POLITICO Morning Defense

Obama's Defense Spending Plan and the Industrial Base

Editor's Note: In an interview with POLITICO Morning Defense, Peter Singer discusses President Obama's defense spending plan, the threat of sequestration, and the budget’s potential effect on the industrial base—topics likely to consume both the House and Senate armed services committees through the end of the year.

MORNING DEFENSE: Does the president’s FY 2013 budget align with the Pentagon’s strategic guidance?

PETER SINGER: The real answer as to whether the budget and strategy are aligned will come over the next few years. It will depend on things like whether we make real investments in areas like long range strike, subs and unmanned, what tradeoffs are made with legacy programs that are posing as if they are new, and whether we actually do something on personnel costs beyond study them once more, as these costs are doing to the Pentagon budget what entitlements and debt are doing to the overall budget, squeezing everything else out.

MD: What do you predict as the sequestration endgame? 

SINGER: To avoid sequestration, Congress has to show an ability to compromise and focus on both tax and entitlement reform (i.e. the real drivers of our present predicament), not just discretionary spending. Unfortunately, “Congress” and “compromise” don’t seem words that go that well together these days, so it’s a slim thread we are hanging on.

MD: Military leaders, including Panetta, have been defining sequestration in the starkest possible terms. What are they trying to accomplish? 

SINGER: They are playing the game the best way they can under the current system, which is to try to avoid the meat cleaver that is looming. ... our national debt is 15 trillion and growing. This is equal to 30 New Deals! Whether sequestration happens this year or not, the bottom line reality is that what we are going through now is not just a 2012 issue. We’ll be dealing with the same sorts of questions for years to come.

MD: What effect do these congressional budget battles have on the industrial base? 

SINGER: The base is looking around and seeing a lot of uncertainty. And uncertainty is not what these firms and their investors do well with.

MD: What do you make of the uptick in violence in Afghanistan? 

SINGER: It deeply worries me. These kinds of wars are won or lost not just on the battlefield. Such events (the spate of “insider” shootings of coalition troops, the mistaken Koran burning, etc.) are reinforcing a strategic narrative, both in Afghanistan and here at home, which is going to be very difficult to shake, if ever.

MD: Do you have any book projects currently in the works?

SINGER: I’m like the last QDR in that I can’t decide what to focus on, so instead am spreading myself too thin. My current projects include a nonfiction book on cyber issues, which I am jokingly calling the Idiot’s Guide to Cybersecurity (apropos because so much being said about this topic in DC right now is pretty idiotic), a nonfiction book on the key trends shaping the future battlefield, and a few TV show pilots, in the non-fiction and fiction side.