BY JAKE MCCULLEY
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton comes from a military family. His three children are all soldiers, his wife is an Army captain, and his two brothers in-law are helicopter pilots. His father was M.I.A. for moer than 40 years in Vietnam. His opinions, he said on Wednesday in the Old Capitol, are colored by these facts, and that is why he believes the military should be utilized as little as possible.
Eaton addressed University of Iowa students, professors, and members of the Iowa United Nations Association Wednesday in the Senate Chamber. He covered a broad range of topics, but they all related to the question that he called his “mantra.”
“How can we get done, in America, what we need to get done, without recourse to the military?” he asked the audience early in his lecture.
There are many types of power a government can exercise, he argued, including diplomatic, economic, and cultural power. He said that military power should only be used after all other options have been exhausted.
“The U.S. economy is not well-directed, it’s market-driven,” he said. “China has a huge economic laser it can focus wherever it wants, because they’ve got a directed economy. They understand economic might can be as effective as military might.”
Meanwhile, Eaton said, the United States has relied on its military power almost exclusively since World War II.
“We’re way out of whack,” he said. “Our military budget outweighs our State Department budget by a factor of ten.”
Yashar Vasef, director of the Iowa U.N. Association, said people around the world are ready for the United States to reduce its military presence.
“There are growing calls for less unilateral U.S. military action, and more multi-lateral action, with the United States playing a strong leadership role in the United Nations,” he said.
Help is coming, though, Eaton said, in the form of austerity, or the sequestration.
Sequestration is rooted in the 2011 Budget Control Act passed during the debt-ceiling debate. The agreement raised the debt ceiling in exchange for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. The debt ceiling is the total amount the United States can borrow to meet its existing obligations. However, the committee whose responsibility it was to implement the cuts failed to reach an agreement, triggering automatic cuts over the next nine years.
The military’s budget will be cut by $600 billion over 10 years, which, Eaton says, isn’t such a bad thing.
“Sequestration affects the Defense Department the least,” he said. “Domestic programs, like education, are much worse off.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is against the sequestration, which he views as arbitrary, across-the-board cuts. He is in favor of a balanced, deliberate approach to the budget featuring some spending cuts and some revenue increases.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, believes that while spending in the Defense Department could be cut effectively, the sequestration is the wrong way to go about it.
“… I recognize the concerns about these Defense cuts, and I wish we had gone about it in a more thoughtful way,” Grassley said in his opening address to the Budget Conference Committee on Oct. 31. “… But I know firsthand that billions of dollars of taxpayer money at the Pentagon is lost to waste, mismanagement, and negligence.”
Eaton was in agreement with Grassley that should be flexibility afforded to the various military services about where they cut their budget.
In determining which military services were indispensable, Eaton outlined a distinction between “vital national interests” and “conditional national interests.” He said that there were only three vital national interests.
“One is the integrity of our homeland,” he said. “The second is the safety of our allies, whom we’ve sworn to protect. And the third is access to the strategic commons: airspace, the oceans, cyberspace, and space. Other than that, we need to think very carefully about what kind of power we’re projecting.”