There's no doubt President Obama is using the so-called Washington Monument maneuver in the fight with Republicans over sequestration budget cuts. It's a time-honored tactic of bureaucratic warfare: When faced with cuts, pick the best-known and most revered symbol of government and threaten to shut it down. Close the Washington Monument and say, "See? This is what happens when you cut the budget." Meanwhile, all sorts of other eminently cuttable government expenditures go untouched.
So now Obama is warning of drastic cuts in food safety, air traffic control, police and fire protection -- in all sorts of services that will allegedly be slashed if the rate of growth of some parts of the federal budget is slowed.
But perhaps the biggest example of the Washington Monument maneuver is coming from the Defense Department, where it goes by another name. Over many decades of defense budget battles, the Pentagon has often used a tactic known as a "gold watch." It means to answer a budget cut proposal by selecting for elimination a program so important and valued -- a gold watch -- that Pentagon chiefs know political leaders will restore funding rather than go through with the cut.
So now, with sequestration approaching, the Pentagon has announced that the possibility of budget cuts has forced the Navy to delay deployment of the carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf. With tensions with Iran as high as they've ever been, that would leave the U.S. with just one carrier, instead of the preferred two, in that deeply troubled region.
"Already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf," Obama said at a White House appearance on Tuesday, in case anyone missed the news.
Some military analysts were immediately suspicious. "A total gold watch," said one retired general officer who asked not to be named. Military commentator and retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters called the Navy's move "ostentatious," comparing it to "Donald Trump claiming he can't afford a cab."
And Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, is worried not only about the Truman decision but also the Navy's announcement that it cannot afford to refuel another carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. "I am concerned that these decisions are being made for the purpose of adding drama to the sequestration debate," Hunter wrote in a Feb. 12 letter to the Pentagon, "given the continuation of other programs that are worthy of cost-cuts or even elimination."