China is beefing up its military and bullying its neighbors, the apocalyptic suicide cult running Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons with an arms race in the always-volatile Middle East bound to follow, Russia has been gradually re-establishing its Soviet empire while extending its insidious influence even farther, and in every corner of the world there is still the usual portion of crazy people with guns. This seems an odd moment for a peace dividend, but the administration is proposing drastic military budget cuts.
There are good geo-political reasons for the proposal unveiled Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, we are told, but none seem convincing. The leaner budget will provide a meaner military by eliminating outdated Cold War weapons systems and emphasizing high-tech cyber-warfare over the old-fashioned armed servicemen shooting at the enemy approach to conflicts, according to the Defense Department’s argument, but we can’t help thinking that the aircraft designed to take out Soviet tanks will do just as well against any other country’s armor and that there are likely to be occasions when shooting an enemy will be more effective than disabling his lap-top computer and cutting off his Twitter account. Hagel’s proposal would reduce the number of troops to the lowest level since 1940, a date that has some resonance for the few Americans who still have some rudimentary knowledge of 20th Century history, and includes reductions in military benefits that would make service even less appealing for those who would remain on the watch. If you don’t buy that, there’s a backup argument that the proposed budget out-spends the sequester agreement those dovish Republicans imposed on the hawkish administration, but this ignores the well-documented fact that the sequester was the administration’s idea and that the Republicans would gladly agree to any deal that would beef up the military with money taken from elsewhere in the vast federal budget.
To believe that one have to believe that the Republicans have suddenly become the weak-on-defense party and is forcing pacifism on an administration eager to pursue a robust foreign policy backed up by a credible threat of force. The argument requires such an extraordinary feat of imagination that the press has already decided to go with the argument that a pre-World War II defense posture is the post-modern solution to national security at a time when seventh century theocracies have nearly arrived in the nuclear age. This is also a tough sell, of course, but given the public’s lack of interest in national security and its enthusiasm for the welfare benefits that will be spared by corresponding cuts in the military it might just work.
At least the public is wised up enough that no seems to be peddling the true rationale for the cuts. The smaller military fits nicely with the smaller role that the administration intends for America to play in the world’s affairs, but even the president no longer seems willing to convince anyone that this will bring peace. A belief in “soft power” and the president’s magical ability to charm dictatorial nations into peaceful co-existence with the democracies still informs every aspect of America’s foreign policy, but they no longer expect anyone else to believe it. The administration clearly believes that money from current and future generations of taxpayers is better spent on Obamaphones and advertisements touting the benefits of Obamacare than on national defense, but it is a hopeful sign that they have to get that message out to the grateful constituencies without being too noisy about it.
The Republicans, who we can hope are still hawkish as ever, might even be able to exploit that reticence to pass a more responsible budget and even force the president to sign it. Such a rare feat wouldn’t force the administration to pursue a more forcible foreign policy, but at least it would leave sufficient force for future administrations to do so.
– Bud Norman