Thinking about the unthinkable at the Pentagon

Max Boot wonders why the Pentagon isn’t planning for sequestration – the draconian, automatic cuts in defense spending that will begin to take effect in January unless Congress can agree to significantly reduce overall federal pursuant to an actual plan. It is hard to believe that the Pentagon isn’t making contingency plans, but Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has publicly stated that it is not.

Carter’s explanation is that planning is inherently a rational process, and that since sequestration is inherently irrational, the two don’t mix. This is wordplay, not analysis. It should not be taken seriously.

The explanation that Boot considers is one presented by Pentagon officials. According to this rationale, to formulate a list of cuts is to admit that cuts are possible, which would make Congress more likely to find sequestration acceptable, or to make the cuts in some other context. This is a plausible rationale, although, as Boot notes, you can argue it the other way – once Congress sees what would actually be cut, it will recoil from sequestration.

My uneducated guess is that top-level folks like Deputy Secretary Carter are thinking about how to cope with sequestration; not to do so would constitute gross neglect of duty. However, no formal planning process is underway, and thought process is a closely guarded secret. Why? Because to discuss cuts would cause extreme, and possibly unnecessary, consternation and discord among the Pentagon’s internal constituencies, and would freak out defense contractors.