08/14/2011 09:36 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2011

Shooting the Wounded

In describing a politician lacking in courage, someone once described him as "entering the battlefield after the conflict is over and shooting the wounded." That description came to mind in recent days when credentialed economists, a number from previous Republican administrations, suddenly appeared, after the hangman of debt default was narrowly escaped. Suddenly, as if by magic, a consensus emerged in the economic community. Conservatives joined liberals to say that we need to stimulate the economy first and then turn to deficit reduction.

It is a cause for wonder that some of these important figures were not heard during the politically bloody "debate" over deficits. It would have been helpful if these experienced economic gurus, with credentials in conservative political and economic circles, had weighed in when their voices might have countered, at the least, the shrill nonsense of the Tea Party representatives and those in Congress they have intimidated. Conservative authorities might have given a bit of courage to those in Congress more concerned with a primary challenge, and thus their jobs, more than the national interest.

As one of the few described as a "liberal Democrat," yet concerned for several decades with national security, it is of concern that the "super committee" emerging from the tenuous debt ceiling resolution is tasked with taking reducing federal spending by 1.5 trillion dollars in the next decade or, if it fails, seeing another 500 billion dollars in cuts, added to the already programmed $350 billion in cuts in the defense budget. Defense spending is too great. We are buying high-performance, super-expensive Cold War weapons systems, and supporting big divisions, carrier task groups, and long-range bomber wings neither useful nor relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century. But across-the-board percentage reductions in the DoD budget are not the way to go. They will simply produce a somewhat smaller version of a 20th century defense structure.

Instead, the "super committee" should use the existing and potential budget cuts to force the Pentagon, the last big enterprise to do so, to enter the new 21st century. DoD must restructure and reconfigure itself to be relevant to the irregular, unconventional conflict arena of today. We don't need a somewhat smaller 20th century defense system. We need one that has undertaken fundamental re-thinking of its roles and missions and that has restructured itself to respond to non-state actors using low technology weapons to attack civilian targets in unpredictable ways. The SEAL Six assault on bin Laden is the conflict of the future. We are not nearly prepared enough for it, abroad or at home.

Next time, when courage is called for and wavering politicians are looking for support, let's hope those who sat on the sidelines -- especially in conservative circles -- when the nation's future was at stake will have the courage to speak up, yes even against the mighty Tea Party, when it counts. A coalition involving Democratic and Republican economists, labor and management, Main Street and Wall Street could have been formed to say what most serious people now understand: the economy must grow again before we drastically reduce public investment.

[comments should be sent to Senator Hart's blogsite:]