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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will make his case Wednesday for deep defense cuts, facing GOP critics who charge that cutbacks and overseas disengagement primed the atmosphere for the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.
Yet to be seen: Whether Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee can successfully connect the proposed cuts to the nation’s ability to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin and other aggressive foreign leaders.
For example, would retiring the entire fleet of A-10 Warthog tank-killer aircraft or canceling the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle, as Hagel is proposing, undercut U.S. deterrence against foreign aggressors?
Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been critical of President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis, acknowledged that “There is not a (U.S. or NATO) military option that could be exercised now” to roll back Putin’s seizure of Crimea.
So far, Republican opponents have been framing their argument in more general terms of foreign perception of U.S. strength.
Armed Services Committee GOP member Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Sunday called Obama “a weak and indecisive president” who “invites aggression.” Graham warned that the Ukraine invasion will embolden other U.S. adversaries: “The Iranians are watching. If we do not decisively push back against Putin … ” then the Iranian leaders may push ahead with their efforts to build nuclear weapons.
And McCain, who will grill Hagel Wednesday, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the Ukraine crisis “is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America's strength anymore.” And on PBS, he accused Obama of “appeasement of Vladimir Putin.”
Graham and McCain have proposed that Obama upgrade and expand the missile defense program which the United States has in Poland. Even though the missile defense system is designed to defend against potential Iranian missile attacks on the United States and its allies, Putin’s government has objected to it, charging that it might be used against Russian ballistic missiles.
Among the other GOP members on the Armed Services Committee poised to question Hagel about defense and deterrence are possible 2016 presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whom some pundits mention as a potential 2016 vice presidential candidate.