"The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next," President Obama declared in his State of the Union address on February 12.
Yet just over two weeks later, the U.S. drifted into our latest "manufactured crisis" as indiscriminate spending cuts under sequestration took effect March 1. And so once again, we see a vast gulf between the grandly stated intentions of the president's speeches and the reality of our dysfunctional government.
The lesson of this new crisis is clear: the president must lead the way if the federal government is to embrace a responsible, realistic approach to fiscal policy.
Unfortunately, given the performance of the Obama administration in recent weeks, that may be too much to ask for. And that's bad news for our nation's ability to defend itself in the years to come.
Look at the history of this sorry drama: although we've known that cuts under sequestration were a real possibility for a year and a half, it was only in the 18 days before the cuts were scheduled to take effect that the president took notice.
Prior to that, President Obama offered only bland reassurances that sequestration would "not happen," as he stated in a presidential debate in October 2013. Did the president have a secret plan to resolve the scheduled cuts, we wondered? Not at all -- turns out it was nothing more than idle talk for the campaign trail.
When the sequester cuts were delayed two months as part of the deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" in December, did the president then step up to take action to resolve the looming crisis? Hardly. Less than three weeks before the cuts were to take effect, the Obama administration launched a melodramatic and overblown "scare tactic" campaign warning of the dangers of sequestration.
But one can't help but to think that, rather than jetting around the country on Air Force One complaining about Republicans to crowds of his supporters, the nation would have been better served had the president sat down to talk to those Republicans about their concerns and negotiate a resolution.
In fact, the president hosted no bipartisan meetings in the weeks leading up to the sequestration deadline on Friday, March 1. On that day, only a few hours before the cuts were to begin, the president called Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting to discuss the crisis. That meeting lasted less than one hour. (By comparison, former basketball star Dennis Rodman received a more expansive welcome from the leader of North Korea last week than our congressional leaders got from President Obama.) The cuts went into effect later that day.
This is what a failure of leadership looks like. President Obama has sought to shift blame for this failure to the Republicans who control the House of Representatives (and to be sure, the GOP shares responsibility for our current fiscal travails). But while the president is casting blame and aspersions, he would do well to look in the mirror and consider how his own inflexibility has brought us to this sad pass.
The problem with the sequestration cuts is not that they're too large; in fact, given the looming threat of our $16.5 trillion debt and our future deficit outlook, we're in desperate need of substantial spending reform. And yes, that reform must include smarter and reduced spending at the Pentagon, as well as reform to the nation's entitlement programs, which are the true drivers behind the growth of our debt.
But rather than assessing national security needs and the effectiveness of programs, we're undercutting our military readiness and then setting strategic defense priorities based on what remains.
As any veteran knows, we still live in a very dangerous world that requires American leadership. We can't afford to gut our military and hope threats go away. In the long run, Washington's dysfunction is undercutting our troops -- they'll train less, maintain less and be less prepared to defend our nation when called upon.
No one in Washington is blameless for the sequester fiasco, but we must attach special responsibility to president for failing to provide clear, accountable leadership at a critical time. And until the president and his advisers are prepared to leave behind political gamesmanship and blame-shifting as governance strategies, we should be preparing to drift along to the next "manufactured crisis." It's inevitable.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.
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