Gates' Departure Highlights Lack of Focus on Defense

Last week all eyes were on defense—as Washington split its attention between the Senate confirmation hearings for Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense and tailing sitting-secretary Robert Gates (who has been on a farewell tour that has lasted even longer than Oprah’s TV goodbye.)
Gates made news last week chastising NATO for its shrinking military capability. A Heritage European expert Nile Gardiner points out, “In his farewell address in Brussels, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates delivered a blunt warning to America’s European allies: there is the real possibility of “a dim, if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance” unless NATO member states undertake a firm commitment to increase defence spending and make a bigger commitment to NATO operations. As Gates points out, only five members of the 28-member alliance currently spend the agreed minimum 2 percent of GDP on defence: the US, UK, France, Greece and Albania, and defence spending in Europe has declined by almost 15 percent in the last decade in the aftermath of 9/11.”
The decline of NATO, without the US, is stunning. In the first month of operations in Libya, about 1,300 air-ground-sorties - that is perhaps half the combat missions flown against ground targets - were flown by just six planes from Norway. That is because Norway had the only non-US fighter-bomber that was accurate enough to make these strikes and had sufficient munitions on hand. More depressing for NATO, Norway just announced it is pulling out of the operation.
What Gates did not do, however, was highlight the root of Europe’s problem. They are spending too little on defense because they can’t afford to spend more. Their economies have become so lopsided with high taxes and excessive and unsustainable social spending, that they are simply running out of money for defense. What Gates should have done is warn the US to stop making its economy look like Europe. If the US keeps on spending like Europe, we could take our defense spending to “zero” today and we would still bankrupt the federal government in thirty years.
Like most of the Gates farewell tour, his comments on NATO were too little too late. Like his other stops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, “Why did Defense Secretary Robert Gates wait until his farewell tour to start saying even remotely sensible things?
Rather than “speak truth to power,” Gates spent two years feeding Obama’s delusion that he can gut the military and walk away from the world’s problems.
While Gates is on his way out of the Pentagon, Panetta is clearly on his way in. He will surely be confirmed by the Congress. Panetta’s hearing was most notable for the flaws it revealed in the Obama Doctrine. He acknowledged, for example, that defense spending was not the root of the nation’s fiscal ills and that further cuts would require trimming missions. Panetta also admitted that US troops are still needed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The views of the incoming and outgoing secretaries are cold comfort for those that want to believe the president’s foreign policy is on track to keep us safe, free, and prosperous.
Just listening to the people the president has picked as some of his closest confidants on national security matters it is hard not to give Obama a grade for the week of “D” for disappointing. Contributing Editor James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is a leading expert in defense affairs, intelligence, and strategy, military operations and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.

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