A memo from SECDEF Leon Panetta with the subject line, “Implications of Ongoing Fiscal Cliff Negotiations,” is circulating among DOD agencies. The memo is reasonably informative on a point of particular interest to me: no immediate change to operations are planned in the event we go over the “fiscal cliff'”, i.e., execute the budget cuts planned last year as part of the negotiations over the debt ceiling; however, civilian furloughs may become necessary later in the year.
But this line left a bad taste in my mouth:
Our civilian employees should keep in mind that the Administration remains focused on working with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids such cuts.
The way I see it, the office of the Secretary of Defense is dual-hatted, and Panetta is called to fill two distinct roles. The first role is political: he represents the administration to the public on matters military. The second is role is leadership: he runs the DoD and manages the soldiers and civilians of the Armed Services.
In the political role, it is entirely appropriate to begin his sentences with a phrase like, “The Administration is committed . . .” That’s what politicians do. I may kinda suck when it’s the administration of the other party, but there it is, and it would be naïve of us to think he’s somehow not going to do Obama’s bidding.
But the memo in question is being passed down the chain of command. We’re not reading it in the press; we’re reading it in official emails passed along by our commanders. In that context, it’s inappropriate to engage in what is essentially political propaganda, trying to convince us that Obama is somehow on our side, and I can’t recall any previous SECDEF pulling this stunt in my 21 years of government service.
It’s especially inappropriate in this case since the statement is a bald faced lie, and Panetta almost certainly knows it. Obama is quite happy to go “over the cliff”; it’s almost exactly the mix of tax hikes and defense spending cuts he wants anyway.
And while I am loathe to admit it, they’re pretty much what we need. Yes, they will be painful. But the pain is coming anyway: we are all of us living beyond our means and have been doing so for the last 12 years if not longer. Plenty of politicians, many of whom voted to set up this “cliff” in the first place, whinge on about how across-the-board cuts aren’t “smart”. Perhaps not, but they’re honest cuts, not “budget agreements” with vague promises of cuts nine to ten years away.
Panetta should spend his memo time explaining how he is prioritizing DOD missions, not peddling Obama’s bull. He should be ashamed of himself.