POMED Notes: The Dire Effects of Sequestration and A Middle East In Chaos: Implications for Congress
The Heritage Foundation hosted an event on September 20 entitled “The Dire Effects of Sequestration and a Middle East in Chaos: Implications for Congress.” The discussion centered on cuts in military spending and how they will affect U.S. security interests in the region. The panel featured Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs and Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation; Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; and Robert Zarate, Policy Director at the Foreign Policy Initiative.
For full event notes, continue reading below, or click here for the PDF version.
Mackenzie Eaglen began the discussion by laying out the implications of sequestration for American security interests. Eaglen’s assessment was that sequestration puts U.S. emergency response capabilities at risk. It also threatens budgets for embassy security, the missions in Afghanistan and Yemen, and counterterrorism operations. She also worries that the U.S. is projecting global weakness based on the possibility of sequestration, the looming “fiscal cliff,” a reduced global presence, and an already weak economy. She ended by warning that Western military budgets as a whole are declining, while Eastern budgets are rising.
Robert Zarate said anything beyond the cuts of $487 billion over 10 years would not allow the U.S. to meet its proposed national security strategy. Zarate worried that the budget cuts and rising security risks, such as future interventions in Libya, will create serious problems for U.S. interests. He is concerned about Egypt’s suggestion that it may hold a referendum on its peace treaty with Israel, and urged U.S. leadership to set redlines for its relationship with the new government there. He highlighted other potentially harmful security issues in the Middle East, such as Iran’s shipment of chemical weapons to Syria through Iraqi airspace and instability in Yemen. He said Afghanistan will continue to be critical to U.S. strategy towards Pakistan, and that Europe is an important logistical hub for U.S. global strategy, especially in the Middle East. He was adamant that the “U.S. is an indispensable pillar in the international system.” He finished by saying U.S. defense spending is fairly modest and domestic spending is the main driver of the approaching reduction of U.S. military capability.
Peter Brookes was alarmed that the “U.S. is unilaterally disarming.” The new Middle East is going to be difficult and is unlikely to favor U.S. interests, he said. In his opinion, Iran is the greatest threat to international security. Their nuclear program has caused great anxiety for Israeli leaders. Further, Iran’s ballistic missile capability allows the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to threaten retaliation on allied regional bases if Iran is preemptively attacked. Brookes was very critical of the Syrian civil war saying, “Syria is a mess and no one is talking about it. It is an international shame. It is highly unlikely that the Obama Administration will approve a military intervention.” Brookes suggested the possibility in Syria for a Libya-like operation to take place, but unlike Obama, he would “prefer to lead from the front.” He was extremely worried about the loss of key intelligence capabilities due to sequestration, saying “Good intelligence is the first line of defense against terrorism and international surprises.” He ended by saying the U.S. must project power in the Middle East and the defense budget should meet the threat, not vice-versa.
During the Q&A session, the panel was asked what they thought was the best way to convince Iran to end its nuclear program beyond sanctions. Brookes responded, saying the 10 year negotiation process has not at all convinced the regime to change course. He suggested military action might be able to push back the timetable on their development, using the example of Israel’s preemptive strike on the Iraq’s Osirak reactor in the late 1980’s. He closed out the session highlighting the CIA Counter-terrorism Center’s confirmation that the Libya embassy attack was indeed a terrorist operation. He had hoped Congress would stay in session to investigate the attacks further.