When the news broke this week that the Pentagon is planning to cut its budget, to reconfigure our military for the security challenges of the 21st century, it was only a matter of time – minutes, actually – before the neoconservative warriors jerked their knees and uncorked their primal scream.
Yeah, it’s true that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel foresees cutting the number of active-duty Army troops to pre-World War II levels, eliminating its fleet of A-10 attack planes, freezing the number of Navy aircraft carriers, and closing some domestic military bases. Hagel’s rationale is a cinch to understand – he’s hamstrung by the current fiscal austerity (thank you, tea-party Republicans); and he knows it’s time to scrap the Cold War paradigm, which required that we sustain the resources to fight two massive, simultaneous land wars – but the necon warriors prefer a more cartoonish perspective:
Barack Obama, White House wimp, is purposely weakening America and exposing us to disaster!
On Monday, Dick Cheney (of course) got on the phone to Sean Hannity (of course) and lamented that the proposed military cuts are “absolutely dangerous…radical…devastating,” because, after all, Obama and his team “no longer want to be dominant on the seas and in the skies.” Meanwhile, neocon talking head Bill Kristol (of course) assailed the “dangerous” cuts in a podcast: “If you don’t believe in U.S. leadership, I guess you can justify a huge number of cuts.” On the other hand, he said, “If you think the use of force might occasionally be necessary, if unfortunate, then you worry about these cuts.”
It’s worth noting at this juncture that Cheney long ago forfeited all credibility, and that it’s a waste of time to indulge his Chicken Little warnings about clear and present danger (Cheney, 2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction”). And it’s a bit rich to hear Kristol champion “the use of force,” given his track record as a cheerleader for our disastrous, casualty-laden, budget-busting land war in Iraq. So I’ll just pose the question this way:
On the issue of mapping a military budget and protecting our national security, who’s more trustworthy: Neocons who never went to war (Cheney got five deferments during the Vietnam era)? Or Chuck Hagel (twice wounded in Vietnam, two Purple Hearts), whose budget plan has been endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Granted, Hagel and the Joint Chiefs do serve under the dreaded Obama, but are we supposed to believe that they’ve swallowed Kenyan Kool-Aid and conspired to leave us defenseless?
On the contrary, Hagel’s budget seeks to reform our defenses. Military strength isn’t synonymous with troop numbers anymore. The best defense experts have long insisted that we need not plan to fight two massive land wars. That notion dates back to World War II, when we fought Nazism in Europe and Japanese militarism in the Pacific. That notion was updated for the Cold War competition with the Soviets. But today, the Soviets only live on a fabulous spy show, The Americans. Indeed, Hagel is eliminating the A-10 attack planes (and saving an estimated $3.5 billion) precisely because they were designed to take out Soviet tanks in an invasion of Western Europe.
The new paradigm foresees us doing our global policing with a smaller number of ground troops, special ops (budget boost), and more sophisticated weaponry (budget boost). Plus, Obama is expected to seek Congress’ OK for an additional $26-billion outlay, separate from the Hagel budget plan, for upgraded aircraft and weapons systems. (Cheney and Kristol never acknowledged that.) Plus, Hagel has declined to cut the “overseas contingency operations fund,” the pot of money that pays for our residual efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Cheney and Kristol never acknowledged that, either.)
All told, think-tank veteran and Navy vet Lawrence Korb, who served four years under Ronald Reagan as assistant Defense secretary for manpower, says it best: “(The new) budget puts the Department of Defense on a sound path to responsibly meet the risks and challenges of the current national security environment….Secretary Hagel, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the White House have prioritized the core defense capabilities that make the U.S. military the strongest and most effective armed forces in the world.”
And even if we do spend a bit less on the military – it’ll be roughly five percent less than in recent years – we hardly need worry about being outspent. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank, America annually spends 40 percent of the world’s military tab – and it will continue to spend far more than the next nine nations combined. (Another think tank says we spend more than the next 10 nations combined.)
But Dick Cheney still grumbles that this president “would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.” Yeah, well. At least this president doesn’t send the troops to die in wars cooked up for bogus reasons. And perhaps Cheney shouldn’t malign the people who use food stamps. The Pentagon says that military families last year spent $100 million in food stamps at military stores, and roughly 900,000 military vets live in households that use food stamps.
Memo to a knee-jerk neocon: Next time you attack the administration for crafting a leaner, smarter, 21st-century military, don’t diss so many of the vets and families. It’s very tacky.
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