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En 1989 tombait le mur de Berlin. Après des années de « détente » et de supposée désescalade militaire, la guerre froide prenait fin pour de vrai. Les énormes stocks d’armements accumulés pour rien étaient bons pour la poubelle. Les partisans de l’économie dirigée socialiste pourront toujours légitimement se plaindre de ce que l’expérience soviétique aura été handicapée par le poids extravagant de cette dépense militaire, tel qu’on ne saura jamais s’il n’aurait pas été possible de vivre prospère sous le joug communiste...

Le mur de Berlin tombait – et les dépenses militaires avec lui. Si le montant exorbitant de ces investissements pouvait se justifier dans la situation de confrontation des deux « blocs », après, les Etats-Unis et la Russie (ex-URSS) pouvaient tranquillement commencer à améliorer leur budget. C’est du moins ainsi que cela aura été compris. Doucement, très doucement, le faramineux budget militaire américain désenflera, passant, en dix ans, de 5,7 (en 1988) à 3% du PIB (en 1999).

Dès l’an 2000 s’amorçait la remontée. En 2001, l’attentat contre le World trade center de New York justifiait une reprise telle qu’en 2004 on approchait du niveau de 1988, et on le dépassait allégrement dès 2005 (en dollars constants).

Résultat : un niveau d’endettement historique, et une crise économique qu’on estime d’ores et déjà comme pouvant être plus importante que celle de 1929.

Les guerres d’Irak et d’Afghanistan auront mobilisé tant de militaires que le simple versement de leurs salaires, avantages sociaux et retraites, pèserait d’ores et déjà pour un bon tiers de ce budget délirant. Ceci résultant entre autre de la surenchère démagogique des parlementaires, semble-t-il.

Barak Obama, élu en étant porté par la revendication pacifiste de mettre fin à l’obscène guerre en Irak, aura tenu promesse sur ce front… pour aussitôt faire monter les enchères de la guerre afghane.

Mais le plus amusant, comme d’habitude, ce sont ces gadgets qui coûtent si cher, comme ce V-22 Osprey, l’avion-hélicoptère que s’est offert la marine. A lui seul, ce programme devrait coûter 54 milliards de dollars (dont 36 ont déjà été dépensés). Sans compter les dépassements de budget éventuels d’un programme qui, à l’origine, était évalué au total à 28 milliards, et déjà dénoncé comme trop cher. Ce qu’on ne sait pas, c’est combien pourrait coûter le F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, l’avion le plus cher de l’histoire. On l’évalue ici à… 400 milliards ! Sans rime ni raison, ce programme ne semble avoir été inventé par Lockeed que pour faire sembler raisonnable le Rafale de Dassault… Encore plus cher, encore plus inutile…

Comme le concours de la bêtise universelle est bien engagé, il y a aussi l’Eurofighter, que se partagent anglais, allemands, espagnols et italiens, qui sera parvenu, lui aussi, à faire plus cher que le Rafale... Ainsi, toutes les puissances occidentales sont en train de se ruiner pour le même gadget… un avion totalement inutile, destiné à faire quelques parades, comme récemment dans le ciel de Libye, et rien de plus, avant de devenir obsolète…

Et pour quelle guerre se prépare-t-on là ? Resterait-il un adversaire ?

Les américains font grand cas de la Chine. Ils semblent n’avoir toujours pas compris que la seule « guerre » qui puisse les opposer aux chinois est déjà en cours : elle est économique. Et c’est leur politique budgétaire qui fait qu’ils l’ont d’ailleurs perdue d’avance.

Quant à une « vraie » guerre, le formidable surcoût du F-35, comparé au F-16 existant qui remplit exactement le même office, tiendrait à ses qualités électroniques lui permettant d’échapper aux radars adverses. Seul l’éventuel adversaire chinois serait susceptible de disposer de moyens qui justifient d’un tel effort. Sauf que, si on a bien compris, son secret est déjà éventé, et le dit surcoût, faramineux, est d’ores et déjà en pure perte...

Comme l’indique le New York Times, après le 11 septembre, le Pentagone a bénéficié d’un « chèque en blanc ». Dix ans plus tard, c’est la faillite mondiale qui se profile…

Prétendant faire face au sérieux problème budgétaire qui se pose à elle, l’administration Obama est résolue à baisser cet inouï budget militaire de… 8%. Les maximalistes proposent de pousser à 17% cette réduction, en s’attaquant d’abord à la masse salariale – pour ne pas faire trop de peine à Lockeed. Or, même dans le cas de la réduction la plus forte envisagée, les Etats-Unis resteraient dans la situation de faire la course aux armements avec eux-mêmes…

Le secrétaire à la Défense qui organise ce suicide collectif est un fou furieux du nom de Panetta qui se prend pour un italien parce que son nom termine en a. Républicain ultra-militariste, passé chez les démocrates par pur opportunisme, il envisagerait même de se présenter à la Présidence…

Disons les choses comme elles sont : avec les imbéciles corrompus qui nous gouvernent, il est bien probable qu’il n’y ait que le pire à venir.

Quel que soit son point de vue sur la question militaire, il faut de toute urgence, et sans détour, d’abord nationaliser l’industrie de l’armement (et ce en France comme aux Etats-Unis et partout où ça n’est pas le cas), seule façon de freiner l’horrible dérive de ses coûts.

Mais il faut en fait concevoir une telle nationalisation comme la première étape d’une nécessaire démilitarisation mondiale. S’il est vrai que le complexe militaro-industriel qui nous opprime est une alliance d’intérêts étatiques et d’intérêts privés, que ceux-ci soient désactivés est indispensable pour assainir les débats. Qu’au moins les lobbyistes corrupteurs de chez Lagardère, Dassault, Lockeed ou Boeing, soient renvoyés à la niche.

Ensuite, il faudra bien commencer à regarder la question rationnellement. Si on voulait en finir avec les Talibans, il suffirait de suivre les recommandations du Conseil de Senlis (ICOS), qui suggère depuis des années que l’opium soit acheté aux paysans afghans pour développer une industrie pharmaceutique, qui produirait la morphine dont manquent cruellement les hôpitaux du monde entier. Non seulement cela ne coûterait rien (ou très peu), mais cela couperait le « nerf de la guerre » pour les Talibans. Est-ce vraiment trop subtil pour les imbéciles qui nous gouvernent ?

L’humanité se paye des armées dont elle n’a pas besoin et dont elle n’a pas les moyens. Ça suffit.

Paris s’éveille

Ci-dessous, le budget militaire américain, tel que l’évalue le SIPRI (Stockolm international peace research institute), l’institut de recherche suédois :

En millions de dollars :

1988 : 293,093 • 1989 : 304,085 • 1990 : 306,170 • 1991 : 280,292 • 1992 : 305,141 • 1993 : 297,637 • 1994 : 288,059 • 1995 : 278,856 • 1996 : 271,417 • 1997 : 276,324 • 1998 : 274,278 • 1999 : 280,969 • 2000 : 301,697 • 2001 : 312,743 • 2002 : 356,720 • 2003 : 415,223 •2004 : 464,676 • 2005 : 503,353 • 2006 : 527,660 • 2007 : 556,961 • 2008 : 621,138 • 2009 : 668,604 • 2010 : 698,281

En dollars constants (valeur 2009) :

1988 : 531,691 • 1989 : 526,271 • 1990 : 502,749 • 1991 : 441,561 • 1992 : 466,560 • 1993 : 442,029 • 1994 : 415,106 • 1995 : 392,601 • 1996 : 371,250 • 1997 : 369,315 • 1998 : 360,995 • 1999 : 361,885 • 2000 : 375,893 • 2001 : 378,925 • 2002 : 425,471 • 2003 : 484,255 • 2004 : 527,799 • 2005 : 552,966 • 2006 : 561,555 • 2007 : 576,294 • 2008 : 618,940 • 2009 : 668,604 • 2010 : 687,105

Pourcentage du PIB :

1988 : 5.7 • 1989 : 5.5 • 1990 : 5.3 • 1991 : 4.7 • 1992 : 4.8 • 1993 : 4.5 • 1994 : 4.1 • 1995 : 3.8 • 1996 : 3.5 • 1997 : 3.3 • 1998 : 3.1 • 1999 : 3 • 2000 : 3.1 • 2001 : 3.1 • 2002 : 3.4 • 2003 : 3.8 • 2004 : 4 • 2005 : 4 • 2006 : 3.9 • 2007 : 4 • 2008 : 4.3 • 2009 : 4.7

[Source : SIPRI]


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The Next War

Panetta to Offer Strategy for Cutting Military Budget

le 2.1.2012

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, and with it the Obama administration’s vision of the military that the United States needs to meet 21st-century threats, according to senior officials.

In a shift of doctrine driven by fiscal reality and a deal last summer that kept the United States from defaulting on its debts, Mr. Panetta is expected to outline plans for carefully shrinking the military — and in so doing make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once.

Instead, he will say that the military will be large enough to fight and win one major conflict, while also being able to “spoil” a second adversary’s ambitions in another part of the world while conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone.

Pentagon officials, in the meantime, are in final deliberations about potential cuts to virtually every important area of military spending : the nuclear arsenal, warships, combat aircraft, salaries, and retirement and health benefits. With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, Mr. Panetta is weighing how significantly to shrink America’s ground forces.

There is broad agreement on the left, right and center that $450 billion in cuts over a decade — the amount that the White House and Pentagon agreed to last summer — is acceptable. That is about 8 percent of the Pentagon’s base budget. But there is intense debate about an additional $500 billion in cuts that may have to be made if Congress follows through with deeper reductions.

Mr. Panetta and defense hawks say a reduction of $1 trillion, about 17 percent of the Pentagon’s base budget, would be ruinous to national security. Democrats and a few Republicans say that it would be painful but manageable ; they add that there were steeper military cuts after the Cold War and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

“Even at a trillion dollars, this is a shallower build-down than any of the last three we’ve done,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House and is now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “It would still be the world’s most dominant military. We would be in an arms race with ourselves.”

Many who are more worried about cuts, including Mr. Panetta, acknowledge that Pentagon personnel costs are unsustainable and that generous retirement benefits may have to be scaled back to save crucial weapons programs.

“If we allow the current trend to continue,” said Arnold L. Punaro, a consultant on a Pentagon advisory group, the Defense Business Board, who has pushed for changes in the military retirement system, “we’re going to turn the Department of Defense into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist.”

Mr. Panetta will outline the strategy guiding his spending plans at a news conference this week, and the specific cuts — for now, the Pentagon has prepared about $260 billion in cuts for the next five years — will be detailed in the president’s annual budget submission to Congress, where they will be debated and almost certainly amended before approval. Although the proposals look to budget cuts over a decade, any future president can decide to propose an alternative spending plan to Congress.

The looming cuts inevitably force decisions on the scope and future of the American military. If, say, the Pentagon saves $7 billion over a decade by reducing the number of aircraft carriers to 10 from 11, would there be sufficient forces in the Pacific to counter an increasingly bold China ? If the Pentagon saves nearly $150 billion in the next 10 years by shrinking the Army to, say, 483,000 troops from 570,000, would America be prepared for a grinding, lengthy ground war in Asia ?

What about saving more than $100 billion in health care cutbacks for working-age military retirees ? Would that break a promise to those who risked their lives for the country ?

The calculations exclude the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will go down over the next decade. Even after the winding down of the wars and the potential $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, the Pentagon’s annual budget, now $530 billion, would shrink to $472 billion in 2013, or about the size of the budget in 2007.

It is also important to remember that Mr. Panetta, a former White House budget chief, understands budget politics like few other defense secretaries. When he sent a dire letter to Capitol Hill late last year that held out the prospect of huge reductions in some of Congress’s favorite weapons programs, analysts saw it as a classic tactic to rouse the Hill to his side.

They noted that Mr. Panetta did not cite the $100 billion that the previous defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, said could be saved by reducing the number of contractors, cutting overhead, consolidating technology and limiting spending in the executive offices of the Pentagon.

“Talking about business practices doesn’t sound the alarm bells,” said Travis Sharp, a defense budget specialist at the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy research institution.

Here is a look at other areas for reductions :

Military benefits and salaries, although politically difficult to cut, are first in the line of sight of many defense budget analysts. Scaling back the Pentagon’s health care and retirement systems and capping raises would yield hundreds of billions of dollars in projected savings over the next decade.

As it stands now, the Pentagon spends $181 billion each year, nearly a third of its base budget, on military personnel costs : $107 billion for salaries and allowances, $50 billion for health care and $24 billion in retirement pay.

One independent analyst, Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan policy and research group in Washington, has calculated that if military personnel costs continue rising at the rate they have over the past decade, and overall Pentagon spending does not increase, by 2039 the entire defense budget would be consumed by personnel costs.

Most of Washington’s “cut lists” recommend increases in fees for beneficiaries in the Pentagon’s health insurance, Tricare. But the higher fees would affect only working-age retirees and not active-duty personnel, who do not pay for health care.

Other proposals call for capping increases in military salaries, which have had double-digit increases since the Sept. 11 attacks, often because Congress gave the troops raises beyond those requested by the Pentagon.

The chief target for weapons cuts is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, one of the most expensive weapons program in history. The Pentagon has plans to spend nearly $400 billion to buy 2,500 of the stealth jets through 2035, but reductions are expected.

The debate centers on how necessary the advanced stealth fighter really is and whether missions could be carried out with the less expensive F-16s. The main advantage of the F-35 is its ability to evade radar systems, making it difficult to shoot down — an attribute that is important only if the United States anticipates a war with another technologically advanced military.

“It would matter some with Iran, it would matter a lot with China,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and the author of a recent book, “The Wounded Giant : America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity.”

Nowhere is balancing budget and strategy more challenging than in deciding how large a ground combat force the nation needs and can afford. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, the former commander in Iraq, points out that the Army had 480,000 people in uniform before the Sept. 11 attacks, and at that number was supposed to be able to fight two wars at once.

But the Army proved to be too small to sustain the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and was increased to its current size of 570,000. The Army is now set to drop to 520,000 soldiers, beginning in 2015, although few expect that to be the floor. The reality is that the United States may not be able to afford waging two wars at once.

“That said, there are certain risks with falling off the two-war posture,” said Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “You may risk losing the confidence of some allies, and you may risk emboldening your adversaries. But at the end of the day, a strategy of bluffing, or asserting that you have a capability that you don’t, is probably the worst posture of all.”

Studies by the Center for a New American Security, the Sustainable Defense Task Force and the Cato Institute, which represent a spectrum of views on defense spending, estimate that the savings from cutting the ground force could range from $41 billion by reducing the Army to 482,400 and the Marine Corps to 175,000 (from its present size of 202,000) all the way up to $387 billion if the Army drops to 360,000 and the Marines to 145,000. The final numbers will make it clear that the United States could not carry out lengthy stability and nation-building efforts, like those ordered for Afghanistan and Iraq, without a huge mobilization of the National Guard and the Reserves.

The size of the military is determined not only to win wars, but also to deter adversaries from starting hostilities. That underpins the American rationale for maintaining a combat presence at overseas bases and for conducting regular air and sea patrols around the globe. With austerity looming, those, too, might be curtailed to save money.

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, advocates saving $69.5 billion over 10 years by reducing by one-third the number of American military personnel stationed in Europe and Asia

“This option would leave plenty of military capability by maintaining strategic air bases and naval ports to provide logistics links,” Mr. Coburn wrote in a report on his budget proposals. Many Congressional budget experts also see ways to save billions of dollars by consolidating Defense Department facilities, schools and installations.

One of the largest expenses the Pentagon faces is to replace its aging strategic nuclear forces. While America’s nuclear warheads are relatively inexpensive to maintain on a day-to-day basis, all three legs of the nuclear triad that deliver the punch — submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles — are reaching the end of their service life at just about the same time.

“The world has changed,” said Stephen W. Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog group. “The United States can be more than secure with a far smaller arsenal than what we currently have.”

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The Next War

Costly Aircraft Suggests Cuts Won’t Be Easy

9/11/2011

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta shoved his head into a snug aviator helmet topped with goggles one September morning and swooped into Lower Manhattan on a V-22 Osprey, a $70 million aircraft that Marines use for battlefield assaults in Afghanistan.

“How’d you like that gizmo ?” Mr. Panetta said after landing at the Wall Street heliport in the Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter, flies like an airplane — and has been responsible for the desdaths of 30 people in test flights.

Defense Department officials say the hybrid aircraft was the fastest way to get Mr. Panetta and his entourage to New York that day. But anyone who has followed the tortured history of the Osprey over the past quarter-century saw the persistent, politically savvy hand of the Marines in arranging Mr. Panetta’s flight — and another example in what has become a case study of how hard it is to kill billion-dollar Pentagon programs.

“At a car dealership, what the salesman wants to do is get you inside the vehicle,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and defense analyst. “You take the test drive and wow, it’s got a great stereo, it feels good, it has that new-car smell.”

That flight with Mr. Panetta, he said, is “an insurance policy against future defense cuts.”

As a joint Congressional committee appears paralyzed days from a deadline to agree on a plan to cut the nation’s deficit, the Pentagon remains vulnerable to forced reductions over the next decade that would slash its spending by $500 billion, on top of $450 billion in cuts already in the works — a total of more than 15 percent of its operating budget.

But as Mr. Panetta considers scaling back major weapons programs, the Osprey illustrates the challenges in downsizing the world’s most expensive military. The aircraft has survived after repeated safety problems during testing, years of delays, ballooning costs and tough questions about its utility.

Even Dick Cheney, when he was the defense secretary under the first President George Bush, could not kill it.

“Don’t bet against the Marines as budget warriors,” said Richard L. Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va.

In just the last few weeks, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, has talked up the Osprey at the Council on Foreign Relations and in written testimony to Congress, branding the aircraft “revolutionary” and the arguments of its critics ill informed. The contractors who built the aircraft have been running advertisements in defense industry and news publications in Washington, celebrating its 100,000 flight hours and lauding it as the “safest Marine rotorcraft” of the last 10 years. Reporters have been flown on Osprey media flights, including with Mr. Panetta to New York.

One of the Osprey’s biggest defenders on Capitol Hill, Representative William M. Thornberry, Republican of Texas (the aircraft is assembled in his district), said in a recent interview that the Osprey was much improved and “not where it was 5 or 10 years ago.” Mr. Thornberry also said that one of the Osprey’s biggest critics in Congress, Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, “doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about.”

Mr. Thornberry was referring to Ms. Woolsey’s comments on the House floor in May, when she called the Osprey “a poster child for the excesses and inefficiencies of the military-industrial complex” and offered an amendment to kill its financing. The measure failed, but an aide to Ms. Woolsey said she remained steadfast in her opposition.

Defense industry analysts say that the number of Ospreys could well be cut back from the 458 expected to be bought by the Marines, the Navy and the Air Force, but that the program is so far along it is unlikely the Pentagon or Congress will kill it entirely. (The far bigger target is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program in history, although the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, reiterated Saturday that “no decisions have been made” about reductions in any weapons programs.) But at this point nearly 300 Ospreys are already in service or in production, and some $36 billion out of a projected $54 billion has been spent.

“We’ve gone this far, we may as well make the most of it,” said Mr. Aboulafia, who said the Osprey had overcome its earlier problems and was a “good aircraft,” although costly.

He credited the contractors, Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing, but particularly the Marines, for a relentless lobbying and public relations campaign.

That campaign spanned 25 years and went into overdrive when Mr. Cheney, under orders from the first President Bush to cut spending, tried to cancel the Osprey. He said it was too expensive (at the time, the projection was $28 billion for 682 aircraft) for what he viewed as the Marines’ relatively narrow mission, amphibious assault.

But the Marines saw the aircraft as crucial to their survival as a quick-response, expeditionary force. In arguments they still make today, the Marines pressed their case that the Osprey could take off from aircraft carriers and get in and out of difficult landing zones better than airplanes and faster than helicopters, carry more people and save lives. In response to Mr. Cheney, they led a fierce counterattack, meeting with lobbyists and supporters in Congress in secret strategy sessions on Capitol Hill.

“It bordered on insubordination that the Marines conducted themselves the way they did,” said Richard Whittle, the author of the definitive book about the program, “The Dream Machine : The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey.”

“The secretary of defense had said, ‘We’re killing this program,’ ” Mr. Whittle said, “and the Marines were plotting behind the scenes with his opponents.”

Led by Textron lobbyists and Curt Weldon, then a Republican representative from Pennsylvania whose district included a Boeing helicopter plant where the vehicle’s fuselage was built, the group briefed members of Congress about the jobs the Osprey would bring to their districts, offered Congressional trips to Osprey factories, held Osprey lunches, pushed for Osprey hearings and organized a pro-Osprey coalition of business leaders.

“We pulled out all the stops,” Mr. Weldon recalled in a recent interview. The Marines now say the aircraft survived on its merits, not because they took on Capitol Hill. But their campaign was a near-legend in the industry — and could be invoked in the military budget battles to come.

Mr. Cheney eventually admitted defeat, and the Osprey endured even through its test crashes and groundings in the 1990s. By 2007 it finally went into service, in Iraq, where Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, then the commander of the Marines in Anbar Province, oversaw the first two squadrons of Ospreys in combat. The speed of the aircraft “turned a province the size of Texas into Rhode Island,” he recalled.

General Kelly is now Mr. Panetta’s senior military assistant, and it was his idea to fly the boss to New York by Osprey. Although General Kelly is an Osprey enthusiast, he insisted that his goal was not to sell Mr. Panetta on the aircraft, but to solve the logistical issue of getting him to the Sept. 11 memorials in Manhattan and Shanksville, Pa., and back to Washington in one day. It was too far for a helicopter, and taking a plane would have required too much time for ground transport.

“The only real way to do it was in Ospreys,” General Kelly said.

Not that Mr. Panetta was initially enthusiastic. “He, like everybody, has this thing in his mind — ‘Oh, this is this death trap,’ ” General Kelly said. But Mr. Panetta, who got a splendid view from the jump seat between the Osprey’s two pilots, “loved it,” the general said.

It did not hurt that one of the pilots had flown an Osprey that rescued a downed American pilot in Libya in March and kept the defense secretary transfixed with stories from the front.

The Libya rescue was one of the aircraft’s recent successes, but an Air Force Osprey crashed in Afghanistan last year, killing 4 of the 22 aboard, with a specific cause not determined. The previous defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, flew on Ospreys too, although in the craft’s more natural habitat in Afghanistan. In 2008 as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama flew on one in Iraq.

No one knows what, if anything, Mr. Panetta will decide about the V-22 as he pores over the Pentagon’s books. But Defense Department officials say he is still talking about his ride. As he told reporters that day : “Interesting way to fly.”

•••••••••••••••••••

The Next War

Panetta’s Pentagon, Without the Blank Check

23/10/2011

WASHINGTON — Tan and ruddy-faced, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta took his seat in a hearing room one morning this month ready for battle. The enemy, he warned lawmakers ominously, was “a blind, mindless” one that could “badly damage our capabilities” and “truly devastate our national defense.”

Mr. Panetta meant not Al Qaeda, the Taliban or Iraqi insurgents, but a creation of Congress poised to inflict what he deemed unacceptable budget cuts on a Pentagon that, he admitted, had “a blank check” in the decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“After every major conflict — World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the fall of the Soviet Union — what happened was that we ultimately hollowed out the force, largely by doing deep, across-the-board cuts that impacted on equipment, impacted on training, impacted on capability,” he said. “Whatever we do in confronting the challenges we face now on the fiscal side, we must not make that mistake.”

As President Obama’s C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last spring. Now as the president’s new defense secretary, he is charged with closing the books on multiple fronts — just last week, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed in Libya and the last American troops were ordered home from Iraq by the end of the year. But the biggest challenges ahead may be retrofitting the military for a new era of austerity and guarding Mr. Obama’s national security flank heading into a turbulent election year.

“It is one of these watershed points,” said former Senator David Boren, co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. “It’s just like the end of the cold war when you’re about to shift gears and we’re going to have to reprioritize what we have to do.”

The daunting task has fallen on Mr. Panetta, a 73-year-old former civil rights chief, congressman, budget director and White House chief of staff whose career dates to the days of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Returning to Washington from his California walnut farm in 2009, Mr. Panetta knew little of fighting wars. What he did know was Washington institutions, a trait that made him a throwback to the so-called wise men commanding respect across party lines. Who else these days is confirmed 100 to 0 by the Senate ?

But you don’t get to 100 to 0 without compromise or evolution. The cold war dove who opposed Ronald Reagan’s contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s and George Bush’s Persian Gulf war of 1991 has become a war on terror hawk, authorizing more drone strikes in Pakistan than George W. Bush.

The critic who denounced torture during Mr. Bush’s tenure took office and argued against investigating whether it happened. The co-author of the Iraq Study Group report calling for withdrawing troops recently pressed to keep more troops there.

The careful positioning has made Mr. Panetta one subject on which Mr. Obama and many Republicans agree. “I’m a Leon Panetta fan,” said former Representative Pete Hoekstra, who is no Obama fan. “He’s fairly hawkish and aggressive on national security issues,” agreed Representative Mike Rogers, the House intelligence chairman.

Representative Peter King, the homeland security chairman, said Mr. Panetta could have served “the toughest Republican president, not just a Democratic president.”

How long that lasts, of course, remains uncertain. He is treading into dangerous territory as he searches for $450 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. If a new Congressional debt committee cannot forge a deficit-reduction agreement by Thanksgiving, Mr. Panetta faces what he calls a “doomsday mechanism” mandating an additional $500 billion in cuts.

The issues on the table are enormous — the financial health of a debt-ridden country, military readiness to confront a still-dangerous world and many thousands of jobs and contractor businesses in Congressional districts around the country. The political crosscurrents are treacherous for a party so sensitive to its public standing on security that Mr. Panetta is the first Democrat to serve as defense secretary since 1997.

While Tea Party Republicans on Capitol Hill and some of the party’s presidential candidates call for significant defense cuts — a position that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago — many Republicans still oppose slashing military spending.

Moreover, Mr. Panetta faces a kaleidoscope of interests within his own building, where officers have mastered the art of lobbying for their own programs, resisting cost-cutting lawmakers and wearing down defense secretaries. Will this time be different or has a war-weary electorate changed the dynamics ?

“He’s going to preside over some very tough decisions,” said former Representative Jane Harman, a Democrat now directing the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Budget cutting done wrong could be devastating for our national security, so the stakes are huge.”

No one understands better than Mr. Panetta. “The real test for the country, as well as for the administration,” he said over a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon in his Pentagon office, “is going to be whether or not ultimately we can’t deliver on trying to solve the economic issues, but also deliver on the issues that I’m involved with in terms of war and peace.”

The Five Rules of Panetta

To figure out how Mr. Panetta has survived so long in a town that chews up others, start by listening to him talk. He has a joyfully foul mouth. When he traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq last summer, he used 18 curse words in a single troop talk and caused a stir by telling Iraqis dawdling over a tough issue to “damn it, make a decision.” Asked about his candor by NBC News, Mr. Panetta said jovially : “Hey, I’m Italian. What the frick can I tell you ?”

If the salty language makes him earthy, it is the infectious laugh that has eased his way through 45 years of public life. When Pentagon stenographers transcribed a recent interview, they dutifully recorded “laughs” or some variation 33 times, plus four “chuckles.” He laughed his way through a guest judge stint on “Top Chef,” and during his Pentagon swearing-in joked about installing a seven-second delay in his microphone, “but I can’t imagine why the hell that would be necessary.”

Mr. Panetta’s journey had its twists. A son of Italian immigrants from Monterey, Calif., Mr. Panetta came to Washington in 1966 as a Republican and became director of the Office for Civil Rights until his aggressive enforcement of desegregation prompted President Richard M. Nixon to fire him. Returning home, he switched parties and ran for Congress in 1976, rising to chairman of the House Budget Committee before being tapped as Bill Clinton’s budget director and later chief of staff.

“He was a major contributor to the success that my husband had,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview, recalling the deficit reduction package he helped negotiate that paved the way for a balanced budget. “He is a problem solver, a strong leader and manager. He also calls it like he sees it.”

Jennifer Palmieri, a former longtime aide, said Mr. Panetta has a straightforward formula for survival in Washington. She has packaged them into what she calls The Five Rules of Panetta :

“You can’t slam dunk anyone.” Work with opponents.

“Any [expletive] can burn down a barn ; it takes a leader to build one.”

“He who controls the paper controls the outcome.”

“Never let them see you sweat.”

“In a negotiation, take what you can get. And then come back for more.”

Those negotiating skills will prove critical as he guides another president on federal spending while jousting with other security agencies, including his former agency, the C.I.A., over a shrinking pie. “He’ll be particularly well suited to take on the budget challenges at the Pentagon,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The decisions Mr. Panetta makes — whether cutting an aircraft carrier, scaling back the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or paring back expensive health care costs for active and retired service members — could determine if the military can still fight two land wars simultaneously, confront new types of high-tech warfare and fulfill promises to those who risked lives for their country.

Pentagon critics argue deep cuts would simply trim bloat. Military spending has doubled since the Sept. 11 attacks, to $688 billion from $316 billion, with 1.4 million men and women currently in uniform. Even excluding the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the base budget has increased 78 percent in 10 years. Yet much of that growth has benefited districts of lawmakers torn between taming the deficit and defending jobs and businesses back home.

“That is where his contacts on the Hill will pay off,” said Bruce Riedel, who led an Obama administration review of Afghanistan. “But he’s still going to have to tell the services that they’ll have to do with less money.”

Surprise Pick for C.I.A.

If Mr. Panetta’s warnings about defense cuts have won favor among generals, they fit a pattern of adapting to whatever institution he runs. He arrived at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2009 with little experience in spycraft, yet won over a building of people suspicious of outsiders.

Even Mr. Panetta considered himself a surprising pick to run the C.I.A. When John Podesta, who ran the Obama transition, called to broach the idea, Mr. Podesta recalled, “I get cold silence. And then finally he said to me, ‘You’re kidding, right ?’”

Mr. Podesta initially considered him for deputy defense secretary, essentially heir apparent to the holdover secretary, Robert M. Gates. But Rahm Emanuel, then the incoming White House chief of staff, suggested the C.I.A., figuring Mr. Panetta could “calm the place down” after a decade of turmoil. “I told the president it would be a risk because it wasn’t what the Washington oh-so-wise people expected,” Mr. Emanuel said from Chicago, where he is now mayor.

He was right about the reaction. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and Senate intelligence chairman, called it ridiculous to appoint an intelligence novice. But she, like others, changed her mind as Mr. Panetta improved agency morale and rebuilt relations with Congress. “It was a real revelation for me because I thought the C.I.A. had to be C.I.A.,” she said.

Mr. Panetta wooed lawmakers with coffees, dinners and access. Last January, he hosted Mr. Rogers, the new Republican intelligence committee chairman, for chicken dinner and confided they might have found Bin Laden. Being brought into the loop made a difference. “He would have had an ally had it gone bad,” Mr. Rogers said.

Mr. Panetta, who in 2008 criticized Mr. Bush for turning America into “a nation of armchair torturers,” became a champion of the C.I.A. within the Obama administration. His advocacy of a truth commission vanished and he insisted on redacting legal memos authorizing harsh tactics. At various points, he took on the White House counsel, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence and the Democratic House speaker.

When Attorney General Eric H. Holder reopened investigations into whether C.I.A. officers had gone beyond the memos, Mr. Panetta protested in four-letter fashion. “Leon had a different view and expressed this view to me in very candid circumstances,” recalled Mr. Holder, who eventually dropped inquiries in all but two cases.

Those who saw Mr. Panetta as a reformer were disillusioned. “It was so disappointing to me,” said Ilana Sara Greenstein, a former C.I.A. officer and a vocal agency critic. “I felt like early on he just became co-opted.”

George Brent Mickum IV, who represents the Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times, recalled Mr. Obama’s campaign statements. “He has essentially reneged on all of these promises,” he said, adding that Mr. Panetta “ran interference for those who potentially could have been accused of war crimes.”

Michael Morell, the deputy C.I.A. director, rejected the criticism. “Believe me, the place did not co-opt him. He co-opted the place,” Mr. Morell said. Mr. Panetta said re-examining the Bush era would be distracting. “If I’d spent my time persecuting people for the past, I would have never been able to have gotten any traction to move forward with what I wanted to achieve,” he said.

His tenure was capped by the Bin Laden raid. A friend, Ted Balestreri, co-owner of Monterey’s Sardine Factory restaurant, had dared him to find Bin Laden, vowing to open an 1870 bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, priced at $10,000, if he did. Four months later, Mr. Panetta called his wife, Sylvia, in California. “Call Ted,” he said, “and tell him he owes me that bottle of wine.”

An Obvious Choice

That might have been the moment to go out on top. But Mr. Obama had one more assignment. Of 15 names Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, presented to succeed Mr. Gates, Mr. Panetta was the obvious choice. “What presidents really value is coming down on the issue, and Leon comes down,” Mr. Donilon said. “There’s not a lot of ‘on the one hand, on the other hand.’ ”

Mr. Panetta was reluctant. He would be history’s oldest incoming defense secretary. The walnut farm beckoned. “I asked myself the same question — why would he continue ?” Sylvia Panetta recalled. “Leon is loyal. When the president asks, you do what you have to do.”

Mr. Panetta has not shown his hand about how he plans to transform the military or his vision for what war will look like in the future. But his very appointment signaled the growing integration of intelligence and armed forces. During his 28-month tenure at the C.I.A., Mr. Panetta authorized drone strikes about 200 times, underscoring the evolution of warfare.

In a world of diffuse threats — rather than a cold war, he says America faces a “blizzard war” of myriad challenges — Mr. Panetta is the one with his finger on the trigger. And nothing prepared this Catholic school student and antiwar liberal for ordering someone’s death in the middle of the night.

“I suddenly realized at the C.I.A. that I had to make life-and-death decisions about people,” he said on his plane heading to Afghanistan last summer. “In many ways, it was life-and-death decisions about an enemy who we were confronting. In this job,” he added, “I have to make life-and-death decisions about our people.” Either way, he said, “I’ve said more Hail Marys in the last two years than I have in my whole life.”

A few weeks later, he flew to Dover Air Force Base to honor 30 service members killed in Afghanistan. In his office the next morning, Mr. Panetta was in a somber mood, recalling a father who lost his boy and thinking of his own son James, a Navy reservist who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan. “You see those dreams that are kind of crushed,” he said. “And it brings home how big a sacrifice people make in war.”

Asked about inspirations, Mr. Panetta nodded toward portraits of Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Marshall. “These two guys were always, you know, kind of heroes of mine,” he said. “So every once in a while, I turn around in that chair and look at them and say, you know, what the hell would you do ?”

He laughed. “The problem is,” he said, “they’re not talking back.”

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U.S. to Sustain Military Power in the Pacific, Panetta Says

23/10/2011

BALI, Indonesia — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said on Sunday that despite hundreds of billions of dollars in expected cuts to the Pentagon budget, the United States would remain a Pacific power even as China expanded its military presence in the region.

Mr. Panetta, who is on his first trip to Asia as defense secretary, made the comments at a meeting of Southeast Asian nations on this Indonesian resort island. He sought to reassure Pacific nations that are concerned about China’s assertiveness that the United States, as he put it, would be “a force for peace and prosperity” here.

He acknowledged that nations in the region were worried about the impact of at least $450 billion in Pentagon budget cuts over the next decade and whether the United States could afford to maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific.

“There’s no question that those concerns have been expressed,” Mr. Panetta told reporters before meeting with the defense ministers of the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But, Mr. Panetta said, “I’ve made clear that even with the budget constraints that we are facing in the United States,” there is “no question that in discussions within the Pentagon, and discussions in the White House, that the Pacific will be a priority for the United States of America.”

Mr. Panetta offered no specifics, although he said that the United States would maintain its “force projection” in the region — some 85,000 troops in all, largely in South Korea and Japan.

Although he did not mention it, the United States is also stepping up investments in a range of weapons, jet fighters and technology in response to China’s military prowess.

In the past year, China has tested its first radar-evading fighter jet, the J-20, and is developing an antiship ballistic missile that has the potential of hitting American aircraft carriers. China is also in sea trials with its first aircraft carrier, a refitted Soviet-era carrier from Ukraine. And the People’s Liberation Army — with some 1.25 million ground troops, the largest in the world — is on track to achieve its goal of building a modern, regionally focused force by 2020.

The Chinese military remains focused on Taiwan, which it claims as part of its sovereign territory, and has deployed as many as 1,200 short-range missiles aimed in its direction.

At the same time, China has become involved in a number of maritime disputes with countries in the region over its claims to the South China Sea. On some Chinese maps, China’s territorial claims extend south nearly to the coast of Indonesia — a source of aggravation to top Obama administration officials.

Earlier this month, Mr. Panetta was blunt about his worries. “We’re concerned about China,” he told American service members in Naples, Italy. “The most important thing we can do is to project our force into the Pacific — to have our carriers there, to have our fleet there, to be able to make very clear to China that we are going to protect international rights to be able to move across the oceans freely.”

[Source : New York Times]