Thompson considers whether the CIA Director, former OMB chief and ex-House budget chairman can effectively wield the knife at the Pentagon:
Panetta might be just the guy to do such heavy lifting. At least he gave that impression when he ran the House Budget Committee during his last years in Congress:
“The Cold War is over, and yet there is a continuing push for new and better weapons systems, even as these changes in the world take place. We are looking at the possibility again of continuing to modernize our weapons systems, and it always seems that when we do that, it costs twice as much. We are buying a new attack submarine. Starting work on a new…F-22 fighter for the Air Force, and proposing to buy more B-2 bombers and designing a new tank for the Army. Not to mention a hefty increase for the Strategic Defense Initiative.”
He said that in July 1991, and elaborated. “With the threat of world war-sized confrontation receding, can we streamline the military even more?” he asked, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and nearing the end of the Soviet Union. “Can we find a real peace dividend to devote to our desperate needs here at home and to reduce the deficit and our defense budgets?”
Sound familiar? It’s a safe bet Panetta knows that defense spending today is higher than it was during the Cold War. The key question is whether he’ll conclude that existing U.S. plans to keep it there are justified, or not.