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.
That’s right. According to Panetta, returning to 2007 military spending levels, and still spending about as much as the rest of the world combined — means doomsday for America. Shit, I’m laughing at him right now.
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.
When a spokesperson for a cause invents arguments as irrelevant and scaremongering as Panetta’s, while ignoring relevant data and reasoned argument, you can safely conclude you are being bullshitted. It’s long past time that Americans understood the military is, among other things, a special interest, and reacted to its lobbyists’ Be Afraid! screeching accordingly.
UPDATE: Here’s a tweet in response, from George Little, Secretary Panetta’s spokesperson at the Pentagon:
@barryeisler Calling the US mil a special interest is insulting to those who risk their lives to protect your freedom to call them that.
Well, I could be wrong in suspecting an organization — any organization — with a trillion-dollar budget might have a few interests not necessarily consonant with those of the nation at large, but maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe the Pentagon is in fact composed of and run by men so selfless that they defy all rules of human nature and bureaucratic dynamics. Maybe criticizing the trillion-dollar military bureaucracy is the same as insulting individual soldiers. If so, criticizing the Pentagon would be bad form, and maybe even unpatriotic!
Or maybe Mr. Little came up with his clever little “how dare you insult the troops” dodge because he doesn’t have the wherewithal to respond to any of my substantive arguments. In which case, Mr. Little, I must regretfully conclude that you’re just as full of shit as your boss. I’m sure being the Pentagon Press Secretary and SecDef Spokesman has its perks, but wouldn’t you rather have some integrity?