National Security Insiders: Sequestration is Going to Happen

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Sequestration is now the most likely scenario, according to 78 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders, who are not optimistic that Congress and the White House will reach a deal to reduce the deficit by the March 1 deadline.

"Since neither side is able to put the national interest above their own political interests, automatic cuts will do their jobs for them," one Insider said.

President Obama last week called on Congress to pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms to delay sequestration a few more months past March 1, to avoid the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts divided between defense and nondefense discretionary accounts "until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution." Republicans, however, quickly rebuffed that plan.

"If Republicans cannot get a new deal involving entitlement cuts but no added tax revenue, they prefer accepting sequestration cuts to defense programs as the price of getting some cuts to civil programs. If Democrats cannot get a deal involving more tax revenue but without entitlement cuts, they prefer accepting sequestration cuts to civil programs as the price of getting some defense cuts," one Insider said. "And neither side thinks it can get a new deal that is acceptable to it." With President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, still butting heads over the best plan, one Insider said it is "hard to see how this cast of characters can square the circle."

"Congress is similar to a defiant toddler; sometimes you've got to let them put their hand on the hot stove in order for them to learn a lesson," one Insider said.

A 22 percent faction was more optimistic that sequestration would be avoided. "In fine D.C. tradition, we will stumble forward until the moment of disaster and come forward with a suboptimal compromise," one Insider said. "It is what we do so well here."

Separately, 84 percent of Insiders said that the White House can use force preemptively if the U.S. uncovers credible evidence of a major cyberattack from abroad. The New York Times reported on the secret legal review that gives President Obama the broad power to launch such a strike if a cyberattack is imminent. "The president should be able to use force to defend the United States regardless of the nature of the threat," one Insider said. Another added: "A cyberattack that targets infrastructure could be as debilitating as a bomb."

The president's use of force is legitimate especially if the cyberattack adversely affects major portions of the nation's critical infrastructure, one Insider said. "Cyberspace must be regarded as a domain of warfare, just like we view air, sea, land, and space now. If a cyberattack results in loss of life or negatively impacts the economy, the president can legitimately use force in his response in order to neutralize the threat posed by the cyberattack."

The question here is what constitutes an attack and what is force in cyberspace, cautioned another Insider who agrees that the president should preempt a cyberattack. "Exploitation or attack via the Internet is different from a kinetic strike. The law of war and the resolution of other legal issues regarding cyberoperations are in their infancy. The standard for credible evidence will include a very broad range of factors that create great flexibility until the legal framework matures."

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