Political Animal

Blog

February 24, 2014 3:20 PM The Defense Budget: Horses and Bayonets Redux

By Ed Kilgore

You can already feel the backlash building against the president’s FY 2015 defense budget, as illustrated in the headline of a big New York Times piece that appeared over the weekend: “Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level.”

Isolationism! Munich! “Emboldening our enemies!” These are some of the words and phrases we will soon hear.

The specific policy change behind the numbers is the abandonment of the assumption that the U.S. must be at every moment be prepared to wage two major land wars simultaneously on different continents. That is not to say that we’d be helpless and have to surrender our Priceless Heritage of Freedom if such big threats emerged; that’s why God made supplemental appropriations bills and why we still maintain the capability of reviving conscription.

But at a time when the U.S. is still outspending the next thirteen highest national defense budgets combined, and when infantry battles are less and less of a future prospect, and when we’ve supposedly been undertaking a “revolution in military affairs” for going on three decades now making smaller and more nimble forces a priority—this sort of measurement of national defense by comparative troop levels and dollars is a tad bizarre, or at least ingenuous.

I don’t know enough about the FY 2015 budget (and particularly its defense components) to judge whether or not it represents too large, too small, or two poorly aligned levels of spending. But let’s please stop fretting that the U.S. Army is smaller than it was during World War II. The best response to those kinds of comparisons was the one made by President Obama to Mitt Romney during the last 2012 presidential debate when the Republican complained the U.S. Navy had more ships in 1916 than today: “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

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.

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus