I’ve noticed a dubious new PR tactic that hawkish senators are employing to get their way on the leadership of, and funding for, the Defense Department.
During former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe made hay of some Iranian propaganda about Hagel:
The question I’d like to ask you and you can answer for the record if you’d like is, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination for Secretary of Defense?
And yesterday, at a press conference with House Armed Services Committee Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”
This is childish. With tail tucked between legs, Hagel meekly submitted to the Obama administration policy that starkly rejects the idea of merely “containing” Iran. The idea that Hagel, if confirmed, will somehow weaken Obama’s commitment in this regard strains credulity. The idea, meanwhile, that the sequester’s automatic spending cuts will emasculate U.S. force projection around the world, and specifically in the Persian Gulf, is less obviously ridiculous. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, well liked and trusted by both sides of the aisle, has vociferously insisted the cuts (totaling $55 billion in cuts to the military budget this year) would degrade our ability to respond to crises around the world (“around the world” typically taken to mean, in this context, North Korea, China, and Iran).
Still, it’s hard to imagine Iran’s mullahs breathing a sigh of relief because of the sequester. The defense authorization bill that President Obama quietly signed into law amid the chaos of the fiscal cliff last December tightened sanctions on Iranian shipping and included $211 million in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee seemed pleased with the measure. “AIPAC thanks Congress for its actions to thwart Iran’s nuclear quest and help Israel defend against emerging threats,” it said in a statement.
And remember: Even if it succeeds in doubling its defense budget, as it has vowed to do, Iran would spend just $30 billion annually—compared to the $633 billion behemoth that Obama and Congress just approved.
None of this is to say that the sequester won’t affect national security needs as Leon Panetta and Lindsey Graham define them. Conversely, I don’t mean to imply that the sequester is a smart way to trim military spending.
But I think it’s fair to say that “Iran likes it” belongs in the same file as “The terrorists will win.”