The word "good"in the headline above is not a judgment call on the tenure of the three OMB directors/White House chiefs of staff this post is about. Instead, the headline is about this question: Why do OMB directors appear to the presidents they serve as a "good" choice for chief of staff?
This is a question that was asked repeatedly this past week after the third consecutive administration replaced an existing COS with someone who at the time was the director of the Office of Management and Budget. In case you're too young or too old to remember, the OMB-to-WH switches were Leon Panetta (Clinton), Josh Bolton (Bush 43) and, now, Jack Lew.
The same basic question is often asked by baseball analysts and fans about why catchers frequently become managers.
Defense budgets go up and down. They have ever since the end of the Second World War. We are in a build down today, one that is likely to continue for the next decade, reardless of what the Super Committee does, and regardless of the hard court press coming from the Pentagon, its allies in Congress (Chairman McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee), and, especially, the industry that manufactures weapons for the Department of Defense.
Rumor has it that the current deficit/debt discussions between the White House and the Republican House leadership may include $1 trillion in defense savings over the next ten years. If this were true, it would be both good news and a manageable savings, since it constitutes roughly 15% of the total resources DOD currently projects for defense over the next ten budgets.
But it is not true. Turns out to be a case of wasting the Congress' time with phoney cuts, abusing budget baselines, and a political fraud on the American people. The trillion dollars, it turns out, is all based on the assumption that we will spend significantly less on the wars or any other combat deployments than the more than $1 trillion we have already invested.
It is Europe-bashing time again. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is the latest in a very long string of US officials to tee off on the Europeans for not "carrying their share of the defense burden." So easy for Americans to say, such an easy escape-hatch from our own economic and fiscal problems.
The reality is everyone's defense budget is coming down. And as they come down, it is important to remember that not everyone in the world agrees with the US view that we have a God-given mission to provide global military and counter-insurgency operations in pursuit of the chimera of "global security," least of all the Europeans. For more on my views, visit the national security experts blog of the National Journal, posted today.
Leon Panetta may be glowing with the success in Abbottabad, but he will have to turn to the challenge of the defense budget in short order. The House Armed Services Committee looks like it will push for as much funding as possible; Rep. Ryan ducked the issue in his budget resolution, but like the ghost of Hamlet's father, the problem will not go away.
For my views, read the op ed column I did for the Washington Post this morning.