In that year of happy memory, 1972, George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for president, declared he would chop defense by fully one-third.
A friendly congressman was persuaded to ask Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to expatiate on what this might mean.
The Pentagon replied the Sixth Fleet might have to be pulled out of the Med, leaving Israel without U.S. protection against the fleet of Adm. Sergei Gorshkov, and provided the congressman a list of U.S. bases that would have to be shut down.
Radio ads were run in the towns closest to the bases on the Pentagon list, declaring they would be closed and all jobs terminated, should McGovern win.
Something akin to this is going on with the impending sequester.
A cut of 7 percent, $46 billion, in Pentagon spending, says Army chief Ray Odierno, will mean a “hollowing” out of his force.
The Navy? The carrier Harry Truman will not be sailing to the Persian Gulf. The Abraham Lincoln will not be overhauled in Newport News. Thousands of jobs will be lost.
Reporter Rowan Scarborough writes that the Air Force has produced “a map of the U.S. that shows state-by-state the millions of dollars lost to local economies,” should the guillotine fall.
Military aid to Israel may be cut, says John Kerry.
But if an evisceration of the national defense is imminent, why did Obama not tell us in 2012? Why were the joint chiefs silent, when they are panicked now? Are the generals, admirals and contractors all crying wolf?
Undeniably, spending cuts by sequester slicer, chopping all equally, is mindless. And with the national security, it manifests a failure of both parties to come to terms with the world we are now in.
The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is gone. Mao’s China is gone, though a mightier China has emerged, as America’s share of the global economy is shrinking. Moreover, as ex-chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen contends, our greatest strategic threat is not Kim Jong Un or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the soaring national debt.
And if, as Republicans insist, we have a debt crisis because we are “spending too much,” spending will have to be cut – discretionary spending, entitlements and defense. And the only question about the defense cuts is not whether they are coming, but where.
What is needed is what America, since the collapse of the Soviet Empire, has stubbornly resisted doing: a strategic review of all U.S. commitments abroad to determine which remain vital to the national security. Before we decide what our defense forces should be, let us determine what is in the U.S. vital interest to defend at risk of war.
Start with NATO. In 1961, President Eisenhower urged JFK to bring home the U.S. forces and let the Europeans raise the armies to defend themselves, lest they become military dependencies.
Yet, more than 20 years after the Wall fell, the Red Army went home, East Europe broke free and the Soviet Union fell apart, we have scores of thousands of troops in Europe.
Why? The European Union’s economy is 10 times that of Russia. Europe’s population is twice Russia’s.
Why are we still there?
Though we have given NATO war guarantees to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, our McCainiacs want them handed out to Ukraine and Georgia. Yet no president in his right mind is going to go to war with a nuclear-armed Russia over some Caucasus dustup or Baltic brawl.
If Richard Nixon could achieve a modus vivendi with Chairman Mao, have we no statesman who can patch it up with Vladimir Putin? A first step might be to pull all U.S. missiles out of Eastern Europe and put our democracy-meddlers on the next plane out of Moscow.
Even as Ike was telling JFK to bring the troops home from Europe, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was urging JFK not to put his foot soldiers in Asia – advice not taken there, either.
On retirement, Robert Gates said any future defense secretary who advises a president to fight another land war in Asia ought to have his head examined. So why do we have 28,000 U.S. troops in Korea and 50,000 in Japan?
In his Guam Doctrine, Nixon declared that in any future Asian war, we should provide the weapons to our Asian allies and they should do the fighting. Does that not still make sense today? Before we can decide the size and shape of our defense budget, we need a consensus on what we must defend.
And if Republicans wish to remain a viable party, they cannot delegate these decisions to the “We-are-all-Georgians-now!” crowd that plunged us into Iraq and is bawling for intervention in Syria and war on Iran.
The GOP desperately needs a credible, countervailing voice to the uber-hawks whose bellicosity all but killed the party in the Bush era.
Obama is president because of them. And his most popular act, according to voter surveys from 2012? Ending the war in Iraq.