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Panetta: Defense “Catastrophe” Would Mean Reduced Military Presence in Latin America and Africa

Leon Panetta has said time and time again since the inking of the debt limit deal that defense cuts at the level of what would be triggered by a Super Committee failure would be disastrous. He did so again at a Congressional hearing today. And we finally got a sense of what that “disaster” would specifically look like, according to Ben Armbruster’s account. Turns out it would mean that US military personnel might not be in every country on Earth. Disaster!

During a House Armed Services Committee Hearing today, Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) asked Panetta for specifics as to how more spending cuts “increases the risk” to the military and U.S. national security. “What risk specifically?” Smith repeatedly asked. But Panetta didn’t really have much. After meandering through a series of fillers — “we’re going through the process,” “we’re still shaping” a strategy — Panetta finally admitted that “no decisions have been made” on what they need and eventually said the greatest risk would be to have to reduce the U.S. military presence in — Latin America and Africa:

PANETTA: Without telling you that decisions have been made, and no decisions have been made, I can give you an example. For example, if we decide that we’ve got to maintain our force structure presence in the Pacific in order to deal with China and China’s expanding role in that part of the world and because of the other issues that exist in that very sensitive part of the world. And if we decide that the Middle East is also a very important area where we have to maintain a presence as well then just by virtue of the numbers that we’re dealing with, we will probably have to reduce our presence elsewhere, our presence perhaps in Latin America, our presence in Africa and so if you’re talking about risk, part of the risk would be having less of a presence in those areas.

Oh noes! We might have a slightly reduced ability to contain the raging superpowers of South America and Africa! This might as well be a death warrant for every American!

Fortunately, there’s even a way out of that to allow the US military to continue their “Occupy Everywhere” strategy. It would start with ending the policy of letting American service members die for no reason in Afghanistan. And good thing, too, because we simply cannot allow a gap in our containment of Burkina Faso and Suriname.

The other good news for Panetta is that his allies in Congress plan to nullify the trigger for the defense cuts anyway:

On Thursday, a reporter asked (John McCain) to react to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent warning that the triggered cuts would do “catastrophic damage” to national security.

“If there’s a failure on the part of the supercommittee, we will be among the first on the floor to nullify that provision. Congress is not bound by this. If something is passed, we can reverse it,” McCain responded.

Whew! Catastrophe averted!

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David Dayen

David Dayen