Cutting beyond the bone

The Defense Secretary earlier this week announced proposed budget cuts that would take the U.S. military to its lowest levels of funding since before World War II. The proposal has gotten surprisingly little attention, and even less analysis.

Fortunately, a few people are pointing out the obvious - the cuts are going to have a dramatic effect not simply on the military but on America's role in the world, and on the world in general.

Dale Brown laid out some notes on what should be done in a recent blog entry, pointing out some of the problems with the technology and force levels envisioned by such a plan:

. . . 'Splain this to me, Secretary Hagel: Is the F-35 the solution to trans-Pacific threats that could just as easily shift back to the Middle East at a moments notice? The F-35 is a single-engine short-legged small-payload medium combat jet that has little chance against modern Russian or Chinese fighters.My recommendation: build the offense, IMMEDIATELY . . .

Read the rest of his essay and his specific ideas here.

A lot of the articles about the budget have cited the pre-World War II period and made the obvious case that the world is a lot different than it was in 1940 - and even if it weren't, we wouldn't want to go back.

But there's another case to be made from history. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the U.S. made dramatic cuts to its military budget. (If you want to get an idea of the magnitude, check out the graphic in this New York Times article. Ignore their editorial.)

Those budget cuts left the U.S. - and the world - in such a precarious position that when the extent of Soviet intentions became known shortly thereafter, the newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff realized that there were insufficient conventional forces to defend Western Europe. Not only was the Korean Conflict shadowed and to a large extent shaped by this concern, but the early Cold War - the nuclear arms race especially - was heavily influenced by the weakened posture of the U.S., both materially and psychologically. The generals and admirals as well as the civilian leaders responsible for military and foreign policy found themselves compensating for what they perceived as a great weakness. Even with Korea raging, many were convinced not only that there would be another war in Europe, but that the U.S. and its allies would lose it unless many nuclear weapons were used - which would represent an even greater loss.

History is not always a prologue; the world is a complicated place. But it does teach us that we have to do a lot more than count pennies. Our position in the world depends on many things - commerce and invention even more than the military - but we can't ignore how they are all interrelated. In the end, big cuts may mean less peace, not more.

We seem to be in a period when Americans are afraid to cast too big a shadow on the world. Worse, we seem to be afraid to dream big, to have big ambitions. We're too focused on penny-pinching - and not just when it comes to the federal budget.

This will pass, as it always does; America has always been a place for ambitious dreams. The only question is what it will take for those dreams to become a reality.

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