WASHINGTON—Two former U.S. military leaders lashed out at Congress Monday, declaring the failure of lawmakers to reach agreement on solving the U.S. debt crisis the greatest threat to U.S. national security.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen did not hold back when addressing a forum on America’s debt at foreign policy think tank, the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C.
“The inability of so many political leaders today to step outside their ideological cocoons or offend their most partisan supporters has become a real threat to America’s future,” Gates said via video hook-up from Texas.
He accused members of Congress of “managerial cowardice” in choosing sequestration, the “mindless” cuts to defense and nondefense spending, rather than reaching bipartisan agreement to address U.S. debt levels.
“This is no way to run a country,” he said.
“From a national security perspective it is the brutal combination of the passage of time and no solution in sight that so intensifies the crisis and the threat.”
– Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of staff
Mullen said he had long expressed concern that unsustainable levels of debt, not only threatened the military, but also America’s ability to influence international affairs. Failure to address the issue had further compounded the problem he said.
“From a national security perspective it is the brutal combination of the passage of time and no solution in sight that so intensifies the crisis and the threat, “ Mullen said.
On top of $500 billion in cuts already in place over the next 10 years, sequestration will see a further half a trillion dollars hacked from defense.
“This virtually guarantees that we would end up with a hollow force,” Mullen said, resulting in “a force unable to fund its training, a force unable to maintain its equipment, and a force unable to fight.”
Although it was expected that lawmakers would prevent sequestration from taking place, Mullen said he was not optimistic given current behavior in Congress. “I’m worried sick about it,” he confessed.
Gates said U.S. politics had always been a “shrill and ugly business” but it had reached new heights, rendering Congress unable to reach even the most basic decisions.
He blamed a number of factors for the impasse but highlighted particularly: a gerrymandered system, which leaves Congress members of both parties beholden to “their most hard core ideological base;” a loss of congressional power brokers who were “tough partisans” but still able to “make deals and enforce agreements;” and a digital media environment which “disseminates extreme and vitriolic opinion.”
The result he said was “the moderate center, the foundation of our political system is not holding.”
Gates was more hopeful than Mullen about the ability of Congress to reach agreement but continued to express disdain over the behavior of elected representatives.
“My hope is following the presidential elections, whatever adults remain in the two political parties will make the compromise as necessary to put this country back in order,” he said.
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