WASHINGTON – House Republicans have returned from the August recess with an aggressive campaign led by the Armed Services Committee to get ahead of this fall’s budget-cutting talks and protect defense spending. But a video released this week by Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon that uses Sept. 11 as a backdrop reveals what type of military -- what capabilities -- Congress is fighting for, exactly.
With touching violin music amid sounds and images of the dramatic 9/11 attacks, McKeon asks, “What if we’re attacked in some other area? What is our military going to be able to do if we keep cutting ‘em?”
McKeon laments the downsizing of the military since he came to Congress in 1993 – two years after the Soviet Union collapsed – and begins ticking off many military posture facts that seem to have more to do with the Cold War than the long war (aka, the Global War on Terrorism).
The U.S. once had 76 Army brigades, he says, but now has just 45. The military should have had 130 B-2 stealth bombers but only produced 21; once maintained 82 fighter squadrons, now only 39; dropped from 360 “strategic bombers” (the ones that carry nuclear bombs) to 154.
The force is aging, too, with B-52s now flown by the grandchildren of their original pilots, B-1 bombers being retired and aerial refueling tankers that are 47 years old, on average.
Not to mention, he adds the U.S. is running its smallest navy since 1916, which he says should be at 313 ships instead of the current 288.
Video clips run through humanitarian missions in Japan to Haiti and Pakistan and includes Libya. Then McKeon says, “Tell me what missions that we’ve done in the last couple of years that we are not going to be asked to do in the next couple, five or ten years.”
Most of the video, however, had little to do with the two biggest missions of the last couple of years: Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Chairman McKeon is interested in both winning our current wars and preventing future ones,” said John Noonan, spokesman for committee Republicans. “He doesn’t want to see further irresponsible defense cuts when we’ve got guys in the mud.
“He also supports the balanced approach that has been advocated by military commanders, with an appropriate end-strength and all necessary equipment and leadership needed to keep America strong and safe.”
An aide said this is just one video -- there will be more, featuring other committee members “making the case for the full range of programs and priorities needed.”
Already, the committee is establishing a sense there is a Herculean task ahead.
On Wednesday, after McKeon met with reporters, AOL Defense’s Colin Clark wrote: “McKeon clearly showed the signs of a lawmaker faced with rapid change. ‘It's happening so fast it's just kind of mind boggling,’ he said. ‘We've got to sit down with the staff and figure out how this going to affect us.’”
The Hill’s John Bennett wrote: “Asked what his message was to the supercommittee, McKeon quipped: ‘Leave us alone.’”