Topics: Barack Obama

Jed Babbin: Obama is not done cutting defense just yet

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Jed Babbin,The Pentagon,Barack Obama

April was a pretty awful month for President Obama, but it's too early for Republicans to start celebrating his political demise.

People keep trying to compress the political calendar, wanting to convince us that time is running out for Obama, even though he's barely past 100 days in his second term.

Yes, Obama's gun control initiative was a resounding failure. It didn't pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban got only 40 votes.

And, yes, the Gang of Eight's immigration reform bill may go precisely nowhere because the House wants to carve out parts of the "comprehensive" approach and afford them real debate rather than rushing the whole 800-plus-page bill through without scrutiny as the Senate seems intent to do.

Those issues aren't dead by any means, but the question is whether Obama's political skill is enough to revive them.

Obama's political skill has depended on his ability to unnerve the Republican opposition. This, of course, doesn't require leadership or governing. It only required him to be a bully in the bully pulpit.

At this point in his second term, though, he can't just manufacture campaign issues for Democrats to run on, he has to make things happen. And that's why he's trying to run a bluff on the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama's Gitmo quandary is that to satisfy the liberals he has to actually close it. Talking about it isn't enough anymore.

Last week, Obama said that the terrorist detention facility there was unnecessary, inefficient, expensive and a recruitment tool for "extremists." Which is what he said four years ago when he first tried to close Gitmo.

Congress has rejected Obama's ploy again and again. When Attorney General Eric Holder tried to justify trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York federal court, Congress rejected it emphatically. There's simply no reason to give the terrorists an opportunity to take the media stage or possibly bring danger to American cities.

Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Act, which bars the transfer of Gitmo inmates to the U.S. and to places such as Yemen, where they are usually released or "escape." Obama can't close Gitmo. Republicans ought to be reminding him of that fact, and why it's so.

Republicans should also take a lesson from Obama's cave-in on sequestration and the air traffic controllers. Furloughing them was stopped -- despite Obama -- when Congress decided that sequestration shouldn't be evenly applied to control towers across the country. The sequestration quandary is tough for both sides.

Liberals can't get out of the very minor domestic program cuts without giving the Pentagon relief from the cuts it is suffering now. The military tried to do what the Federal Aviation Administration did, making sequestration cuts where the public wouldn't tolerate them. They cut air shows and such but failed because the public didn't care.

But there is a lot to care about, and it's about how Obama is hollowing out our defenses. According to a very senior source, the Air Force has told 12 or 13 of its squadrons that they can't fly for the next five months, the time remaining in this fiscal year.

Its flagship war games have been canceled, and the Air Force Weapons School will have its next class postponed. This is only one service, and the cuts are typical across them all.

That means, in literal terms, that the point of America's spear is being dulled. For every pilot who can't fly because he can't be checked out, there's a ship that won't sail and troops that don't march.

Americans won't tolerate the hollowing out of our defenses. It's time to tell them precisely what's going on.

Jed Babbin was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of such best-selling books as "Inside the Asylum" and "In the Words of Our Enemies."

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