In George Soros’ book, “The Bubble of American Supremacy,” he writes that in the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, the victory would go to the former over the latter. “Although the West has material superiority, Islam will prevail because it has a major competitive advantage: it is not afraid of death.”
Fear of death is certainly one element in Obama’s new skeletal program of defense cuts, which stresses drones and “cyberwarfare” while cutting as many as a hundred thousand troops. Drones and cyberwarriors don’t die or get taken prisoner. They can take out the occasional target with no human cost involved. But they are also impotent in any larger conflict. They can enable us to take out the occasional Al-Qaeda terrorist or slow down Iran’s nuclear program, but they are no match for an outright invasion.
Democratic administrations have a history of favoring these types of bloodless wars that rely on extensive bombardment without exposing troops to any casualties. But cruise missiles and bombing raids can only do so much. The Clinton administration’s bombing of Iraqi targets produced no results. Nor will drones and cyberattacks be effective in stopping any major moves by North Korea or Iran.
The larger element behind the cuts is the Democratic Party’s discomfort with a large standing army. To the left having a sizable military creates the temptation to use it and the only way to check that temptation is to dismantle and weaken it as much as possible. The half trillion in cuts, which will affect everything from next generation fighter jets to troop numbers, will certainly do that. Even after this administration has gone it will have left behind the same legacy of decay and neglect that the Clinton administration did.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has boasted that over the next four years the cuts in defense spending would be “as rapid as any we experienced after Vietnam or after the Cold War.” But that isn’t anything to boast about. Both sets of cuts had disastrous long term consequences for military preparedness.
Defenders of the cuts have pointed to how much defense spending has increased during the War on Terror, but these increases were necessary not only due to the conflict, but to compensate for drastic cuts carried out during the Clinton administration. Rearmament after a period of disarmament is more expensive than maintaining consistent but sustainable preparedness just as maintaining a car is cheaper than letting it go to rust in your front yard and then trying to fix it ten years later when you suddenly need a ride. The Obama administration’s defense cuts will translate into more spending as a future administration finds itself rebuilding the military that Obama’s people junked.
Defense spending still represents less than 5 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. That is about half of what it was at the height of the Cold War. Obama is trying to push it back down to the 3 percent that it was under the Clinton administration, which might be more defensible if he had managed to resolve any of the two wars he inherited so that future military intervention became an unlikely prospect. But instead his pullouts in Iraq and Afghanistan have only laid the ground for future conflicts. On top of that Obama began an entirely new conflict in Libya with unknown implications for the future, and failed to neuter the threats from North Korea and Iran.
The Clinton administration’s cuts were mildly defensible, coming as they did in a period when Americans could reasonably believe that there were no major conflicts lingering on the horizon. But no such evasion of responsibility is possible today even as the old Clinton hands are up to their old tricks while the War on Terror remains unresolved. The rose-colored glasses have been stomped underfoot in the rush to escape the Pentagon on September 11. Not even the most irresponsible foreign policy experts believes that we are entering a time of peace, and, therefore, we clearly cannot afford the luxury of unilateral disarmament.