National Security

McRaven: Cuts Are Hurting Military

Worries about tension between telling truth and being a ‘good soldier’

Adm. William McRaven / AP

The top commander of U.S. Special Operations forces expressed frustration on Thursday over his inability to speak honestly about deep defense spending cuts that are gutting the U.S. military.

Admiral William H. McRaven admitted that he and other top military leaders are conflicted about being "good soldiers" versus truth tellers when it comes to offering an honest assessment of the Obama administration’s defense cuts, which will top $1 trillion over the next decade.

"We’re always in that awkward position of trying to be good soldiers, but at the same time recognizing we are on a very serious downward slope here," McRaven said during a conversation with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.) at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis’ (IFPA) annual conference, a gathering that attracts top military brass and defense insiders.

"One of the problems you know we have as senior officers in the military, as good soldiers, when given a mission we salute and move out," McRaven said, noting that some insiders have encouraged him to protest the cuts more vocally.

"How do you work the part where you have to be a good soldier, salute smartly, but it’s important to tell the tale of the direction we’re heading," McRaven asked McKeon. "With these cuts you won’t see it tomorrow or next year, you might not even see it in the next 5 years but one day you’ll wake up" and the U.S. military will be decimated.

McKeon warned McRaven against being too vocal and possibly risking his job.

"The worst thing that happens to me is I lose an election," McKeon said, explaining that lawmakers should be sounding the horn on the military’s behalf. "I think you’re not in a position to complain about" the cuts, otherwise known as sequestration. "It’s not like you can go out and do the things I can do."

McKeon also told military leaders that Congress is unlikely to pass a budget to fund the government next year due to insurmountable discrepancies between House and Senate versions of the budget bill.

This means that sequestration will continue to bear down on the Defense Department and military.

"At the top levels, the White House, our leadership, the Senate leadership, there’s just nothing happening in communications," McKeon said in reference to the budget impasse. "It’s going to be another tough year. I wish I could be more cheerful and tell you everything is wonderful."

Ongoing defense cuts will make it impossible for America to properly engage in combat, McKeon warned.

"What happens when you’ve eliminated your military and the next conflict comes?" McKeon asked.

"This is the first time we’ve run our military down while we’re still at war," he said. "We’re cutting a trillion dollars out of our defense. It doesn’t make any sense."