After World War II, Harry Truman and Louis Johnson wanted to cut the Marine Corps; by winter 1950 what was left of it almost single-handedly saved the reputation of the collapsing U.S. military in Korea. After Vietnam, we were told there was no more need for large ground forces—until the Middle East heated up and we won the Gulf War in four days with huge ground forces. Then came massive cuts in the late 1980s and 1990s—until Iraq and Afghanistan proved that we still needed boots on the ground. So now, with President Obama’s cuts to the defense budget, the future is supposed to be all air, naval, drones, special forces, and counter-insurgency. Apparently the North Koreans will never again cross the 38th Parallel; or some rogue nation will never help plan or subsidize another 9/11; or some future European or Asian dictator will never again threaten his neighbors—or if all the latter come true, drones and missiles will suffice. I find all that hard to believe. Some other considerations:
A) There are really only two ways to audit the Obama administration's new cuts to defense—are we presently spending more on defense in terms of GDP (say, over 5%) than usual during "peacetime" and is the percentage of the federal budget inordinately devoted to defense (say, over 30%)? In truth, we are spending in the postwar age what we usually do between major wars, even though we just fought two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
B) Yes, it could be wise to shift emphasis to Asia, but Europe was where most American lives were lost in the 20th century. We do not yet know the strategic ramifications of the unwinding of the EU. NATO ('keep Germany down, Russia out, and the U.S. in') is now a cocktail-party construct, and will fade away without a strong U.S presence. An ascendant Turkey has always bullied Greece when the former was confident and the latter weak, and there are lots of hot spots from the Ionian coast to Cyprus. The Balkans are not settled yet, and the democratic futures of the former Soviet Republics are still up in the air. Libya would have been impossible without US/NATO bases in Italy.
C) The military is not all fighting and hardware. The training offered 1 million youths is in many cases superior to what they now find on today's college campuses. They leave the military with skills and responsibilities, and without student loans; all too often, in contrast, our twenty-something students pile up debt without skills or real learning on contemporary campuses. We trust 20-year olds in the military to guide $100 million jets on carriers; in contrast, I find it dangerous to walk across a campus parking lot with 20-year-old students running through stop signs.
D) The drawdown is not occurring in a vacuum, but is the bookend of a loud new 'reset'/'lead from behind' strategy that deprecates traditional allies like Britain and Israel while failing miserably in outreach to supposedly new neutrals like Syria and Iran—all in a landscape of bowing, apologizing, and Cairo speechifying. All of these developments serve as force multipliers to the military retrenchment and confirm the impression of our enemies that the world is now entirely negotiable in a way not true four years ago. The unspoken irony is that the military and our anti-terrorism protocols served Obama well when he arrived: he found a quiet Iraq with almost no monthly American casualties, a decimated al Qaeda (largely destroyed in Iraq), anti-terrorism measures that had foiled over 30 plots against the mainland (and were all demagogued by candidate Obama before President Obama embraced them), major powers like China, Russia, and Iran wary of pressing the U.S., allies like Japan, Taiwan, Germany, and South Korea secure under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and the most seasoned and experienced U.S. military in generations.
E) The new $500 billion cuts must be considered against the nearly $5 trillion Obama has borrowed since assuming office, in addition to what he will borrow this next year. A defense budget that was tolerable prior to 2008 becomes apparently unsustainable with expenditures for Obamacare, vast new green projects like Solyndra, expansions in food stamps and unemployment insurance, and vast increases in the size of the non-military federal government. At least with the military our money earns safety and deterrence, while with Obama's massive new Keynesian projects we do not get more jobs, more energy production, or more wealth created -- only more dependency, more class strife and 1% vs. 99% class warfare, as one's status is not judged by absolute material standards but only in relationship to being worse off than someone wealthier. Some of us might prefer a new frigate manned by professionally trained American youth to another resurrection of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, another cash infusion into GM, yet another failed private/public windmill or solar factory, or another 20 weeks tacked on in unemployment insurance to the increasingly dispirited jobless.