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Panetta’s Ridiculous Fear Mongering

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been proving his loyalty to his real constituents — the defense contractors, not the country or you and me — by telling anyone who would listen that a tiny cut to our defense budget would doom the nation and the world. Former CIA agent Barry Eisler bluntly says he’s full of shit.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants you to be scared.

In a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Panetta warned that after possible cuts in the military budget, “we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”

Which would be pretty damn bad… if we wound up having to go to war with America’s 1940 army, 1915 navy, or some historical version of America’s Air Force. If we’re lucky, though, and don’t have to go to war with past incarnations of our military, Panetta’s comparison is logically nearly irrelevant. In fact, even the most massive cuts currently under consideration would return American military spending only to 2007 levels. So as long as we don’t have to go to war with our 2007 military, we should be okay.

If Panetta had been interested in logical relevance, though, he wouldn’t have referred to the past at all. He would have focused on the present, and in the present, we spend more on our military than the rest of the world spends combined. And we spend more than five times more on our military than the second biggest military spender, which is China (numbers 3 and 4 are France and the UK, American allies).

But Panetta doesn’t want you to know these numbers. If you did, you might laugh at him when he describes military cuts as meaning “doomsday” for America.

And Panetta’s arguments just get worse and worse:

The rest of Panetta’s Very Scary Letter is equally misleading. “You cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building,” he warns. Well, true, three quarters of a ship wouldn’t be very useful. I mean, it would be like three quarters of a bullet, or something! But you could settle for, I don’t know, say, nine out of the twelve new ships you wanted — three quarters overall. Either Panetta is too stupid to know this, or he’s hoping the public is too stupid to notice it for him.

The closest Panetta comes to anything specific about America’s defense needs is to note that cuts would be bad for contractors. At which point, you start to get a feel for what really drives him and who he really represents.

Now here’s the most ridiculous part. Faced with these very reasonable criticisms, Panetta’s spokesperson responded with this Tweet:

@barryeisler Calling the US mil a special interest is insulting to those who risk their lives to protect your freedom to call them that.

Ah, of course, the “why do you demean our troops” response whenever anyone dares to question whether the military should be getting such a huge chunk of our money or should be invading nations full of brown people every few years. It’s the kind of thing that is laughable to all but the most deluded simpleton. Eisler didn’t insult American soldiers, for crying out loud; he said that Panetta’s arguments about why a miniscule cut in the defense budget would destroy the world are false. And they are. Instead of responding to those perfectly valid criticisms, he responds with emotional demagoguery. With Democrats like Panetta, who needs Republicans?

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    Which would be pretty damn bad… if we wound up having to go to war with America’s 1940 army, 1915 navy, or some historical version of America’s Air Force.

    O Crikey. The naval and air battles wouldn’t even be close, the technology has improved so much. One F15 and one A10 could pretty much wipe out the opposition. Technology has improved for the Army as well, but there numbers probably make still make a little bit of difference.

  2. eric says

    Its Panetta who is actually demeaning the troops. Consider for the moment which of these two people really has a lower opinion of military personnel: the guy who thinks we absolutely need 100 soldiers to accomplish some mission (and objects to cutting any billets whatsoever), or the guy who thinks we need 10 soldiers to do the same mission.

  3. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    [The quality of Leon Panetta's argument is] the kind of thing that is laughable to all but the most deluded simpleton.

    Yeah, but we need a majority.

    [H/T to Adlai Stevenson, who helped sink his campaign making that quip.]

  4. says

    If Defense can’t be cut and Defense is the only Stimulus that’s acceptable to both sides then you should cut the dumb defense programs (say, those designed to fight the Cold War) and expand the Army Corps of Engineers, which can fix the roads, bridges, sewers and power grid (among others) that so desperately need repair. It’s win-win, where “win” is defined somewhat pragmatically.

  5. eric says

    One F15 and one A10 could pretty much wipe out the [past, historical] opposition.

    Even today, one B-2 with nukes could conceivably wipe out most smaller countries armed with even the latest technology. In terms of weight, it can carry over 40 B-61 nukes. That’s one plane.

    We have to stop thinking about downsizing as a failure and realize that, at least for some missions, downsizing is a sign of success.

  6. interrobang says

    Speaking as a non-American, I’m still trying to figure out exactly who else’s “freedom” the US thinks it’s protecting, not to mention what definition of “freedom” they’re using. (It seems from outside roughly analogous to what Republicans and Republicanoids mean when they say “democracy,” which is to say laissez-faire capitalism.) And since that’s the appearance, it looks far more demeaning to the members of the actual US military to call them euphemistically “defenders of freedom” (or less euphemistically, racketeers for the modern-day equivalent of United Fruit, perhaps?) than otherwise.

    Personally, the single greatest threat to my actual freedom as it stands are the right-wing legislators here who capitulate to everything the US wants, effectively removing our right to self-determination. (I’m in the 60% who *didn’t* vote for the bastards.) Far as I can tell, the US having more war toys won’t do a damn thing about that situation.

  7. says

    If Panetta had been interested in logical relevance, though, he wouldn’t have referred to the past at all. He would have focused on the present, and in the present, we spend more on our military than the rest of the world spends combined. And we spend more than five times more on our military than the second biggest military spender, which is China (numbers 3 and 4 are France and the UK, American allies).

    I really wish bludgeoning people with accurate statistics was more rhetorically effective.

  8. says

    “The closest Panetta comes to anything specific about America’s defense needs is to note that cuts would be bad for contractors. At which point, you start to get a feel for what really drives him and who he really represents.”

    There it is in a nutshell.

  9. Michael Heath says

    interrobang:

    Speaking as a non-American, I’m still trying to figure out exactly who else’s “freedom” the US thinks it’s protecting, not to mention what definition of “freedom” they’re using.

    The rise of the global economy post-WWII was accomplished partly because of the U.S. projecting power beyonds it borders in ways that enabled commerce and trade to develop. This strategy vastly increased assurances of supply which promoted capital investment and cheaper consumer prices. In fact this negative external cost is borne on the backs of the U.S. taxpayers in spite of benefitting much of humanity.

    I happen to think we project power in places where it’s no longer beneficial to the U.S. and we should either leave or collect revenues by those countries who do benefit. I also happen to believe an engaged foreign policy stance that awards those who most protect human rights and exercise freer trade is far superior than military threats. But my positions can not claim to cancel-out the benefit of the larger strategy.

    I also think that successful strategies always ultimately begin to fail, primarily because conditions change (Management 401). From this perspective I would argue our past success is most likely turning into future failures since we haven’t adequately adjusted to the new global environment. One, we don’t need to protect Japan or Europe, and two, we do need to new way of projecting power in the Pacific in a way that insures China’s new sea lanes from Africa do not tempt them to develop their economy by way of force or slow-walk the advance of human rights in their country and now Africa where they are a very large influential player.

  10. wscott says

    Personally, I agree that some level of spending cuts are long overdue. However…

    we spend more on our military than the rest of the world spends combined

    Not quite, at least according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures.
    US Military Expenditures = $687B
    Everyone else combined = $861B
    Not to say $687B isn’t still a lot of money, of course. But partly that’s because we’re such a rich nation. If you look at military spending as a percentage of GDP, the US comes in at #10.
    Also, I think it’s important to differentiate between spending and troop strength. Yes we spend more money than anyone else, but in terms of actual number of personnel, we’re in 7th place. (Or 2nd if you only count active duty personnel.) And if you look at troop strength per capita, we’re way down at 62nd. (Or 49th if you only count active duty personnel.) Spending matters, obviously; all that expensive technology is a tremendous force multiplier. But you still have to have a base to multiply. And the problem is that all the increased spending of the last decade has not translated into increases in troop strength. Our military personnel (particularly combat arms personnel in the Army & Marines) are stretched way too thin to cover all our commitments, with serious effects on readiness, retention & morale.
    I’m not defending Panetta’s overly simplistic argument. But Eisler’s response is in some ways equally simplistic. Number of soldiers, ships & planes isn’t everything – but it’s not nothing.

  11. wscott says

    @ Michael Heath: Great points. One question –

    One, we don’t need to protect Japan or Europe, and two, we do need to new way of projecting power in the Pacific

    Many (most?) people I hear defending our continued presense in Europe & Japan do so not in terms of defending those countries, but as forward bases to maintain our ability to project power overseas. So if you feel that power projection is a good or necessary thing (I happen to agree), in what way do you think those forces are not well situated to do so?

  12. says

    In fairness to the Military-Industrial Complex, our military are so stretched and strapped by Republican wars and tax cuts that they really can’t afford that many more cuts — especially since a) we still have a rapidly-advancing China to worry about; b) there’s still that Arab Spring/Islamist Winter thing going on, and there’s no telling what sort of war we might find ourselves stuck in if anything goes badly wrong; and c) remember global warming? The military have to plan (and have been planning) for the chaos that might cause.

  13. Michael Heath says

    wscott to me:

    Many (most?) people I hear defending our continued presense in Europe & Japan do so not in terms of defending those countries, but as forward bases to maintain our ability to project power overseas. So if you feel that power projection is a good or necessary thing (I happen to agree), in what way do you think those forces are not well situated to do so?

    I agree with projecting power overseas while seeing those bases as ginormous overkill for the regions they serve. Overkill that forces us to spend too much on guns rather than butter while Japan and W. Europe spends more on butter because our expenditures on guns. The action we should be increasingly interested is in South Asia, on both sides of India, along with an increased need to maintain security for oil supply chains, especially out of the Middle East (where gas lines are also increasing). Africa will become increasingly interesting as well as we run into increased supply crunches for commodities they supply.

    The history of the last Bush presidency in its early tenure was the history of his bringing in Cold War warriors whose comfort zone was fighting the Cold War. Obama has been mostly reacting to Bush’s mistakes though a recent announcement to increase our military footprint in W. Australia illustrates he may get it and be able to convince others what foreign policy experts and economists have long known.

  14. Chris from Europe says

    Overkill that forces us to spend too much on guns rather than butter while Japan and W. Europe spends more on butter because our expenditures on guns.

    I don’t think there’s evidence for these claims. Given that both Japan and Germany spend money to cover part of the costs of the US bases, I think it’s simply bullshit.

  15. dingojack says

    Chris – but if the Ameriacns weren’t around, the Germans (& etc.) would have to pay for a whole small base, instead of half a ginormo one. Probably it would be a net saving.
    ;) Dingo

  16. wscott says

    @ Michael Heath: Good points, and thanks for the response. I agree about Africa & SE Asia. I would argue that our forces in Japan are needed for their proximity to China, Taiwan & North Korea. Europe is a harder case to defend, although their proximity to the Middle East is certainly useful. (Most ground forces for both Iraq wars came from European bases.) It’s a question of priorities, really, and again brings us back to the question of how many soldiers/ships/planes we need, not just how much money we’re willing to spend.

    Whatever the “right” level of forces is that America needs – and we can certainly debate what that level is – some of those forces have to be forward-deployed to be at all useful. And it’s not necessarily cheaper to do so, compared to stationing them at home. (Tho I confess I don’t have detailed numbers to support this claim – if anyone does, I’d be interested to see them.)

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