The current crisis in the Ukraine and the looming crisis on the Korean Peninsula would be much easier to manage if the Cold War was still going strong, according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and Senate Armed Services Ranking Republican James Inhofe.
“I look back wistfully at the Cold War,” Inhofe said Thursday at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “There were two superpowers, they knew what we had, we knew what they had, mutually assured destruction meant something. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Now we have these people who are not rational, not logical, they’re nuts.”
The Obama administration’s foreign policy is no longer based on predictable calculations of actions and reactions by rational actors, he said. Now the administration is depending on the promises of actors from enemy countries to maintain world stability, which is dangerous, according to Inhhofe.
“In this administration, we trust all these people,” he said, referring to the leaders in Russia, China, and North Korea. “It’s a real scary situation and we kid ourselves when we think we can trust them.”
McKeon agreed and harkened back to the days when he said Russia and China could be depended on to keep their client states in line.
“When we used to have superpowers, they would let things go until it looked like it was going to spill over. Then they would step in and stop it,” he said. “We can’t get any help from Russia now with Iran or Syria, they are just pushing us all over the place. It’s a dangerous world and we are making it more so, because by cutting defense we are totally eliminating Reagan’s line 'peace through strength.'”
In McKeon and Inhofe’s view, the 2015 defense budget to be released by the Obama administration next week, which would shrink the size of the active Army force to 440,000 troops, the lowest levels since before WWII, would increase the risk of armed conflict and endanger soldiers’ lives.
“We are weakening ourselves and that it how you get into wars. You don’t get into wars if you are strong,” he said, adding that Russia’s aggressiveness is in part a response to Obama’s policies. “This is a very dynamic system and I think what’s happening… Putin’s not a dummy. He says hey, America’s cutting back on their defense, I can push here.”
Inhofe said that the cuts to the military after major conflicts costs lives in the subsequent conflicts, therefore today’s military cuts would cost American lives in the future.
“If you read history you know that it tends to repeat itself, and we cut back after every war so that we won’t be ready for the next one,” he said. “You don’t think we are setting ourselves up for the same thing? Exactly we are.”
America already has limited options to respond to any potential Russian military move related to Ukraine, both GOP leaders said. Since the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich this week Russia has put its nearby combat jets on high alert and announced major military exercises near their Ukrainian border. Russia also has its Black Sea Fleet anchored in Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters have taken regional government buildings by force.
“Look what’s happening in the Ukraine. Russia is now putting a 150,000 troop exercise on the border with the Ukraine. Russia is a problem,” said McKeon. “What, are we going to put troops on the other side of the border in Ukraine?”
Inhofe said he traveled to Georgia last month and came back with the conclusion that Russia was planning more aggressive troop deployments in Georgia’s occupied territories after the Olympics were over.
“We’re talking about Putin. This is the most dangerous I’ve ever seen it… We’ve got a real serious problem,” he said.
McKeon and Inhofe also both said that Obama’s proposed defense cuts would raise the risk of a war on the Korean Peninsula and raise the cost of such a war in terms of American and South Korea lives. North Korea reportedly fired several short range missiles into the waters to its east Thursday, a possible response to ongoing nearby U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
McKeon met with Marine Corps leadership Wednesday evening and asked them how the cuts would affect security on the Korean peninsula. McKeon said the military was being stretched too thin to respond to a war there.
“With these cuts we are talking about the Marines are planning on going down to 21 infantry battalions. 20 are called for in the plan to defend Korea. That leaves one battalion to handle Russia, Iran, Syria, Egypt.” he said. “The discussion we had last night was very frustrating, very scary to me… This is serious stuff.”