Leon Panetta, who holds the position that we used to more usefully call “Secretary of War,” makes a weak case. Panetta considers $350 billion over 10 years, or $35 billion per year, to be serious cuts to the national security budget. But consider the budger from which that is to be cut. It includes, each year, about $545 billion for the “base” military budget, at least $200 billion extra each year for wars (Panetta uses Afghanistan and Libya as reasons not to cut spending, and Congress has never yet appropriated a dime for Libya), $71 billion for “Homeland” security, $19 billion for nuclear weapons, $8 billion for a miscellaneous Pentagon slush fund, $53 billion (that we know of) for spying and secret operations agencies, $129 billion for veterans, $18 billion for military “aid” and other foreign affairs, $68 billion for pensions, $185 billion for debt interest, and additional major budgets for the State Department and U.S.A.I.D. (Panetta has also cited the State Dept. as a concern.)
In other words, we’re talking about subtracting $35 billion from well over a trillion. That’s a cut of less than 3.5 percent.
China spends about $114 billion per year on its military. No other nation spends anything remotely close to that. Let’s generously assume there are enough hidden costs in China’s budget to double it to $228 billion. And let’s assume that we must spend twice as much as they do, because . . . well, just because we’re we and they’re they. Now we’re at $456 billion. How do we get from there to Panetta describing a U.S. security budget of $965 billion as the lowest we can safely go, and a budget of $950 billion as “doomsday”? Is the danger here really and truly to the people of this country? Or is it the threat to the profits of the weapons makers that has Panetta panicking? Does that motivation also explain the Pentagon’s desire to cut benefits to troops rather than weaponry?