Like my colleague Dan Goure, I believe that the military cuts proposed last week by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are a reasonable reconciliation of competing security and budgetary objectives. I’m not sure I see the logic of killing the long-range Global Hawk unmanned aircraft and delaying submarines as the joint force pivots to the Pacific, but for the most part the Panetta package makes sense. However, conservative critics are up in arms, arguing that the proposed cuts would reduce military capabilities below what will be needed to cope with future dangers.
No doubt about it, military capabilities will be reduced. And critics are right to point out that weakness invites aggression. But there’s an obvious contradiction in the conservative position, because the same people who want to preserve the current, robust level of military outlays also want to reduce the budget deficit without raising taxes. That just doesn’t add up in an economy that is struggling to reach three-percent growth annually. We can have higher taxes and continue generating nearly half of all global military outlays; or we can keep taxes where they are and bring federal outlays down to the level that current tax receipts would sustain. But there is no third option if we are intent on reducing the deficit.
Some conservatives contend that this all can be reconciled by simply paring back the welfare state. But you could wipe out the entire Social Security program — over a quarter of the federal budget — and Washington would still be running a sizable budget deficit. Since there is little evidence voters would stand for cuts to Social Security or the major healthcare entitlement programs, opponents of military cuts have some explaining to do. So let’s hear it AEI, Heritage, et. al. — what’s your plan? Do you want to raise taxes or just keep borrowing money from China? If you don’t want to do either, inquiring minds want to know how you propose that a country with five percent of the world’s people and 25 percent of the world’s economic output can continue generating nearly half of global military expenditures.