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According to the Boston Globe, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to announce sweeping cuts in weapons programs over the following months. Gates, the only holdover in the Obama administration from the Bush cabinet, said before President Bush left office that the US “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.” Whoever President Obama’s new defense secretary might be, he then said, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents. At that point, Gates did not know that he would be asked to stay on as defense secretary.
Scope of Cuts - Senior defense officials say that the impending program cuts will be the largest since the end of the Cold War, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. About a half-dozen programs will be canceled, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, a new Navy destroyer, Army ground combat vehicles, and other programs such as aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons.
Gates' Role - The Globe reports: “As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation’s security.”
Support - James Shinn, who served under Gates as an assistant defense secretary in the Bush administration, says Gates is perhaps the only person in Washington who can make such drastic cuts happen: “He obviously has huge credibility as something of a hawk. No one can even remotely challenge Gates in terms of his well-informed and conservative approach toward threats and the weapon systems associated with threats.” Longtime Washington official Brent Scowcroft, one of Gates’ closest friends and mentors, says: “He is going to have a hard time. The resistance in the system is heavy. But that what Bob is trying to take on.”
Potential Opposition - However, any cuts will face strong opposition from defense contractors and members of Congress whose districts rely on defense monies. “There are so many people employed in the industry and they are spread across the country,” says William Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration. “Even though members of Congress may say, ‘It’s great that you are recommending the termination of X, Y, and Z,’ they will also say ‘that means 4,000 jobs in my state. Frankly, I can’t go along with that.’” The declining economy makes such arguments even more compelling, Cohen adds. (Bender 3/17/2009)
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