Political Animal


January 08, 2013 10:28 AM Chuck the Knife

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve been calling rather monotonously for some attention to be paid during the confirmation debate over Chuck Hagel to U.S. national security strategy. I know we’ll all enjoy another rousing debate over the stupidity of the Iraq War and the fresh new topic of U.S.-Israeli relations, but it would be nice to hear a bit of discussion about the actual job Hagel would be doing.

David Brooks, of all people, thinks Hagel’s nomination is all about a big change in national security strategy—specifically, a major decline in defense spending driven by what Brooks describes as the emergence of a “health care state” in which every spare dollar goes to Medicare and the Pentagon must take a hit:

Chuck Hagel has been nominated to supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks. If a Democratic president is going to slash defense, he probably wants a Republican at the Pentagon to give him political cover, and he probably wants a decorated war hero to boot.
All the charges about Hagel’s views on Israel or Iran are secondary. The real question is, how will he begin this long cutting process? How will he balance modernizing the military and paying current personnel? How will he recalibrate American defense strategy with, say, 455,000 fewer service members?

You’d like to think it would work in reverse with the budget following the strategy, but if the budget forces a reconsideration of a U.S. defense structure still based on the Cold War and the assumption that we alone embody the “free world,” that’s fine with me. If, however, Hagel’s nomination is not about “Hagel’s views on Israel or Iran,” Brooks needs to tell his old buddy and former boss Bill Kristol that pronto.

UPDATE: In one of those nice coincidences, the probable soon-to-be-interim-Senator Barney Frank has come out with a piece for Democracy explaining why the defense budget needs to come significantly down.

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.


  • Peter C on January 08, 2013 10:43 AM:

    "as the emergence of a “health care state” in which every spare dollar goes to Medicare and the Pentagon must take a hit"

    ... and we should all be really angry that instead of building guns and bombs, we'll be spending our money on becoming a healthier society! Pity the poor Pentagon!

    We spend more on our military than most of the rest of the world COMBINED.

    Every other civilized nation has some form of nationalized healthcare paid by the state, yet we say we can't afford that.

    Perhaps there is a relationship between the two????

  • T2 on January 08, 2013 10:49 AM:

    the Hagel nomination fight is the latest in a four year line of the "Don't let Obama Win at ANYTHING" Republican strategy. Even if the nominee is a Republican, even if the bill or policy represents long held GOP mantras.....none of that matters if the idea comes from Barack H. Obama.

  • c u n d gulag on January 08, 2013 10:59 AM:

    For once, I'm hoping that Bobo, who has only a slightly better record for being correct than does William "Wrong Way" Kristol, is right.

    There aren't going to be any more great dog-fights over London, tank battles on the plains of Europe, or the steppes of Russia, or any Midway's either.

    If China and Russia do eventually defeat us, it won't be via wars, or proxy ones either, like in "The Cold War" - it will be economically.
    Our own defense spending, and Conservative economic policies, will cause our economy to implode.

  • Bardi on January 08, 2013 11:07 AM:

    One of the commenters on Rep. Frank's article suggested, using Eisenhower's refashioning of a military stand down to include the Interstate highway construction under the aegis of defense, something we could do with our independence from oil (alternative power sources), better distribution to include underground utilities to lessen the impacts of severe storms.

  • Mimikatz on January 08, 2013 11:12 AM:

    Barney Frank was on one of the MSNBC shows last night with charts showing how much the defense budget has grown over the past few years as the Soviet threat receded, how we spend more on defense than something like the next 27 countries combined. Defense has become a moneymaking scam. The GOP is to the defense industry as the NRA is to the small arms industry, with help from several Dems as well. Except for those neocons who just need wars to get off, the rest are just in it fir the money.

    The problem with the defense industry is that most of it's product is made to be blown up, not to make our lives better or more enjoyable. Spending on health care, or education, or public works here at home would not only provide more jobs, it would provide life-enhancing goods and services. Here's hoping Hagel can help reduce that bloat.

  • Ron Byers on January 08, 2013 12:37 PM:

    I have been watching defense contractors move strongly into the Veterans Department for the last few years. It seems they are all of the opinion that the DOD is going to be downsizing and they need to find contracts somewhere else.

  • bigtuna on January 08, 2013 12:57 PM:

    While finally onto something, David Brooks is an ass. The long term financial problems of the government are due to: Defense spending; service of the debt; misaligned tax policies; increased health care costs, due in part to demographics.

    Social Sec. should not really be figured into this - the "fixes" can mostly be made within its administrative and funding structure.

    So bobo, it is defense spending that is a large part of the problem. he at least finally raised the point, if clumsily.

  • esaud on January 08, 2013 3:00 PM:

    I really hate it that Republicans get away with cheesy perjoratives like "welfare state" or "Nanny state", and now, "health care state".

    It's like every little gotcha is called "(something)-gate". Really stupid and meaningless.

    When Republicans do it, the response should be "we're a welfare state only to the members of the cruelty caucus. To thinking, caring people, our safety net is riddled with holes."

  • RaflW on January 08, 2013 7:05 PM:

    It is very rare for me to say that Bobo is right about something. But he is correct: cutting defense is indeed one of the ways to make sure the social safety net need not be slashed.

    Is there something wrong with trying to be sure our own elderly citizens are cared for over our plutocratic, for-profit defense industry tycoons? Hmmm?

  • CATMAN on January 08, 2013 8:04 PM:

    A "healthcare state" versus a "warfare state"---what a concept that we should shift resources to take care of our citizenry rather than be the world's policeman! No wonder BoBo is outraged