February 22 2013
The sequester may be a terrible idea whose time has come.
The respondents for National Review’s daily online poll are heavily in favor (86 percent at slightly before 7 am) of letting it take effect. As the Beatles might say: Let it be.
The draconian cuts to the defense budget were supposed to bring the GOP to heel. Seems not to be working. I am the last person in the world to offer insights into military budgets. But some people who have more expertise into the matter are saying—in effect—that this could be a blessing in disguise.
John Basil Utley writes for The American Conservative, a well-written publication that is sort of anti-war but otherwise hard to peg. Crunchy conservative Rod Dreher blogs there. Utley has a piece up now headlined “16 Ways to Cut Defense Spending.”
Some of his suggestions I don’t like (for example, unlike Utley and speaking only for myself, I believe that people in the military should be paid more than civilians in comparable jobs outside the military; I also believe that members of the military are the one group of citizens who should have government-backed, almost free health care).
And Utley comes from a non-interventionist perspective, which many Inkwell readers may—or may not—question. But some of Utley's suggestions have definite appeal:
The military is top-heavy with officers and generals compared to enlisted men, with far more proportionately today than during World War II. The military is still trained and designed mostly for mass mobilization to refight World War II: tanks, aircraft-carrier strike groups, and fighter planes for dogfights and to shoot down bombers only Russia has. Yet Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, plagued and demoralized by Putin-era corruption. China is dynamic, defensive, and prospers with peace.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England urged cutting 100,000 civilian employees from the Defense Department when it had 700,000 employees, the same number as during World War 2. Now the number has grown to 800,000.
The military maintains some 4,000 bases inside the U.S. and 1,000 overseas with personnel in 140 nations; many installations have fewer than 100 troops. Many are simply tripwires filled with potential hostages so as to get America involved in new conflicts and wars. Vast cutbacks are possible. We need a new base closing commission to take the matter out of the hands of our corrupted Congress (see The Hidden Cost of Empire)
Much soul-searching and financial analysis remains to be done on the matter of defense spending. Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing that the sequester may trigger that new thinking. But the looming sequester makes the question of who runs the Pentagon even more important. Is Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s embattled choice to head the Department of Defense, the right man to preside over such an important matter? If the sequester happens, as is likely, it won’t be business as usual at the Pentagon.
Columnist Mona Charen believes that Hagel’s views make him worthy of a filibuster:
Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2007, Senator Chuck Hagel revealed the kind of prejudices regarding American military strength most frequently found in the pages of the The Nation or among protesters at Occupy rallies. Distancing himself from Republicans he regarded as too bellicose, Hagel said,
Rather than acting like a nation riddled with the insecurities of a schoolyard bully, we ought to carry ourselves with the confidence that should come from the dignity of our heritage, the experience of our history, and from the strength of our humanity, not from the power of our military.
This is a familiar leftist critique of America, a pseudo-psychological analysis of our foreign policy as a form of pathology. For a certain set of people, the problems in the world are never Soviet aggression and expansionism, communist repression and adventurism, or Islamic radicalism and terror. No, the problem is always America’s neurotic need to throw its weight around, alienating benign foreign powers and creating discord and trouble.
Would Chuck Hagel be the best choice to oversee sequester-driven cost-cutting at the Pentagon?