I've seen this happen twice before and the results weren't pretty. We did this after Viet Nam, and we did it during the so-called "Peace dividend" era. Both created a hollow military and required massive spending to bring us up to par again:
For all of his lavish new spending plans, President Obama is making one major exception: defense. His fiscal 2010 budget telegraphs that Pentagon spending is going to be under pressure in the years going forward.
The White House proposes to spend $533.7 billion on the Pentagon, a 4% increase over 2009. Include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, which would be another $130 billion (or a total of $664 billion), and overall defense spending would be around 4.2% of GDP, the same as 2007.
However, that 4% funding increase for the Pentagon trails the 6.7% overall rise in the 2010 budget -- and defense received almost nothing extra in the recent stimulus bill. The Joint Chiefs requested $584 billion for 2010 and have suggested a spending floor of 4% of GDP. Both pleas fell on deaf ears. The White House budget puts baseline defense spending at 3.7% of GDP, not including Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget summary pleads "scarce resources" for the defense shortfall, which is preposterous given the domestic spending blowout.
More ominously, Mr. Obama's budget has overall defense spending falling sharply starting in future years -- to $614 billion in 2011, and staying more or less flat for a half decade. This means that relative both to the economy and especially to domestic priorities, defense spending is earmarked to decline. Some of this assumes less spending on Iraq, which is realistic, but it also has to take account of Mr. Obama's surge in Afghanistan. That war won't be cheap either.
The danger is that Mr. Obama may be signaling a return to the defense mistakes of the 1990s. Bill Clinton slashed defense spending to 3% of GDP in 2000, from 4.8% in 1992. We learned on 9/11 that 3% isn't nearly enough to maintain our commitments and fight a war on terror -- and President Bush spent his two terms getting back to more realistic outlays for a global superpower.
American defense needs are, if anything, even more daunting today. Given challenges in the Mideast and new dangers from Iran, an erratic Russia, a rising China, and potential threats in outer space and cyberspace, the U.S. should be in the midst of a concerted military modernization. Mr. Obama's budget isn't adequate to meet those challenges.
Spending for defense is one of the few Constitutionally mandated requirements of government. Yes, we're certainly going through financial difficulties and yes, we should all share the sacrifice that entails. But as the article points out, that's not the case here.
A technological edge is a combat multiplier. Developing those technological advances takes time and money. That sort of development should be and remain a top priority for any government.
Certainly we can all appreciate the fact that there is waste, fraud and abuse within the procurement system. And we can all agree that should be rooted out. That too should be a priority.
But as I'm reading this, we're not talking about shared sacrifice, we're talking about programmed cuts over the years aimed at reducing overall defense spending (while fighting a war) to a lesser amount of the GDP. As the article says, at some point (especially with an expansion of personnel in the Army and Marine Corps) we're not going to have enough to maintain our commitments and fight the war on terror (even if we aren't supposed to refer to it as that anymore).
This is a dangerous path and one we've been on before. Lawmakers need to realize that while this sort of thing may save money in the short run, in the long run it usually ends up costing American lives. And given the recent glowing promises by the administration, that's just unacceptable. Nobody is asking for a blank check, but what we are asking for are the funds necessary to keep our commitments, build for future threats, keep our technological edge and keep the finest military the world has ever seen at its current level of training and effectiveness.