Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shallow Cuts Sting Deep

A version of this arcticle appeared in The Southern Illinoisan newspaper(www.thesouthern.com) on 15 March, 2011

When it comes to our national security even seemingly shallow cuts can sting deep and cause damages that might not be revealed until years down the road. Gains are hard won and easily lost, and require consistent leadership.

Republicans have claimed to be strong on national security, counterterrorism, and democracy promotion and have attempted to frame Democrats as the opposite. Now it seems the GOP-led House of Representatives has put our national security on the back burner in favor of more electrifying issues with its base. Our national security is not an issue that can be set aside when the political winds change.

Just a few months ago, Senate Republicans stood opposed to the freshly-signed New START Treaty on the basis that it reduced our nuclear capability. The House Republicans’ new budget includes a $31 million cut in funding to the agency whose sole purpose is to detect and prevent the smuggling of nuclear weapons into our borders for a nuclear attack; a $97 million cut in programs to remove highly enriched uranium from unstable countries across the globe that cannot secure their stockpiles; and a 50% cut in the budget for training would-be first responders in the event of a nuclear attack on American soil. That’s quite a change of tack for a party that weeks earlier claimed to be gravely concerned about America’s nuclear policy.

The GOP-controlled House budget would also cut the State Department’s mission to hand control of Iraq’s government back to Iraqis by $1.2 billion. It would cut out $121 million in counterinsurgency funds for programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, programs our U.S. military commanders on the ground have asked for. As far as democracy promotion in the developing world is concerned, the House bill would cut over $1 billion from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Development Assistance budgets, which give aid to governments which reach agreed-upon democratic development goals.

The hemorrhaging isn’t limited to national security issues outside our own borders, either. The cuts also affect border fencing and protection technology; domestic security grants for planes, buses, and trains; the Transportation Security Agency’s threat assessment funding; and funds for conducting inspections of foreign shipping containers coming into the U.S. Recent trends show that transportation infrastructure is a favorite target of terror attacks and our ports of entry remain under constant threat, as the recent attempt to mail bombs into the U.S. shows.

Cuts to national security create a very slippery slope. The GOP’s avoidance of security issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan in the mid-term elections, their half-hearted effort to oppose New START, and now these ill-advised cuts passed by the House of Representatives demonstrate that when it comes to national security strategy, Republicans are only concerned when it scores them political points.

National security isn’t something that can be tossed aside when another issue captures the headlines. Despite the silence from conservatives, we are still fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our efforts against terror worldwide cannot flag. It would be irresponsible to, on the one hand, show apparent concern about America’s offensive nuclear capability and then, on the other, cut our defensive capabilities regarding nuclear nonproliferation and response. It would be equally irresponsible to cut funds that help protect our borders, our transportation, and our ports.

Cutting seems to be the name of the game in the new GOP-led House of Representatives. Republicans claim to have been given a mandate from the American people that, ‘read my lips,’ cutting means cutting everywhere. The GOP even wants to cut $600,000 from the National Security Council, the President’s principal advisors on international security issues. The truth is that certain matters are always worth the cost. Republican cuts to national security funding mean reductions in our security capabilities. That is something none of us can afford.

Our security demands a steady hand at the helm that engages all of our capabilities, offensive and defensive, economic and diplomatic. The new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has fallen out of step with their party’s own rhetoric, to the detriment of America’s security at home and abroad. In the recent words of Speaker Boehner, they need to ‘read our lips:’ don’t play politics with national security.