In the crush of emotion surrounding the horrible shooting in Tucson, a potentially far more momentous disaster is unfolding before our eyes.
The capable secretary of defense, Robert Gates, has announced that he will be making serious cuts in the defense budget over the next several years. The newspapers say he is doing this under pressure from the White House.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the charming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the announcement along with Gates. Mullen said that these cuts had to be done to save the nation from supposedly grave fiscal dangers.
Let me please make a few urgent points here.
1. There are no cases in known history where large industrial powers have collapsed and been taken over by foreign powers because of budgetary problems. That has never happened. Budget problems are serious, but they have never been life threatening and certainly are not now for the United States.
2.The United States is by far the most heavily armed nation in the world. But even so, we are grossly underarmed for what faces us.
We are all alone in the world, basically. We do not have one well-armed friend on the planet except for Israel and to a lesser extent, Taiwan and South Korea.
Facing us are over 1 billion extremely unsettled Muslims, most of whom, according to polling data, do not wish us well. Facing us in Korea is a fantastically heavily armed North Korea, led by an actual madman who seems to have no fear of war.
Facing us in the Middle East is a very well-armed Iran, getting closer month by month to getting nuclear weapons.
Now, think about this. We have a military of roughly 1.55 million active duty personnel. Of these, many fewer than 500,000 are actually combat soldiers ready for combat.
These men and women are heavily tied down facing a terrorist force of at most a few thousand in Afghanistan and what is now largely garrison duty in Iraq. These two small but bitter wars are consuming most of what we have in combat readiness and wearing it down.
What would we do if Kim Jong Il sent 600,000 screaming North Korean soldiers across the 38th parallel into South Korea? We have roughly 35,000 soldiers there. They would not be able to hold Seoul ( close to the border ) for long unless we used nuclear weapons. But Kim Jong Il has nuclear weapons, too, and could use them against Japan if we went nuclear. What would we do?
The People’s Republic of China has the largest army on the globe. It is nowhere near as well equipped in up-to-the-minute weaponry as we are, but in terms of size, they dwarf anything we could throw at them if they decided to invade Taiwan.
Agreed, Taiwan is a well-armed country, and there is a lot of water between mainland China and Taipei. But China could build ships. They apparently can build anything.
Iran has a large army, again, nowhere near as well equipped as ours, but perilously close to Saudi Arabia. Iran will soon have nukes. What do we do if Ahmadinejad invades Saudi Arabia? What can we do?
For the threats we face, we are pitifully underarmed. To propose to cut our forces in a world as dangerous as ours is extremely dicey. If Kim, the Chinese, and Iran all got together and decided to act at the same time, we would be handed a big card with a sign that read, “Notice: You are now a second-class power. You will be taking orders from Beijing now.”
Is that what we want?
3. We are not spending a lot on defense compared with other postwar eras. In the 1950s, and early 1960s, we spent about 10 percent of GDP and we were extremely prosperous. In 2010, we spent about 4 percent and we are in a miserable, grinding recession.
We can afford to spend adequately on defense. Nations that do not spend what is needed do not survive, certainly not as free countries.
4. An adequate defense is the absolute No. 1 imperative for America.
Mr. Obama, Secretary Gates, please think about this again.
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