Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week outlined a new five-year budget plan for the Pentagon that would shrink the Army to its smallest size since 1940, cancel expensive weapons systems, and rein in military pay increases and benefits. Obama administration officials said the proposed budget would save hundreds of billions of dollars by taking the military off its post-9/11 war footing while leaving it capable of defeating any aggressor, but acknowledged that the U.S. would no longer be able to wage two wars at once. “If we continue on the current course without making these modest adjustments now,” Hagel said, “the choices will only grow more difficult and painful down the road.”
This budget amounts to “an announcement of American retreat,” said NationalReview.com in an editorial. Serious threats still face the U.S. in both Asia and the Middle East. Supporters of big cuts in U.S. armed strength ought to tell the rest of us just how America’s military readiness in those regions has become less essential. “We suspect Americans won’t buy it.” Hagel himself conceded that the cuts would entail “some increased levels of risk”—which sounds like “a careful way to say a very dangerous thing.”
Hold on here, said Kevin Drum in MotherJones.com. “President Obama is fighting cuts to the military, not demanding them.” True, under this proposal we’d have a smaller Army, but Hagel’s overall budget proposal is actually $115 billion above the ceiling currently imposed by the Republican-dominated Congress under the sequester.
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And please, could we stop talking about the size of the U.S. Army in World War II? said Kori Schake in ForeignPolicy.com. America today has no enemies that come anywhere close to the threat Hitler’s forces posed in the 1940s. And thanks to technological progress, better training, and “dramatically increased firepower,” the U.S. military of 2014 is far more potent than it was in 2001. Nevertheless, Hagel wields scant leverage on Capitol Hill, especially among Republicans, and Congress is sure to push back hard against many of his proposed cuts—especially reducing future increases in military salaries and benefits. “There’s little likelihood that the budget Hagel gets will much resemble the budget that Hagel is requesting.”
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