In today's Washington Post, one Willard Mitt Romney — you remember him — has penned an op-ed lamenting the fact that the United States military has grown so itty-bitty that it's left us unable to accomplish anything on the world stage. In an epic feat of straw-man construction, Romney boldly takes on those who want to leave America defended by nothing more than a few pea shooters and sling shots, demanding that we vastly increase our defense budget. Let's take a look at some of what he has to say:
Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State (a terrorist threat "beyond anything that we've seen," according to the defense secretary ) threatens — and Washington slashes the military. Reason stares.
"Reason stares"? I'll have to confess my ignorance of whatever literary reference Mitt is tossing in here (the Google machine is unhelpful on this score, so I can't be the only one who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about), but is Washington really "slashing" the military? According to the most recent budget documents, the total defense budget for 2014 is $620 billion; the Pentagon wants just over $600 billion for 2015. That's a bit less than we spent in the last few years (the budget peaked in 2011 at over $700 billion), but that's in large part because we're no longer fighting in Iraq and we're winding down our war in Afghanistan; budget sequestration also imposed some cuts. We still account for over a third of the entire world's military spending. It hardly seems like we're "jettison[ing] our reliance on U.S. strength," as Romney asserts. Let's move on…
Some argue that the United States should simply withdraw its military strength from the world — get out of the Middle East, accept nuclear weapons in Iran and elsewhere, let China and Russia have their way with their neighbors and watch from the sidelines as jihadists storm on two or three continents. Do this, they contend, and the United States would be left alone.
"Some argue"? Who are these "some"? He won't say, because no one is actually arguing those things. Some also claim that Mitt Romney employs a team of commandos who kidnap small children and bring them before their master so he can feast on their sweet flesh, but I emphatically reject that charge, no matter what "some" would have you believe.
Mitt then argues that the fact that we have a huge military budget only conceals our true weakness:
More relevant is the fact that Russia's nuclear arsenal is significantly greater than our own and that, within six years, China will have more ships in its navy than we do. China already has more service members. Further, our military is tasked with many more missions than those of other nations: preserving the freedom of the seas, the air and space; combating radical jihadists; and preserving order and stability around the world as well as defending the United States.
I'll agree that we deploy our military to the four corners of the globe more than any other nation. But look at what Mitt is concerned about. Russia has more nuclear bombs than we do! When we launch an all-out nuclear exchange with them and every human being on the planet has either been vaporized or is dying of radiation poisoning, they may be able to continue to drop bombs on the scarred moonscape that once was America! My question is this: why has Romney not addressed the mineshaft gap? And how can we possibly feel safe when the day comes that China has more ships than we do? After all, a lengthy sea war with the Reds is all but inevitable.
Romney doesn't mention a single conflict — past, present, or future — that would turn out differently if our military was bigger. For instance, he's very concerned about Ukraine. And if we had an even larger military, then...what? We'd be happy to start a war with Russia? Or if we boosted our military spending then it would change the calculation of some other adversary?
The fact is that we face plenty of challenging foreign policy situations around the world. Romney ticks off many of them. But in not a single one, or in all of them combined, is the problem that we don't have enough guns and bombs to do the job. We don't want Iran to become a nuclear power, but we also really don't want to invade Iran to stop it from happening. It's not that we can't reduce the whole nation to an endless field of rubble, because we can. But it would be a terrible idea. ISIS presents a conundrum, but that's not because we don't have a sizeable enough force to take them on; the problem is that launching a re-invasion of Iraq and a new invasion of Syria would create more problems for us than it would solve. Russia's actions in Ukraine are deeply troubling, but the outcome of events there won't be determined by whether we have sufficient stockpiles to defeat Russia in a land war. We do, but that's not the issue.
Like most conservatives, Romney fetishizes "strength" as the sole determining factor in any international conflict and the essence of leadership. And this is what so infuriates them about the current president: Barack Obama understands, and isn't afraid to say, that strength may be important, but it's not enough, and sometimes it's utterly beside the point.
Now wipe away a tear as Mitt closes:
Washington politicians are poised to make a historic decision, for us, for our descendants and for the world. Freedom and peace are in the balance. They will choose whether to succumb to the easy path of continued military hollowing or to honor their constitutional pledge to protect the United States.
Yes, freedom and peace are in the balance. Increase military spending, and all international challenges will melt before us like the frost on spring's first morning; cut that spending by a few billion, and freedom will die a quick death. With informed, sophisticated thinking like that, it's a wonder this guy didn't get elected president.