cut $487 billion over 10 years.
McKeon has introduced a bill that would limit the impact of sequestration by shrinking the federal workforce that he said has grown exponentially since 2009.
“While the president proposes laying off more than 120,000 troops, he has hired more than 120,000 new bureaucrats,” McKeon said.
He then plans to reverse the first tranche of defense cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act passed last summer.
“We’re past cutting the fat and past the muscle, now we’re cutting into the bone,” he said of recent defense cuts. “Less than 20 percent of our federal spending goes to defense. But 50 percent of our deficit reductions have come from defense. The consequences are being felt.”
The recent Pentagon shift in strategy means the United States is no longer able to sustain forces that have “kept America safe for decades,” McKeon said.
Regarding the administration’s announced “pivot” of U.S. forces and alliances in Asia, McKeon said he would work hard to ensure “the pivot to Asia is not an empty one.”
“The administration calls it a strategic pivot. I call it a head fake,” he said. “A pivot implies that you have some body weight behind the movement. Though the administration says we’re shifting to Asia, they’re actually reducing the number of ships and planes we have available to respond to contingencies anywhere.”
The shift must be viable and should not place U.S. troops at unnecessary risk, he said, noting China’s latest announcement of a decades-long pattern of double-digit percentages in defense-spending increases.
The pivot will mean reinvesting in the Air Force and Navy, which are part of the Pentagon’s Air Sea Battle Concept, a new warfighting concept designed to counter China’s new high-tech weapons and missiles.
Airlift capabilities also will be modernized and cuts to Navy cruisers will be fought, he said.
Regarding nuclear force modernization, McKeon said he will hold the administration accountable to promises made during debate in 2010 on the ratification of the New START arms treaty to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“We also must allocate resources for contingencies like Iran,” he said. “We’ll be looking to place emphasis on vital weapons, should the Iranians determine that a peaceful, nuclear-free existence is not in their best interest.”
“The House defense bill this year will fund powerful bunker buster munitions, countermeasures for mines, and appropriate sensor and intelligence platforms,” he said.
The Pentagon should also return to a more robust two-war strategy that will require forces capable of fighting two wars at the same time, he said.
“We must end this unofficial ‘procurement holiday’ and get our forces the tools they need to win the current war, and deter future wars,” he said.
McKeon also said planned cuts in healthcare for military retirees are “absolutely unacceptable.”
“When our troops made a decision to volunteer for service, they entered a sacred agreement with this government,” he said.
“Part of that agreement was that their medical needs will be met. We made a solemn covenant with them—we cannot, and we must not break it.”
The chairman acknowledged that restoring U.S. military and defense will not be easy.
In an appeal to the public, McKeon said: “To put it plainly, we need your help. We need your help restoring the concept of the ‘Reagan military.’ Just the name invokes the concept of strength and certitude. I need you to be advocates for the principles that President Reagan advocated. I need you to have our troops’ back.”