Scalpels, Hatchets, and the Defense Budget

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Keen Edge '10 Exercise, Japan

Keen Edge '10 Exercise, Japan

It’s good to learn from Steve Benen that even House GOP leader John Boehner thinks there’s room to identify waste in the Pentagon’s enormous budget.

That said, I think it’s worth emphasizing the fact that defense spending isn’t primarily about waste. As with Medicare, in a program the size of the DOD you’re going to have some waste and it’s worth minimizing the waste, but the main reason the programs are expensive is because they’re ambitious. Medicare gives medical care, with almost no limit, to every senior citizen in America. The US Department of Defense is seeking to implement a strategy of worldwide military domination. That’s expensive. The large-scale presence of American military forces in Japan isn’t “waste” but it isn’t cheap either.

Unfortunately, as a country we have difficulty accepting the idea that there are military activities that occupy a middle ground between “waste” and “defending our freedom.” The large-scale presence of American military forces in Japan isn’t waste, but it’s not critical to the preservation of American liberty either. It’s part of an overall strategy about trying to make the United States major players in East Asian security rather than just leaving it up to China, Japan, Korea, etc. to work it out themselves. If you want to see big cuts in defense, which I think many liberals at least think they do, then you need to engage in the debate about whether or not this kind of strategy really makes sense. It’s not all $1,000 ashtrays.