It’s too much to expect that, before the 2012 election, there will big cuts to the Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s bloated budget, which has roughly doubled since the late 1990s, not counting the vast sums spent on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, is still a sacred, well, hippopotamus.
But, on the other hand, as I reported in The Nation early last year (“Taking Aim at the Pentagon Budget”), the United States is an empire in decline, and it can no longer afford a military budget equal to the rest of the world combined. As that piece showed, even some traditional conservatives and Tea Party rebels have begun to side with liberal Democrats such as Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) to propose much larger cuts in defense spending than either the Obama administration or Congress as a whole is likely to consider this year.
This week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will announce his plans for military spending going forward to 2020 or so. It won’t be dramatic, but think of it as an opening bid. What the United States spends on defense is heading south, and will continue to do so for a decade or more. Anti-military organizers, peace groups and anyone concerned about reorienting our country’s priorities away from militarism and war ought to be girding for a decade-long battle to maximize cuts. In the 1990s, at the end of the cold war, Pentagon spending fell by about one-third. Of the roughly $6 trillion that the United States is currently projected to spend over the next ten years on war, the Obama administration has already conceded that about $450 billion can be eliminated, and the absurdly named supercommittee’s failure to agree on spending last year supposedly imposes another $500 billion in defense cuts, for a total of nearly a trillion bucks, or one-sixth of future spending. Of course, that’s not enough, though it’s outraged hawks, including some Republican candidates for president, the so-called Iron Triangle in Congress, and a right-wing coalition called Defending Defense, made up of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Bill Kristol’s Foreign Policy Initiative.
But the door is open for more, which is why Defending Defense verges on hysterical in its frequent denunciations of anyone who proposes even slight reductions.
As the New York Times notes today, in its lead story:
In a shift of doctrine driven by fiscal reality and a deal last summer that kept the United States from defaulting on its debts, Mr. Panetta is expected to outline plans for carefully shrinking the military—and in so doing make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once.