"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Death by a thousand cuts

As I admitted over on Facebook, when it comes to the topic of cuts to defense spending, I'm not an uninterested party. But I find it disturbing that, in the debate over how to keep this country from plummeting over a financial cliff and becoming another Greece, decisions on the big drivers of fiscal armageddon - entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare - have been punted and are only discussed in the vaguest terms, whereas defense has been examined with a microscope and hacked away at with knife. This is not to say that there aren't places where cuts could be made, or that, given the nation's dire debt situation, defense spending should be immune. It's fair to say that there are any number of places where cuts could be made - like reducing the bloated civilian contractor workforce - and I've heard some pretty innovative suggestions on issues that don't immediately pop to mind when thinking about defense spending (like turning over the exchange/commissary system, currently run by someone in uniform, to a commercial agency like Wal-mart, and allowing them to buy the rights to establish stores and sell their products on base, combining the price value and efficiency of an experienced private entity with the shocking notion of actually MAKING some money for the military in the process). But the very real, specific cuts being forced on the military stand in stark contrast to the vague promises of future efficiency and reform only hinted at for the entitlement programs that, all agree, will grind our national economy to a halt without a major course correction. Abolish the Defense Department in its entirety and the 'most predictable crisis in history' caused by entitlement spending will still be there. And with each cut in the defense budget, our military's warfighting ability will suffer.

Never mind that reducing defense spending while hostilities are ongoing is unprecedented; we're still lightly engaged in Iraq, heavily engaged in Afghanistan, and doing something or other over in Libya. The American military is currently tasked with a variety of missions that no other country can readily take over. The global commerce that requires open and secure sea lanes is only possible under the aegis of the United States Navy, whose surface fleet has dwindled to its lowest numbers in a century (fun fact: more ships were involved in the landings on Okinawa, only one of many theaters in which the Navy was engaged, than we have in the entire Navy today). No one superpower yet rivals the United States, but there are a multitude of regional powers like China, North Korea, and Iran who have strong localized military capabilities and do not have our best interests at heart. The threat from radical Islamist groups like al Qaeda is diminished but not gone. And, as has been embarrassingly demonstrated in Libya, our NATO allies cannot conduct anything resembling a sustained military campaign, even in their own back yard, without American support. Extensive reductions in the defense budget will necessarily mean that our capability to effectively conduct operations like those above will be reduced as well; and since nature abhors a vacuum, as we pull back less desirable and benign forces will flow in to take our place (already happening off the coast of Somalia). Any politician advocating a diminished Defense Department had better be honest about the consequences, and damn well better take responsibility when, predictably, something goes wrong and people start to die.

1 comment:

NHDemocrat said...

Really don't have much I disagree with here, though I'd note in addition to entitlement spending rising at unsustainable rates in the mid-to-long term, we also face a chronic revenue shortage that will need to be addressed.

My one point of contention would be that our debt problems aren't at all similar to Greece, as we have our own currency and aren't held hostage to a dysfunctional multinational currency/financial structure. Markets continue to price our debt at very low risk (new record low today, actually, for ten year bond yield)and, long-term, our currency would devalue should there be concerns as to our solvency, reducing the real cost of the debt. Our dysfunctional national political structure is a separate issue, though still challenging.