Amid the deluge of commentary about the difficulty of defense cuts, there has been quiet undercurrent suggesting that the tough choices haven’t yet been made. Marine General Hoss Cartwright, then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gave voice to this position in January:
Achieving the $487 billion in cuts was sufficiently doable that it didn't require really hard decisions ... Unless you force them into it, those hard decisions just don't get made. Everybody buys everything they want.
The evidence backs that observation up. Take the Air Force putting Reserve Component A-10 units on the chopping block. Or the Navy’s willingness to give up amphibious ships.
Now Secretary Panetta has added the Base Realignment and Closure proposal to that list. From his speech last week to the Association of Defense Communities:
It’s now clear, obviously, that there will not be a round of BRAC authorized in 2013. And that’s no surprise. We didn’t, frankly, I didn’t put any money on the provision. When I was asked by some of my budget peers, “Shouldn’t we put a dollar sign for the BRAC?” I said “No, don’t waste your time.
Sounds much more like symbolic goldwatching than a serious savings option, doesn’t it?
None of this means that defense cuts aren’t real – we’re actually in Year 3 of a declining budget. Rather, Panetta has just reminded us of how much space is left before we get to the truly tough choices.