September 24, 2011 in Opinion

Hunter Abell: Sen. Murray should heed ‘Scoop’ Jackson on military


The nation would be well-served if Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., took a brief respite from Washington, D.C., and drove north of Seattle to Everett. In particular, she should visit an elegant house on a bluff overlooking the Everett harbor.

The house once belonged to legendary former Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the gritty Cold Warrior and fierce advocate for a strong national defense. In a sentiment all-too-rare in politics today, Jackson once remarked, “In matters of national security, the best politics is no politics.”

Unfortunately, America’s national security is now directly subject to the political calculations of the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, more commonly known as the congressional budget-cutting “supercommittee.” Co-chaired by Murray, the supercommittee is the result of scorched-earth debt ceiling negotiations earlier this year between Republicans and President Barack Obama. As part of the deal, the supercommittee must report recommendations for $1.5 trillion in debt reductions by Thanksgiving. The proposed cuts must then be voted on by Congress prior to Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, the high stakes have resulted in heated lobbying of super committeemembers. “Liberal Groups Push Senator Murray to Avoid Social Program Cuts” noted a recent article in the Seattle Times. Consequently, Murray finds herself at a crossroads between cutting entitlement programs and raising taxes. Already known as a fierce advocate for entitlement spending, Murray is likely to negotiate strongly for tax increases. With the unlikelihood of attracting broader support for tax increases among her fellow supercommittee members, however, Murray may be tempted to focus on a third option: deep military budget cuts.

That would be a disaster. To illustrate why, Murray need only look out from Jackson’s front yard.

From Jackson’s lawn, Murray could look down on Naval Station Everett, home port for the USS Abraham Lincoln and its supporting destroyers. In doing so, she would see a largely empty harbor. The U.S. Navy is at its smallest fleet size since World War I. At only around 280 ships, the force is in danger of becoming a mere echo of the nearly 600-ship Navy the U.S. enjoyed only a couple decades ago. The ships that remain are on longer deployments, stretching men, ships and resources.

If she looked west, she would stare out into Puget Sound and, beyond, the Pacific Ocean. Far in the distance, she would glimpse a militaristic China clearly bent on challenging the United States for military and economic supremacy.

Driving south on Interstate 5 to get back to the airport, Washington, D.C., and the supercommittee, Murray would drive toward Joint Base Lewis-McChord where the U.S. Army’s Stryker brigades have been deploying and fighting overseas for years. She would note that the ranks are thinning, with deep cuts of 22,000 soldiers already being implemented prior to 2014. These soldiers are crucial to the capability to fight two simultaneous wars, long a cornerstone of U.S. military strategic thinking.

Since 2008, the world has become a more dangerous place. Despite that, the U.S. military is undergoing a series of painful cuts. Under the current deficit reduction plan, the U.S. military must cut approximately $400 billion over the next 10 years. Additionally, if the supercommittee is unable to reach a consensus, or if Congress rejects its proposal, further deep cuts will automatically be made to the defense budget.

During the long flight back to the nation’s capital, Murray could reflect on Jackson’s reputation for advocating a strong national security. The members of the super committee must make painful compromises. It would be a terrible dereliction of duty, however, for supercommittee members to avoid the hard choices that must be made on the nation’s systemic financial issues, and focus instead on superficially attractive military budget cuts. Doing so avoids politically painful tax increases or cuts in domestic entitlement spending. With the presidential election looming, even some Republicans talk of significant defense cuts instead of systemic financial changes.

Jackson would not stand for this. If Murray chooses, she can guide the supercommittee’s deliberations in such a manner that simultaneously ensures America’s military supremacy and finally gets America’s books in order. When considering military spending, Murray would be wise to remember another of Jackson’s famous quotes: “I’m not a hawk or a dove; I just don’t want my country to be a pigeon.”

Hunter Abell is a graduate of Inchelium High School and the Gonzaga University School of Law.  From 2006 to 2010, he served in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. He currently serves as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and practices law in Seattle. The author’s comments are his own and do not constitute official views of the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Department of the Navy. 

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