Political Animal


December 04, 2012 12:01 PM The Fiscal Debate We Are Not Having

By Ed Kilgore

What with the entire national political debate being perpetually centered on fiscal priorities, it’s truly striking how little attention is being devoted (outside a few left-wing or libertarian precincts) to the option of a significant retrenchment of U.S. defense commitments. Yes, there’s plenty of talk, mostly from Republicans, about the deflationary impact of letting the scheduled defense spending sequestration go through (on this subject they are quite happy to be Keynesians). But after all, if there was a consensus that the country’s mammoth military advantage over all adversaries potential and actual was sufficiently safe (particularly at a time when other countries are struggling to make ends meet as well) to allow for a different strategy, we could happily fight over whether to devote the “hegemony dividend” to deficit reduction, domestic spending or tax cuts. And it’s worth remembering that it’s defense spending cuts without significant changes in the Pentagon’s missions or force structure that run the risk of underfunding actual security needs.

I mention this big-dog-that’s-not-barking after reading a semi-frivolous but still thought-provoking column by Businessweek’s Charles Kenney that cites the much-derided remake of the Late Cold War paranoia classic Red Dawn to make its point:

The new version of Red Dawn, like the original, centers around a foreign invasion of the U.S. The country that manages to invade this time is North Korea, a pariah state with a military budget generously estimated at $9 billion, compared with about $650 billion for the U.S. The North Korean economy is so battered that famines are a regular occurrence. This inadvertently lends the movie’s plot a smidgen of plausibility, since any North Korean invasion of the U.S. probably could be defeated by a misfit band of teenage dropouts.

With the much-discussed advent of China as a “peer competitor” in security matters still a chimera, and with the Global War On Terror having been significantly pared back (and requiring a wildly different security apparatus in any event), it’s a pretty good time to engage the public on exactly what it wants and needs in the way of a defense establishment, particularly since (as Kenney points out) Americans themselves are less than alarmed about conventional threats to national security. It’s certainly worth a mention by mainstream media and politicians before we return to endless discussion of the tax code and “entitlement reform.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on December 04, 2012 12:13 PM:

    up until the time the Pacific and Atlantic oceans dry up, we should be in good shape, from a conventional military pov.

  • Anonymous on December 04, 2012 12:21 PM:

    Great point - the US has 3 major difference in its budget compared to other industrial nations - medicine, defense and taxes. The US medical costs are way higher with worse results. Our military spending is either higher or darn close to higher than the rest of the world - combined. And we tax the wealthy a lot less than almost anywhere else.

    With all the deficit plans there is one real test for seriousness - does the proposal have realistic, specific proposals to deal with all 3? If yes, it's real. If no it's PR malarky.

    And yes almost every proposal that passes this test is ignored by most Media outlets, and those that are celebrated the media outlets as "serious" are actually BS malarky.

  • c u n d gulag on December 04, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Somehow, in the last century plus, defense of America, morphed defense of "American Interests."

    I read that as protecting US corporations in their attempts to strip the other nations of the world of their national resources, be they banana's, oil, minerals, trees, or people.

    We need to defend America, THAT'S our interest.

    If US corporations want to steal resources from other countries, and feel threatened or endangered when doing so by the people there because they'd like to see those resources used for themselves, that should not be our militaries concern.

    Those corporations should hire and pay other US corporations like Xe, which can provide them with military contractors (the artists formerly known as "Soldiers of Fortune") for their own protection.

    And if that doesn't work out, other corporations can fly in doctors, nurses, medical supplies, morticians, and coffins.

  • TCinLA on December 04, 2012 1:17 PM:

    Kill the F-35 and put the Hair Farce back in the Army.

  • JackD on December 04, 2012 1:28 PM:

    A good start would be reform of defense contracting procedures. Elimination of cost overruns and cost plus deals might save some "real money" as Senator Dirksen might have observed.

  • Ted Lehmann on December 04, 2012 5:52 PM:

    Am I nuts or are we Dems now supporting the sort of military structure Donald Rumsfeld destroyed his career over? Just askin'. - Ted

  • Doug on December 04, 2012 6:22 PM:

    Reducing DoD expenditures will, most likely not be a topic until after the 2014 elections - and then only if there's a solid Democratic House majority. Or whenever the Republicans splits into Tbaggers and semi-sane GOPers.
    My money is on 2014...