The first-rate idiots behind the new second-rate power

“It will begin. It will last ten years. It will be good for the economy. It will be very helpful,” anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist said recently. The “it” he refers to is what’s become known as “the sequester” — automatic spending cuts in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that were originally proposed and then signed into law by President Barack Obama, after being passed by both Houses of Congress.

Since everyone from Mr. Obama to the backest-bench blowhard congressman argues that we need to curtail out-of-control deficit spending, the idea was to propose some actual cuts . . . off in the future, mind you. Moreover, these particular spending cuts were designed to be so unpalatable to both Republican and Democratic politicians that both sides would be forced to come together, at some point, to agree on more thoughtful reductions in spending. The time to do this? Back then, that dreaded far flung future was today.

Add time management to the long list of Washington’s failures.

That both parties kicked the can down the road back in 2011, that they concocted and armed what they intended to be a mini-doomsday machine, and that these two colorful armies of partisan Dr. Strangeloves could not come together to disarm their creation is stunningly no surprise at all.

Now, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta steps down, he complains again that, “If sequester takes place, and we suddenly have another half a trillion dollars [over ten years] that I got to take out of the defense budget, in an across-the-board fashion, frankly, the defense strategy we put in place I’d have to throw out the window.”

Sorry to hear that, Mr. Secretary. Perhaps that’s why, as recently as last September, a Pentagon spokesperson admitted “we have not begun any planning efforts” to address the looming 7.3 percent reduction in military spending for 2013. (Were none of the Pentagon big-shots ever Boy Scouts?)

The exclamation point in Panetta’s testimony before Congress last week was his conclusion that, “Instead of being a first-rate power in the world, we’d turn into a second-rate power. That would be the result of sequester.”

Hmmm. Doesn’t sound very safe. We’re not talking about losing farm subsidies for wealthy corporate farm companies or free cellphones for those on the receiving end of other welfare programs or the money to reward green-energy cronies. The military keeps us safe . . . when it’s not blowing up bad guys (along with women and children) in countries most of us can’t find on the map.

What Panetta and others decrying these supposedly “massive” cuts don’t bother to mention is anything about the actual numbers. The U.S. Government spent $711 billion on the military in 2011 — more than the next twelve nations combined.

The next closest are China and Russia. In 2011, China spent $143 billion on its military and Russia $72 billion. Yet, a number of recent media reports hype the fact that in coming years military spending in China and Russia may eclipse the U.S., when figured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. But China’s GDP is less than half of ours and Russia’s GDP compares at only 12 percent.

If, after sequestration, we become a second-rate power, it’s comforting to realize there would certainly be no first-rate powers ahead of us.

“So if you imagine for every dollar spent on militaries in the world, 40 cents of it is spent by the U.S. and roughly . . . another 45 cents of it is spent by our allies,” explains Peter W. Singer, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “If sequestration happens, we go from spending about 40 cents out of every dollar to about 38 cents out of every dollar. So you decline, but not by this massive amount.”

Moreover, when it comes to national defense, cutting our dangerous deficit spending is the most important action we can take. As Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argues, “Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.”

Of course, there is still time before March 1 to avoid these cuts. Obama calls for a balanced approach by raising taxes and making other cuts — unlike the fix fashioned over New Year’s in which no cuts were made and only tax increases imposed.

This time, however, smart Republicans like Mr. Norquist and columnist Charles Krauthammer realize it is Mr. Obama who is squirming and they are warning their brethren not to cave to the president. “This is the one time Republicans can get cuts under an administration that has no intent of cutting anything,” Krauthammer wrote recently. “Get them while you can.”

Indeed, the GOP-controlled House has already passed legislation replacing the sequestration cuts with different but equivalent spending reductions. President Obama can choose which cuts he prefers.

Besides, he can console himself: even with these cuts, Obama can still go down in history as the nation’s all-time biggest deficit spender.      [references, citations]