Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

February 26, 2014

A military budget of delusion

The Obama administration says that we need to end what it calls "the era of austerity" in Washington. Notably excluded from this admonition is the one department of government that is actually experiencing austerity worthy of the name.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a military budget that will reduce the U.S. Army to pre-World War II levels. The spin is that this will be a smarter force better suited to 21st-century challenges, but everyone knows that it is all about accommodating the trillion dollars in defense cuts adopted during the recent Beltway budgetary wars.

The Pentagon has been a bipartisan target of opportunity. Democrats oppose defense spending because it's defense spending; Republicans oppose it because it is spending.

We obviously aren't at the same point as the British in the 19th century, when Bismarck scoffed that if the British army invaded, he'd have it arrested. But 570,000 troops were barely enough to fight the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the Hagel budget will take us to 450,000, or — if the defense sequester isn't further relaxed — even fewer.

Most defense secretaries aspire to be the next George Marshall. Secretary Hagel evidently wants to be the next Harold Brown, who presided over the Carter-era hollowed-out military.

It is not quite true that the cuts are undertaken without any strategic thought. The Obama administration's strategic thought is ... that we need no strategic thought. It is said that the British acquired an empire through a fit of absent-mindedness. We are losing our global influence the same way. Because we can't be bothered.

Understandably, we don't want to fight another grinding ground war. But this doesn't mean we won't have to, or we won't experience other nasty surprises. It is an unfortunate part of the American tradition to convince ourselves, when we find it convenient, that the world is not a dangerous place that always demands our attention, or else.

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