Let’s shrivel our military and rescue ourselves from debt, say some. They are confused. They should note for starters that this is the second decade of the 21st century, a far distance from the days when military spending took up as much as half the budget. It’s 18 percent now, a dwarf next to the budgetary Goliath it used to be. The Goliath today is entitlement programs.
Many people don’t get that – it’s not entirely clear the Obama administration gets that – but the old news is that military spending came down significantly after the Soviet Union waved goodbye. Remember how economically jovial the Clinton years were? One reason was major military reductions in federal spending.
Today, however, you could start substituting pea shooters for drones as part of a transformation-to-tiny military budget and still witness bloat in overall spending over time as baby boomers retire and Medicare, Social Security and other programs usher us to a continent-shaking debt calamity.
Never mind, says the administration as it proposes something resembling a pea-shooter initiative that includes the hacking of Army manpower to the lowest levels seen since before World War II. The president frets little about the entitlement threat, instead giving us another entitlement, something a third of Americans say has already made their lives worse despite his legally dubious delays of its imposed tribulations. I speak of Obamacare. I speak of gross negligence.
The confusion about military spending does not end with faulty awareness of what’s big and small in dollar distributions. It extends to the point of not knowing how dangerous the world still is or what kinds of strategies might make a difference.
You see, there’s Russia, and there’s Vladimir Putin, and while he is not exactly another Soviet premier, he is tap dancing in that direction. There’s China playing bullying games with Japan and still making threats about Taiwan as it enlarges its military in another great leap forward. There’s nuclear-armed North Korea headed by someone whose less-than-reassuring character attributes appear to be murderousness and wackiness. We haven’t even mentioned Africa or the Middle East or jihadism yet, and when you put it all together, it’s not as if there’s nothing that may need deterring, no possibility of aggression requiring response.
On, no big deal, retort some, observing how our military is larger than the next 10 largest militaries without getting it that it’s not a helpful idea to make this a fairer fight if it comes to that. We want to win decisively with as little loss as possible and we want to keep it from coming to that by scaring possible aggressors to shivers and shakes. Not only that, but the challenges to us come from every possible direction, meaning our forces could be spread here, there and yonder fighting many enemies, some of them plenty powerful in plenty of ways.
Yes, it’s true that any bureaucracy will have waste, that priorities and needs change, that readjustments are forever needed and that sometimes some savings are involved. But when you run across liberals or libertarians telling you that we can cut military spending enormously, ask them about strategy.
I asked a libertarian that once after a debate had arrived at a question-and-answer period, and he snarled that I was expecting him to say all we had to do was have weapons and troops on our shore lines. No. I was looking for an analysis equal to his opponent’s intricate illustrations of what might achieve what where. As best I understood by the time this person had quit rambling in search of an answer was that he thought we could just have weapons and troops on our shore lines.
I am sorry. It won’t do.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.