(CNSNews.com) –House Armed Services Committee member Randy Forbes (R-Va.) blasted top Obama administration officials for their support of U.S. military strikes in Syria while ignoring the "message of weakness" sent to the world by cuts to the Pentagon's budget both before and during sequestration.
“This administration loves to use the military . . . you just don’t want to pay the price it takes to have a strong military,” Forbes told Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at a hearing Tuesday in which Hagel admitted that ”to completely decimate the internal dynamics of our military structure and capability is obviously the longer term problem.”
Congress is debating U.S. intervention in the conflict in Syria after the Obama administration called for limited military strikes due to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its people.
“Which do you feel is more detrimental to the national defense of the United States of America?” Forbes asked Hagel.
“Choice One: Failure to respond with an unbelievably small military response against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people, or Choice Number Two: Cutting $587 billion from our national defense, planning to cut two to three carrier strike groups, reducing our F-22 fleet to 187 fighters when the Air Force says we need 250, destroying seven of our navy cruisers which have twice the fire power of the entire British Navy, creating a training crisis for our Air Force and a maintenance shortfall for our Navy ships, and doing away with the Joint Forces Command without any pre-decisional analysis?
“If you had to pick between those two as to which is more detrimental to national defense, would you pick Choice Number One or Choice Number Two?”
“Well, congressman, I hope those won’t be the choices,” Hagel responded.
“They were the choices, because Choice Number Two is what the administration did outside of sequestration, and so I just need you to give me a little perspective. If you had to pick one or the other, which would it be more detrimental to the national defense of the country?”
“Well, again, I’ll answer your question, but let me just make one comment,” Hagel said. “Um, I hope the Congress and the president will resolve the Choice Number Two….”
“That is not relating to sequestration, Mr. Secretary,” Forbes broke in. “They were cuts that were made before sequestration,” referring to the Pentagon’s FY 2013 budget before sequestration went into effect in March. (See Dod Report on Joint Committee Sequestration for FY13.pdf)
“That wasn’t just the president, that was the Congress as well,” Hagel responded.
“The president proposed it, he started with his efficiency…” Forbes argued.
“The Congress was a partner in that…” Hagel retorted, admitting that "for the long term interest of our country, to completely decimate the internal dynamics of our military structure and capability is obviously the longer term problem."
“So Choice Number Two?…” Forbes inquired.
“Yes, but that’s not the issue at hand….” Hagel admitted.
“Well, it is the issue…” Forbes interjected. “Secretary Kerry, you talk about sending a greater message of national weakness. Which do you believe sends a greater message of national weakness: Failure to respond with an unbelievably small military response against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people, or cutting $587 billion out of our national defense, planning to cut two to three carrier strike groups, reducing our F-22 fleet, and destroying seven Navy cruisers which have twice the firepower of the British Navy? Which one sends the stronger message of national weakness?”
“Well, those aren’t the choices on the table,” Kerry replied, adding, “This is not a budget hearing.”
Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) noted that engaging the U.S. Navy in a missile strike would add $30 million per week to the cost of intervention in Syria and voiced his concern to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“My assumption, and I hope you would agree, is if something is in our national interest and we choose to act on it, that we can find the money to pay for it,” Dempsey responded.
“I have no question that you will find the money, General, it’s just where you find it and does it deplete our readiness for other areas?” McKeon replied, citing budget concerns with the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
McKeon commented on the possibility of the international community leading efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, saying, “I have heard in the past from our military leaders that this is a very expensive operation, that it would take troops on the ground . . . and knowledgeable people, and the expense of destroying this.”
“Who’s going to pay for that?” he continued. “Generally when the international community does something, we’re the ones that end up paying for it.”
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) pointed out that many of his constituents at Wright Patterson Air Force Base are among the over 12,000 people furloughed due to sequestration.
“They were told that the Department of Defense did not have enough money to pay them. And yet now the Department of Defense is telling the American public that it has enough money to take us into this conflict in Syria. How do you explain that to those people who lost wages?” Turner challenged Hagel.
Hagel said that part of the cost of a possible strike in Syria would be taken out of the Pentagon's Fiscal Year 2014 budget, and that ultimately, national security interests “probably trump budgets.”