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Fight Brewing Over Defense Cuts

It’s becoming clear that a major point of contention in the upcoming debate about future budget cuts will be additional cuts in defense spending. The first volley in that fight was fired on Thursday by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday signaled that the Pentagon will push hard against future spending cuts, saying that up to $500 billion in cuts that could come later this year would be a “doomsday mechanism” that would endanger national security.

“We are already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt ceiling deal, and those are going to be tough enough,” Panetta said at his first press conference since taking office July 1.

He cited $350 billion in defense cuts over the next decade that are part of the debt ceiling compromise, adding, “I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.”

Panetta and Pentagon budget officials say that first round of cuts could actually jump to as much as $400 billion. They also worry that a new super committee tasked with mapping out a second round of deficit reduction this fall will further slash defense spending. And if the committee can’t reach an agreement, the Pentagon could face an automatic reduction of an additional $500 billion.

“The discretionary budget has taken some pretty serious cuts both as a result of the continuing resolutions from last year as well as the decision that was made in the debt agreement,” said Panetta, a former White House budget chief. “When you look at national security, I think you have to look at the broader context. It’s not just dependent on the defense budget. It is also dependent on the quality of life in this country.”

Panetta also repeated that it would be “completely unacceptable” if the committee can’t reach a deal and the $500 billion in cuts takes effect.

“We do not have to choose between fiscal discipline and national security,” Panetta said, indicating that cuts should happen elsewhere.

“I didn’t come into this job to quit, I came into this job to fight. And my intention is to fight to make sure that hopefully some common sense prevails here and that the committee that is established does its work in looking at these areas of the budget.”

Panetta’s position is supported by Admiral Mike Mullen, not surprisingly as well as neoconservatives on the right who argue that cutting defense as deeply as the automatic cuts would constitutes a threat to national security. On the other side of the argument, though, there’s people like Fareed Zakaria, who argues we need to take a hatchet to a bloated defense budget:

It is not unprecedented for defense spending to fall substantially as we scale back or end military actions. After the Korean War, President Dwight Eisenhower cut defense spending 27 percent. Richard Nixon cut it 29 percent after Vietnam. As tensions declined in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan began scaling back his military spending, a process accelerated under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Given the enormous run-up in spending under George W. Bush, even if President Obama made comparable cuts to that of those presidents today, defense spending would remain substantially above the levels under all those presidents. The Bowles-Simpson commission’s plan proposed $750 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.

Serious conservatives should examine the defense budget, which contains tons of evidence of liberalism run amok that they usually decry. Most talk of waste, fraud and abuse in government is vastly exaggerated; there simply isn’t enough money in discretionary spending. Most of the federal government’s spending is transfer payments and tax expenditures, which are — whatever their merits — highly efficient at funneling money to their beneficiaries. The exception is defense, a cradle-to-grave system of housing, subsidies, cost-plus procurement, early retirement and lifetime pension and health-care guarantees. There is so much overlap among the military services, so much duplication and so much waste that no one bothers to defend it anymore. Today, the U.S. defense establishment is the world’s largest socialist economy.

Zakaria goes on to note that defense spending cuts would also force American politicians to re-examine America’s foreign policy and our priorities going forward. That is a debate that we need to have because we really never addressed that issue after the Cold War ended. Instead we allowed the status quo to largely stay in place, to the point where military action became the first response when problems developed in countries like Haiti, Somalia, or the Balkans. Then, September 11th happened and we geared up for two wars, one of which is seemingly endless. Now, we’re faced with a situation where we have to cut Federal Government spending, and there’s no good reason that defense spending should not be on the table.

Zakaria’s column generated a number of response from”pro-defense” quarters, not surprisingly. Max Boot, for example, found Zakaria’s suggestions dangerous:

Zakaria might decry the high cost of new weapons systems. So do I. But I have no idea how to procure top-of-the-line weapons systems for less, and neither does he. Nobody does. Washington has been implementing “procurement reforms” for years, but many of them have made weapons more expensive, not less. It seems fair to say the pressure of today’s budget crisis will not produce a magic wand someone like Zakaria could wave to miraculously cut the cost of our weapons while maintaining their superlative quality. Like it or not, we must take it as a given weapons will continue to be costly. The choice is whether we pay or not—and that choice will not be avoided by painlessly erasing the (nonexistent) line item for “waste, fraud and abuse.”

(…)

Simply because something has happened in the past doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the future. And if history shows anything, it is there are few ideas worse than cutting defense spending precipitously. What is likely to happen as a result is we will not be ready for some unexpected crisis. While we slowly build up our resources, we will suffer needless defeats and our troops will spill needless blood—as we have in wars ranging from the Civil War to World War II, Korea and most recently, Iraq.

Michael O’Hanlon and Joseph Nye are less alarmist than Boot but nonetheless disagree with Zakaria’s conclusion that we can afford to cut defense spending significantly without affecting national security. These points are all well-taken, and the idea of across the board cuts in defense spending without consideration of what it is that you’re cutting is fairly foolish. Nonetheless, it’s attitudes like theirs that have made it impossible to cut any Federal spending over the years. Somebody can always come up with a good argument for why we should spend $X on a program, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve reached a point now where we cannot afford to pay for everything. Cuts will have to be made, choices will have to be made, and some of those choices are going to have to come in Pentagon spending.

Jonathan Tobin seems to recognize this fact when in notes in a recent post that there isn’t much of a constituency left to fight defense cuts:

With Republicans rightly dug in to oppose tax increases and Democrats set to fight against any cuts in Social Security or Medicare, it’s not likely the next step in the great compromise reached this past weekend will actually work. But whatever comes out of that committee, it appears cutting defense might be the one thing both sides appear ready to do. While Democrats can be counted on to approve any defense cuts (except for those that affect particular states or constituencies), the question is whether the GOP, traditionally a bastion of support for a strong defense, will sacrifice the Pentagon in order to hold their ground on fiscal issues.

This trend has been reflected in the GOP presidential race, where foreign policy and defense have been put on the back burner by all of the candidates. Unless there is some radical alternation in the political climate that will re-focus our attention on foreign policy — a development made all the more unlikely by the recent disastrous economic news — it’s hard to see how a coalition to oppose defense cuts can be assembled.

(…)

That means the ayatollahs in Iran and their nuclear scientists may have more influence on the budget process in the next couple of years than anything said by Panetta or Mullen. But the problem with such an equation is if a nuclear Iran does wake up America to its need to fund defense, the cost of that wake-up call may be paid in blood, a commodity still more precious than budgetary allocations.

That last part is simply absurd. For one thing the cuts that would be imposed on defense spending won’t be solely directed at the Pentagon since the Department of Homeland Security will also be included in those cuts. For another, the cuts themselves are relatively modest given the size of the DoD budget:

Rather than cutting $400 billion in defense spending through 2023, as President Barack Obama had proposed in April, the current debt proposal trims $350 billion through 2024, effectively giving the Pentagon $50 billion more than it had been expecting over the next decade.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, experts said, the overall change in defense spending practices could be minimal: Instead of cuts, the Pentagon merely could face slower growth.

“This is a good deal for defense when you probe under the numbers,” said Lawrence Korb, a defense expert at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research center. “It’s better than what the Defense Department was expecting.”

So this is far from the “crisis” that Boot and others make it out to be. In fact, the Pentagon actually makes out better under this deal than it would have under President Obama’s budget plan, or Paul Ryan’s for that matter. We aren’t going to sacrifice our national security, and we aren’t handing a gift to the ayatollahs. If that kind of fear-mongering is all that the neoconservatives have left, then they’re going to lose this fight.

 

 

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mike says:

    after 10+ years of war, the military is going to need to do a lot of fixing and replacing of old equipment and resetting and healing of personnel. deep budget cuts coupled with continued deployments would be difficult. We are still at 50k in Iraq and 100k in Afghan aren’t we?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. DC Loser says:

    We’re on our way to being like the Soviets – A third world nation with a first world army.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    The majority of Americans now realize something the neocons don’t – we can no longer afford our empire anymore than we can afford entitlements. Two thirds want us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. A majority opposed the Libya incursion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. ponce says:

    we can no longer afford our empire

    But can we accept what follows it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. An Interested Party says:

    What is likely to happen as a result is we will not be ready for some unexpected crisis.

    Perhaps we’ll be invaded by China? Martians? Who knows…

    As far as a nuclear Iran is concerned, what do people think that Iran would do with a nuke? Drop it on New York or L.A.? Perhaps this is why we need to have a defense budget that is almost the size of all the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Too much of our military thinking is still Cold War. We’re still preparing for Soviet tanks at the Fulda Gap but we substitute the Chinese as our improbable foes.

    We want to carry forward a model we understand: wars of territory. That’s human nature. We are great at wars of territory. But no one is going to be fighting that kind of war outside of the Korean peninsula — and South Korea is more than capable of handling its own defense.

    That which isn’t Cold War in military preparedness is War on Terror.

    We’re overreacting to terrorism. And we’re still driving massed tanks around in the desert at Twenty-nine Palms. Meanwhile we’re doing next to nothing about cyberattacks, which are a much more rewarding venue for those wishing to harm us. We’re probably also under-preparing for possible biological attacks.

    The one thing I think we’re doing right is moving to robotics. The Predator is a great advance and more will come. The vast majority of what we need to accomplish militarily can be done with no risk to humans, for far less cost, using technology we already have or can create in the next decade or so. But no colonel dreams of becoming a general in command of robots, and no general thinks he’s going to get the Chairmanship on the backs of robot warriors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. ponce says:

    The vast majority of what we need to accomplish militarily can be done with no risk to humans

    So the brown people we so casually slaughter with our robots aren’t even humans now?

    I’ve heard that before.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:
    That’s a lame cheap shot and you know it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. just me says:

    I think there is a lot of room to cut on defense and I think it can be done without a significant loss to national security.

    I don’t believe taking a hatchet and cutting willy nilly is the best tack to take, but there are a lot of places that can be cut.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. george says:

    So, do we want a balanced budget with no tax raises, or do we want a big military? Unless they’ve got some scheme to privately finance the military, you cannot pay for the military without taxes. This is the bottom line, and one they continuously ignore – the military is part of the gov’t, and big military means big gov’t … and that means either running a deficit or taxes.

    As far the actual dollars, aren’t we spending as much on the miltary ourselves as the next ten or so largest military spenders put together? If we have to spend that much just to be able to defend ourselves against some potential attacker, then our military is grossly inefficient (taking many times more money to do the same as others can do). How can a country that spends a tenth of what we do on the miltary be a threat to us?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. An Interested Party says:

    So many people seemed lost at the end of the Cold War…then there was the Chinese menace, and now there is the Islamofacist menace to go along with the Chinese…this is simply ridiculous…why should our country go bankrupt because of the irrational fears of a tiny minority of people? It does look like so much military thinking is focused on the last war rather than the next one…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  12. ponce says:

    That’s a lame cheap shot and you know it.

    Not really, Michael.

    You radiate joy whenever our homicidal robots come up for discussion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  13. Andy says:

    Michael,

    People have been declaring “big” wars over for a long, long time and they are continually proven wrong.

    As someone who gets his bread buttered by the national security establishment let me be clear that we do need defense cuts and we especially a coherent post-cold war strategy. We still need a capable conventional force, however. Some things about war are fundamental – mass, maneuver, firepower and the ability to close with and destroy an enemy. That force can exist, however, in the reserve components. In my fantasy universe I would move most of the Army and Air Force into reserve formations, utilize the Marines and special operations for small wars and the Navy for most everything else. We also need a lot of structural reform across the DoD – everything from planning to procurement to personnel is stuck in the 1950’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. Brett says:

    What about getting away from the “big bang” model of weapons development, where we try to cram every new technology into the next-generation of weaponry? Some of the cost was inevitable (the F-35, for example, came into development at the time when the technology was rapidly advancing), but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:

    Wars are going to happen. If you’d like proof I’d refer you to the entire history of the human race going back to chimpanzees.

    If you’re going to fight a war two of the better things to do are 1) Avoid getting your own guys killed, and 2) Kill only the bad guys you need to kill and spare innocents.

    Until we awake to find ourselves in the world of flowers and kittens you apparently envision, we’re going to be killing people and they’re going to be killing us.

    Your obsession with “brown people” is just weird. If it were superdestroyer throwing that phrase around with such obvious condescension I’d say it was racist. Throughout our history we’ve killed a whole bunch of people. Most, by adjusted number, have probably been white. (English, German, Italians and Confederate.) Second up would probably be Asians. (Japan, Korea, Vietnam.)

    Not being in the race-defining business myself I don’t quite know who you include as “brown people.” Are all non-Europeans automatically “brown people?” Are you lumping Koreans in with Mexicans? Do you have some right to do that? Some logic? Koreans wouldn’t even want to be lumped in with Japanese as Asian peoples, they kind of see themselves as, you know, Koreans. And I doubt the Mexicans we killed in 1840 feel much connection to the Pashtuns we’re killing today.

    So maybe you should explain your “brown people” taxonomy more clearly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    I’m having a hard time envisioning a potential opponent in a big war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Andy says:

    ponce,

    Perhaps you are being facetious, but in case you aren’t, I’d just like to point out that the US military doesn’t use robots to kill people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. ponce says:

    Until we awake to find ourselves in the world of flowers and kittens you apparently envision, we’re going to be killing people and they’re going to be killing us.

    Perhaps, but there are also long stretches of peace in history, too. Look at Europe between the fall of Napoleon and the start of the Crimean war, for example.

    Having mildly retarded Southerners shooting up third world weddings and funerals by remote control only threatens the relative peace we have been enjoying since the end of the Vietnam war.

    In the event of a real, actual war that threatens America, the toys our heroes are slaughtering civilians with now won’t do us a lick of good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  19. Andy says:

    Michael,

    I suffer from the same lack of vision you do. However, so did people in the early 1930’s – or in 1949 when we rushed green formations into Korea, or 1859, etc. Building up military capabilities takes time and very often threats do not present themselves in a timely manner. This isn’t to say we need a huge standing Army – we don’t (once we alter our security arrangements), but we need to maintain the ability to generate one relatively quickly. A small active force backed by a larger reserve force, backed by a structure that facilitates conscription is affordable for just about any government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. anjin-san says:

    How can a country that spends a tenth of what we do on the miltary be a threat to us?

    They hate freedom, and they hate America. Apparently, that is a profoundly potent force multiplier.

    We have more than double our defense spending in the last decade because of the actions of a handful of men armed with box cutters.

    bin laden knew he could never defeat America in combat. His plan was to bankrupt us. That plan seems to have something to it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. @Andy:

    I’d actually go the other way and get rid of the marines. We’re simply not doing large scale amphibious operations anymore and the marines have been more or less reduced to a second army at this point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. just me says:

    Several smaller opponents can ally themselves and create a big opponent.

    However i think the idea of a global wide war is probably not likely to happen, and war of the future will likely be much like it has been since WWII. More regional and to some degree a lot more unconventional.

    But personally I do not want to get caught with our pants down by assuming a large scale war involved multiple countries isn’t ever a possibility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  23. Catfish says:

    Here is a way to cut defense spending: don’t go into a war without a plan to win and an exit strategy. Win the war and get out; no occupation or “rebuilding”: saves a lot of money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    I find it absolutely incredible that anyone could seriously propose that the U. S. could not trim tens or even hundreds of billions from its defense budget, maintain a high degree of security, and still be prepared to wage large power war.

    As I wrote in the comments to another post, we are entering an era in which we must choose. “All of the above” just isn’t a viable alternative any more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Andy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I like to pick my battles. Disbanding the Marines entirely is probably as difficult as fixing health care.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. sam says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m having a hard time envisioning a potential opponent in a big war.

    Then you haven’t been paying attention. Everybody knows the Sino-Irano-Venezuelo axis has designs on Baja California. After that, it’s a small jump to Catalina Island, and boom, the next thing you know, they’re on Rodeo Drive. And they won’t be buying Gucci, either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. fasteddie9318 says:

    What are you guys saying, that we don’t need to modernize our submarine fleet to deal with emerging al-Qaeda threats Under the Sea? Might I remind you all where bin Laden is right now? Exactly.

    You’re welcome.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  28. sam says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’d actually go the other way and get rid of the marines. We’re simply not doing large scale amphibious operations anymore and the marines have been more or less reduced to a second army at this point.

    As long as there is a Navy, there will be a Marines Corps, an outfit specifically trained in amphibious warfare. Nobody envisions World War II – type amphibious operations any more, But this does not mean we will not need a seaborne rapid-deployment force, an expeditionary force. That is the primary mission of the Marines. See, US Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Does know anyone know if the F-35’s second engine is still in the budget?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Ron Beasley says:

    @Timothy Watson: It’s not!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Brett says:

    I’m not happy about that, either. We’re going to be relying heavily on the F-35s, and it would be nice to be able to keep flying them in case an engine problem crops up and would otherwise ground the entire fleet.

    I find it absolutely incredible that anyone could seriously propose that the U. S. could not trim tens or even hundreds of billions from its defense budget, maintain a high degree of security, and still be prepared to wage large power war.

    If it’s just a Great Power conflict, then yes (although such a conflict would likely lead to nuclear warfare). We could drastically cut back on active-duty numbers for the Army and Marines, and save a lot of money in Personnel expenses.

    That’s the only safe way to avoid the “small wars” problem: avoid having the capability to get involved in them. Simply having a doctrine to avoid them won’t stop them – witness what happened to the Powell Doctrine in the Clinton Administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Wars are going to happen. If you’d like proof I’d refer you to the entire history of the human race going back to chimpanzees.

    Michael, so why do we have to fight all the world’s wars? And for the record, I find this a really stupid conversation….We have a military NO country can challenge, but any idiot can nibble at….

    Nibble nibble nibble… What is any one going to do? Predator strikes in Pakistan????

    Diminishing returns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Liberty60 says:

    I don’t claim any expertise in military readiness but if the issue were handed to me (and as an American taxpayer and voting citizen, by golly, it IS handed to me), I would start by asking why our two biggest competitors, China and Russia, can somehow defend themselves AND project force and influence across the globe while spending a fraction of what we spend.

    How do they get so much bang for the buck? Could it work for us?

    I honestly don’t know, but would like to hear a discussion of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. ponce says:

    I would start by asking why our two biggest competitors, China and Russia, can somehow defend themselves AND project force and influence across the globe while spending a fraction of what we spend.

    Russia can’t really project force.

    China projects economic force.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. Brett says:

    @Liberty60

    I would start by asking why our two biggest competitors, China and Russia, can somehow defend themselves AND project force and influence across the globe while spending a fraction of what we spend.

    They don’t. Russia doesn’t have the ability to intervene militarily in force outside of the countries that border them, and the Chinese are even worse off (they can’t even dominate the South China Sea in the event of a conflict). This doesn’t include nuclear warfare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. @sam:

    That is the primary mission of the Marines. See, US Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025.

    Yes, but does that mission require an entire branch of the service? Does it need it’s own air power independet of the Navy’s airpower? Couldn’t this role could be fulfilled by a much smaller force within Naval special forces or the Army light infantry, especially since both of these groups have been increasingly involved in the space lately?

    Additionally, while this is supposed to be the Marines mission, this isn’t how they’ve been used. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, they were largely “sieze and hold” operations that were traditionally more characteristic of the army.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. george says:

    They don’t. Russia doesn’t have the ability to intervene militarily in force outside of the countries that border them, and the Chinese are even worse off (they can’t even dominate the South China Sea in the event of a conflict). This doesn’t include nuclear warfare.

    But both seem able to defend their own borders satisfactorily … and isn’t that what our militiary is supposed to do? All the people who hark back to the founding fathers never seem to note what those founders felt about overseas wars.

    We should be able to defend ourselves against all credible military threats. There’s nothing which says we should be able to intervene militarily in force outside our borders, and in fact our economy is much more important for influencing the world than our military. Basically, we need to get our deficits under control, and that means cutting spending and raising taxes – and as one of the bigger expenses, it means cutting unnecessary (for our defense) military spending.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    I don’t think I ever said we needed to fight all the world’s wars. In fact I offered the example of Korea which South Korea can handle perfectly well on its own.

    But I think we still need to be able to reach out and kill bad guys. I think we’re on the cusp of a revolution that will allow us to use remotely-controlled weapons (robots in effect) to do just about everything we need done. I suspect the forces of stasis in the Pentagon will resist this shift.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  39. @Liberty60:

    I would start by asking why our two biggest competitors, China and Russia, can somehow defend themselves AND project force and influence across the globe while spending a fraction of what we spend.

    They don’t. In fact there was recently a huge embarrasment to the Chinese navy in that they contributed two frigates to the anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, and those ships have to keep going to place like India to resupply because China doesn’t have the capability to keep even two ships supplied on a long range deployment.

    That’s not force projection!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. michael reynolds says:

    All the people who hark back to the founding fathers never seem to note what those founders felt about overseas wars.

    the Founders were a bunch of merchants and farmers living in a vast, sparsely-populated country with no navy and not much of an army. The seas were owned by the British (and to a lesser extent French and Dutch) navies. There was no such thing as a bomber or an ICBM. Terrorists could not climb on a jet in Riyadh and fly to Boston. The Founders were not the pre-eminent status quo power, they were small and weak. Theirs was a failure of imagination.

    American isolationism has been far more dangerous to this country and to humanity writ large than our various interventions. We came all too close to turning the management of planet Earth over to Nazis, Japanese militarists and Communists. There’s good reason we act as the defender of the status quo — it’s our status quo. It’s preferable to other likely versions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. An Interested Party says:

    American isolationism has been far more dangerous to this country and to humanity writ large than our various interventions. We came all too close to turning the management of planet Earth over to Nazis, Japanese militarists and Communists. There’s good reason we act as the defender of the status quo — it’s our status quo. It’s preferable to other likely versions.

    And yet, we should be able to make substantial cuts in the military without becoming isolationist and still be able to project force and influence around the globe…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  42. ponce says:

    We came all too close to turning the management of planet Earth over to Nazis

    95% of the Nazi soldiers who died during WWII died fighting the Soviets.

    Distribute the other 5% to Britain, America and the other bit players.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. michael reynolds says:

    @An Interested Party:
    I absolutely agree.

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  44. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:
    True about the Soviets killing Germans.

    But you’re reducing a complex story to a single statistic.

    How well would the Soviets had done if Japan were free to move on them from the east? How well would they have done without the imports we supplied? How well would they have done if the Nazis weren’t watching their western front and their southern front? How about if we had not been bombing German factories?

    I give the Soviets full props for carrying the load. And yet, they would have failed had we stayed home.

    Beyond that, the communists were no great bundle of fun, either. We kept the west safe from the Soviets. The EU exists today because of us: we brought peace to Europe. Japan is free today because of us. So is South Korea. And eastern Europe is free to a large degree because we worked to weaken the USSR.

    And I’m still waiting on an explanation of “brown people.”

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  45. ponce says:

    How well would the Soviets had done if Japan were free to move on them from the east?

    The Soviets and the Japanese had a truce during WWII because they’d fought a war just before WWII.

    The Soviets broke the truce to eliminate the massive Japanese army in Manchuria because America didn’t really want to do the job.

    That’s why North Korea belongs to the crazies today.

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  46. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:
    Yes, and the Japanese had a mutual defense arrangement with Germany. Your point?

    And again: are you going to explain your singular obsession with the term, “brown people?”

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  47. ponce says:

    Yes, and the Japanese had a mutual defense arrangement with Germany. Your point?

    The Soviets defeated Japan during the 1930s.

    They would not have been a threat to the Soviets during WWII whether America was fighting them or not.

    The Soviets had the Nazis on the run long before America arrived in Europe.

    are you going to explain your singular obsession with the term, “brown people?”

    Few Americans care when brown people die, Michael.

    That is reflected in your comment: “The vast majority of what we need to accomplish militarily can be done with no risk to humans.”

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  48. liberty60 says:

    Good points about the force projections of China and Russia;
    But I wonder- who is safer from enemy attack- a citizen of New York, Beijing, or Moscow?

    I think its a bit of a false dilemma to reduce things down to head-in-sand isolationism versus assuming the role of protector of the global status quo.
    First off, status quo is always changing- we have more power over the course of the sun than we do to maintain permanent control over the world.

    Second the financial outlays to maintain that sort of control are financially unsustainable no matter what policy we pursue.

    Third having a state of endless wars and police actions distirts and perverts our government in ways that both parties hate-
    A huge war machine enlarges the government apparatus beyond what conservatives like and diminishes civil liberty beyond what liberals like.

    Security- whether your own home security or the security of a nation- is always a matter of choosing an optimum level based on many factors including cost and reasonable expectations of threat.

    At some point we have to decide to prioritize our threats and accept some level of risk as being beyond our ability to feasibly eliminate

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  49. anjin-san says:

    That is reflected in your comment: “The vast majority of what we need to accomplish militarily can be done with no risk to humans.”

    i think you are deliberately misinterpreting this statement. The meaning is pretty clear, and it is not that the deaths of “brown people” don’t matter.

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  50. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:

    The Soviets defeated Japan during the 1930s.

    The Japanese lost some large border battles, not a war. They honored their pact with the Soviets because they wanted to focus forces in southeast Asia. In other words, they avoided fighting the Soviets because they were busy fighting us (and to a lesser extent the Brits.)

    Therefore your statement that the Japanese would never have threatened the USSR is absurd. 1) The Japanese were not known for their adherence to treaties. 2) They had beaten the Russians soundly in 1905. 3) The Japanese would have had to remove Soviet power in the Pacific in order to ensure their own flank. Had they been free to do so, they would certainly have moved against Vladivostok.

    The Soviets had the Nazis on the run long before America arrived in Europe.

    This again is superficial and factually wrong. Stalingrad began in the summer of 1942. We entered the war in December, 1941. Our navy was fully engaged and actively supporting the allies, as our army trained for invasion while the fate of the USSR was still very much in jeopardy. The battle of Kursk — Germany’s last major offensive — was a year later, in mid-1943 as we were invading Sicily.

    The Soviets won Kursk. Would they have won had the Germans been able to transfer their tank divisions and aircraft out of Italy? Um, no. A reality of which Stalin was well aware.

    Few Americans care when brown people die, Michael.

    That is reflected in your comment: “The vast majority of what we need to accomplish militarily can be done with no risk to humans.”

    Your lazy, self-righteous racism is quite appalling, really. Do you not understand that Americans are “brown people” to a great extent? Are you under the impression that Americans, and American soldiers, are “brown” to a significant degree? Do you not understand how ignorant and insulting it is to lump vastly different peoples together with a demeaning color reference like “brown people?”

    You’re not stupid enough to be this stupid. Grow up.

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  51. ponce says:

    . Stalingrad began in the summer of 1942. We entered the war in December, 1941.

    Close to 1,000,000 Soviet troops died defending Stalingrad against the Nazis.

    They destroyed an entire German Army Group.

    By comparison, fewer than 2500 Americans died on the beaches of Normandy during the heroic D-Day invasion.

    Which battle do you think the average America would claim was more important in the defeat of the Nazis?

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  52. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:
    And now since your facts were wrong and your conclusion transparently superficial and you still can’t explain why Japanese and Mexicans are to be lumped together as “brown people,” you want to shift the conversation to competitive casualty counts.

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  53. ponce says:

    Michael,

    We can discuss your typically inflated opinion of America’s contribution to the Allied effort in WWII in another thread if you want, but I don’t think you’ve proven a single one of my facts to be wrong in this one.

    And I never said the Japanese or the Mexicans are “brown people.”

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  54. Rob in CT says:

    If you *are* going to have that discussion, do be sure not to forget about all the material we shipped to the USSR during the war, ponce.

    Michael may be over-estimating our beneficial effect on the world (and yeah, I think he is), but he’s closer to being right about WWII than you are. The USSR bore the brunt, but they don’t win w/o the USA & other major Allies (the UK, holding out during the BoB, was a big deal, even if the casualty counts are likely low in comparison to, say, Stalingrad).

    I share your concern about painless (to us) war-via-drone. But then, so is war-by-B52 & smart-bombing. The drone is just a wee bit safer – but how many pilots have we lost lately? Yeah. It’s not really any different. So the pernicious effect you’re reacting to exists already, and would continue to exist even if there were no drones.

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  55. Catfish says:

    How to erase deficit in 3 years through income tax overall:
    everyone 18 + years pays 3% flat tax
    only deductions: charity, exemptions per family member
    people on any welfare or assistance (food stamps, free lunch, housing, etc) will pay
    illegal immigrants will pay tax on income and any benefits
    no loopholes for wealthy
    This will more than double the tax base and in three years, no more deficit

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  56. ponce says:

    But then, so is war-by-B52 & smart-bombing.

    America hasn’t had much success with these types of wars.

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  57. Rob in CT says:

    @ponce:

    I thought you were making a moral argument (re: drones desensitizing us to the deaths of “brown people”), not an effectiveness argument.

    If the later, I agree. Victory through Air Power doesn’t work (alone). I was addressing the moral component by noting it’s a pre-existing condition.

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  58. ponce says:

    I was addressing the moral component by noting it’s a pre-existing condition.

    Is there anything worse than committing an immoral act in support of a losing cause?

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  59. Rob in CT says:

    A question that goes back long before there were any drones, which was my point. It was a small point, really (as was my comment about lend-lease and the BoB re: WWII). Nevermind.

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  60. ponce says:

    A question that goes back long before there were any drones

    I think you’re underestimating the…potential cost of dead or captured pilots in the decision making process.

    Also, too, we never used B-52s to take out a single third world apartment building or funeral service.

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  61. Rob in CT says:

    I thought we used (still, even?) B-52s outfitted with cruise missles and/or smart bombs in recent wars. Iraq (part 1), IIRC? I don’t know about apartment complexes. But set aside B-52s specifically. Go with any of our bombers/fighter-bombers, and the point is the same. The pilots are in next to no danger from the enemy, who likely has very little AA capability.

    Yes, drones reduce that danger to zero. I just don’t think that matters in terms of how it impacts policy.

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  62. ponce says:

    I just don’t think that matters in terms of how it impacts policy.

    It’s harder for the U.S. to deny responsibility for a bombing when the target is holding the pilot who did it in custody.

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