This is a start. Not a very good start, but a start. Panetta is talking about cutting back some of the unnecessary increases of the last decade, not actually reducing military spending to a reasonable level.
The looming cuts inevitably force decisions on the scope and future of the American military. If, say, the Pentagon saves $7 billion over a decade by reducing the number of aircraft carriers to 10 from 11, would there be sufficient forces in the Pacific to counter an increasingly bold China? If the Pentagon saves nearly $150 billion in the next 10 years by shrinking the Army to, say, 483,000 troops from 570,000, would America be prepared for a grinding, lengthy ground war in Asia?
These questions are, frankly, stupid. Let me rephrase them.
Would 10 US carriers, backed by decades of experience in carrier operations, be sufficient to defeat China’s single barely-completed aircraft carrier that they bought from a salvage yard? Would five US carriers be up to the task?
If we were stupid enough to get involved in a major land war in Asia, would the difference between 570,000 troops and 483,000 really make a difference? Or even 250,000?
Arguments against reducing the size of the military establishment aren’t about national security. They’re about making sure that money keeps getting funneled to defense contractors (and back to the politicians, in the form of ‘campaign contributions’). Our actual military needs are tiny, and could be (and have been) served by a substantial navy (about half the size of the one we have now), and a minuscule army. Our needs are small, but the people hooked on that spending are strong.
Generals and admirals will always ask for more troops and ships. It is old wisdom that generals who go over-budget get scolded, but generals who fail get fired. Even so, our Congress spends even more on defense than the military asks for. Ask yourself why, and who is served by that spending. Is it you? Or the members of Congress, and the corporations that pay them?