The epic embarrassment of our government’s shutdown has finally ended but in its wake we’re now faced with a serious national security deficit. Unlike our political leaders, America’s enemies didn’t take the last two weeks off to fight amongst themselves. Even with the government reopened our military and national security agencies can’t just get back to work as though nothing happened, first they have to repair the considerable damage caused.
If a foreign power had crippled American national security and defense readiness by neutralizing 72% of CIA civilians and taking much the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s civilian staff out of action by nefarious means, our nation would justifiably have declared war. When that kind of devastating attack comes from within, it’s just called “politics.”
Activists and political ideologues, led by members of the Tea Party, caused an increase in danger and self-inflicted vulnerability that escalated as the shutdown dragged on. Now, in the wake of this disaster, we must demand accountability from the radicals who are responsible and ensure that they immediately address the fiscal shortfalls and squandered opportunities that have impaired our military and security agencies.
In a bizarre twist of logic, the very same minority faction in Congress who believes the Benghazi attacks resulted from the White House’s negligence and failure to provide adequate resources, have actually now caused a major shortage of resources and personnel responsible for national security and the protection of US interests globally.
No one can claim that the harm to national security was unclear while the government was on a forced furlough. A non-political statement of fact from the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper’s spokesperson warned that “[t]he immediate and significant reduction in employees on the job means that we will assume greater risk." The statement went on to say that “[t]he fraction of Intelligence Community employees who remain on the job will be stretched to the limit and forced to focus only on the most critical security needs.”
Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, went so far as to say that the crippling effects on CIA, NSA, DIA and a host of other intelligence activities resulting from the ongoing shutdown comprised “the biggest gift we could possibly give our enemies."
The shutdown put the entire country at greater risk as we were forced to use a skeleton crew for the most ancient and important role of federal government.
With more than 2/3 of CIA civilians on furlough, a number of worst-case situations became far more likely. That red-headed analyst from Zero Dark Thirty and her base of civilian analytical staff at Langley were no longer focused on hunting the next generation of Al Qaeda leadership—they were worried about their paychecks, plugging immediate gaps, and figuring out how to protect America using only a fraction of the staff required for the job. Perhaps more significantly, information-sharing programs between federal government and local law enforcement partners to help identify, prevent and disrupt terror attacks like the Boston Marathon bombings were understaffed.
Those are just the near-term dangers in the intelligence realm.
Our national warfighting capacity, our diplomatic resources, and our readiness for humanitarian response, all already under heavy fiscal siege from the sequester, have been further weakened. According to former Defense Secretary and CIA Chief, Leon Panetta: “…our readiness has been badly damaged. We’ve got 12 combat squadrons that have been grounded. Half of the Air Force is not combat ready. We’ve got ships that are not being deployed. We’ve got training rotations that have been canceled. We’ve got 800,000 federal employees that have been furloughed under sequester and that are now taking a hit on the shutdown. All of this is impacting on our readiness and our ability to be able to handle a major crisis outside of Afghanistan.”
The shutdown’s effect on civilian staff support further hobbled the Pentagon right as the Department of Defense and all of the armed services were adjusting to the double-impact of sequestration and cuts to wartime spending.
The reductions in Iraq and Afghanistan have already resulted in the Pentagon’s loss of more than one hundred billion dollars of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget funding each year, and a loss of important rapid acquisition and equipping programs that were keeping our warriors prepared and outfitted with modern technology. Because that OCO money also funds a unified mission approach with the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, our country’s military operations in conflict areas around the world were facing reduced diplomatic and development support before the shutdown even began.
The sequester undercuts the Commander-in-Chief’s defense budget needs by up to 20% over the next decade in key operational areas. According to Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen those reductions would hollow our future military force with “cuts so devastating and so dramatic that we place at risk the very security we’re charged to provide, that we negate the very reason we exist."
Future war becomes more likely and more costly if we do not sustain America’s investments in global leadership. The fate of American troops who could be unnecessarily endangered in an underfunded, ill-equipped force should haunt those members of Congress calling for more drastic cuts.
Sadly, it is from within the party of historic Presidents and leaders like Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln that a fringe group is jeopardizing our national security.
There are differences in the Tea Party’s internally held myths and the historical facts of the Reagan White House’s implementation of economic and spending policy. The real President Reagan honored American public servants in and out of uniform, he listened to Wall Street, and he won the cold war with a mix of national debt and ramped up defense spending.
Nothing about modern Tea Party activism resembles the magnanimous politics of a Republican President Lincoln who defeated an internal insurgency to save the Union and then sought peaceful, brotherly reconciliation with those who were arguably the traitors and the perpetrators of our Civil War.
Now that Republicans have finally sidelined the saboteurs in their Congressional ranks and reached a compromise to end the shutdown, they owe it to the American people to be honest about the harm Tea Party activism has done to our military and defense readiness and start working on solutions to the problems they caused. Republicans need to embrace their vaunted history by remembering that their party has a history of supporting both the preservation of the Union and the strengthening of our national security.