Former National Security Officials Tell Congress, ‘Stop Sequestration Now’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 12, 2013 | 4:36 AM EST

The Pentagon said last week it was delaying deployment to the Persian Gulf of the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier, pictured here, because of budget uncertainties. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

( – Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former CIA Director James Woolsey joined other former national security officials, ambassadors and scholars this week in signing a letter urging Congressional leaders to prevent looming sequestration cuts that would, they said, be “a self-inflicted wound to American strength and leadership in the world.”

“You have each expressed your opposition to allowing these cuts to go into effect,” read the letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders. “They will go into effect without congressional action. You are the leaders of Congress. We ask that you act as leaders to stop sequestration now.”

The letter, organized by the conservative Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) and bearing 45 signatures, was sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Already required to reduce its budget by $487 billion over 10 years, the Pentagon faces the prospect, starting on March 1, of a $500 billion across-the-board cut over a decade. (Discretionary domestic spending would be reduced  by an equal amount.)

The FPI letter said details released to date of the Pentagon’s plans for operating under the cuts were “chilling.”

It cited among other things the indefinite delay in the deployment of a U.S. Navy carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf; Air Force plans to reduce pilots’ flying hours by 18 percent and make other cutbacks; and Army plans to delay training for most of its brigade combat teams.

“These cuts are only the tip of the iceberg,” the letter said, quoting outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying the U.S. would end up under sequestration with the “smallest ground forces since 1940,” “a fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915,” and the “smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.”

“Sequestration will result in unacceptable risk for U.S. national security,” the letter said. “It will degrade our ability to defend our allies, deter aggression, and promote and protect American economic interests. It will erode the credibility of our treaty commitments abroad. It will be a self-inflicted wound to American strength and leadership in the world.”

The signatories include Gates, Woolsey, former national security advisors Robert McFarlane and Stephen Hadley, former undersecretaries of defense for policy Douglas Feith and Eric Edelman, retired Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, former Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.), former ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, and former Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer.

Established in 2009, FPI describes itself as an organization that “seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America's global economic competitiveness.”

Its directors are Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and former Romney campaign foreign policy advisors Edelman, Dan Senor and Robert Kagan.

In a Weekly Standard article posted online on Saturday, Kristol wrote it was understandable that Republican lawmakers would find the prospect of allowing the cuts to go ahead enticing, but urged them not to be “seduced” by the temptation.

“Allowing the sequester to go into effect would be deeply irresponsible,” he argued.

“This seems to be a chance to defeat and embarrass the president. He deserves defeat and embarrassment. There will be opportunities for both. But this is not the right one, not at the expense of national security.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow