HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-The upcoming presidential election only added to the intrigue of Wednesday night's visit to Huntsville by a former secretary of defense.
Secretary Robert Gates addressed members of Leadership Huntsville-Madison County for the organization's 25th anniversary dinner at the Von Braun Center. WHNT News 19 was not allowed to interview Gates or record his speech, a media attendance guideline mandated by the agency which booked Gates' Alabama visit. We were permitted to take notes.
After a few minutes of jokes and White House stories that stretch back decades, Gates' tone suddenly got very serious. The former secretary of defense told the audience that looming defense cuts which are scheduled to hit in January would pose a grave threat to national security, and singled out Huntsville as an area could be drastically impacted.
"The Huntsville area with Redstone [Arsenal] and NASA would be especially hard-hit," said Gates. "The resulting effects of this [sequestration] will cause extensive damage to our military...Contrary to popular conception, the defense budget has already been cut, and substantially. I do believe the threats America faces today are more dangerous in their variety, unpredictability and likelihood."
The scheduled cuts are a result of a deal made between President Obama and Congress in 2011. If the two sides cannot agree on a series of budget cuts by the end of this year, automatic cuts will be triggered. The military will take roughly fifty percent of all federal cuts in the automatic plan, even though military spending only accounts for thirteen percent of the total budget.
"Defense leaders need to be honest with the president, the Congress, the American people and themselves about what those consequences are," said Gates. "The risk to our men and women in uniform would only increase. Cutting defense too quickly and too soon always leads to higher costs in blood and treasure later."
President George W. Bush appointed Gates to the defense secretary post in 2006. Gates continued to serve in the same role under President Obama until his resignation last year.