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Best Defense

I don’t know why the folks who like to call Obama “warmonger” aren’t jumping up and down with praise for his decision to do away with the “two war strategy.” If you’re actually interested in seeing America spend less on defense, this is huge. If, on the other hand, you are a clueless leftie who lets Glenn Greenwald do all your thinking, this will mean nothing to you:

The review sets forth potentially big changes in U.S. strategy, including, the official said, removing up to 4,000 troops from Europe and downsizing the overall ground forces even further. The 2012 budget request already called for cuts of 27,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines in the next four years, and those numbers could increase.

The military would not maintain its ability to wage two large conflicts at the same time, such as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, the official said.

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a little policy document that explains what the United States Department of Defense is thinking as it makes long-term plans. I still have a couple of Clinton-era QDRs published in slick color; the two-war strategy, in which the United States maintained force levels sufficient to fight two simultaneous major land wars, is the most critical and expensive passage in them.

For the most taxpayer-despoiling weapon in the American arsenal is not a plane or a ship, but an armored division at war. Soldiers require food, fuel, ammunition, mail, laundry, and the mountain of spare parts necessary to keep their weapons and vehicles running. Shrinking the active force is therefore the single biggest way to reduce defense expenditures. At last, austerity fever has infected the Pentagon:

The Obama administration’s annual budget proposal will be released in February. Some details were contained in a Nov. 29 Office of Management and Budget document sent to the Pentagon that provided broad outlines for a fiscal 2013-2017 plan.

Defense spending in 2013 would be reduced about 1 percent from this year’s $518 billion spending plan before growing 1.8 percent in 2014 and 2.3 percent in 2015, dropping 1.9 percent in 2016 and rising 2.2 percent in 2017, according to the 23-page document.

The defense plan for 2012 to 2021 calls for $5.652 trillion in spending, according to the budget office. It calculated that the total defense cut mandated by budget-reduction legislation over those years is $488 billion, or about an 8.5 percent decrease.

Predictably, the actual warmongers are losing their shit. If the United States does not maintain the ability to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time, then any future George Bushes will be sorely disappointed. In WWII, America could put a million men in uniform, arm and equip them, and ship the lot across an ocean in one year; that is no longer how things work.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon (R-CA) calls the new QDR a “lead from behind strategy,” by which he means aggressive invasions of foreign countries will be harder to do. Once again, bipartisan agreement becomes a source of partisan angst. Heather Hurlburt at HuffPo:

Some of these reforms will gore particular regional oxen — Connecticut on submarines, for example. Gates and then Panetta have moved carefully and worked hard to bring the Pentagon with them, limiting the flow of outraged leaks. The overall strategic frame is not easy to argue with. But given that the President’s leading rival has argued for increasing US defense spending to a permanent 4% of GDP, adding 100,000 US ground troops and increasing annual shipbuilding from nine to fifteen — and that Rick Santorum, this week’s anti-Romney, has called for land invasions of Iran and Syria — it’s a safe bet that the 1970s-vintage “Democrats-Gut-the-Military” press releases are already loaded.

Thomas Mahken is less strident at Foreign Policy:

Regarding commitments, the report projects continuity. The president’s preface informs us that the review was “shaped by America’s enduring national security interests,” and that the military will “focus on a broader range of challenges” but will be “ready for the full range of contingencies.” Secretary of Defense Panetta adds that the United States will be ready to “confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world.”

The administration would have us believe that the United States will be able to do all these things with forces that are “smaller and leaner.” In fact, however, the U.S. Navy is already the smallest it has been since before the United States entered World War I, and the U.S. Air Force is the smallest it has ever been. One can reasonably question just how much smaller the U.S. military can get while allowing the United States to maintain its traditional role.

The Navy and the Air Force have kept shrinking the same way that America’s manufacturing labor force has. The average ship in WWII hosted many sailors to achieve what one sailor can now do alone with a computer. The best defense isn’t the biggest, or the highest-tech, or the one with the most bases, but the one that accomplishes the mission without sucking taxpayers dry.

Adding: ThinkProgress reports that William Kristol is blasting the QDR. IMO the president is making all the right enemies here.

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