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Mission sleep: Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates believed the time was right to wind up "aggressive" military operations (Getty) 

Barack Obama's Stakhanovite efforts to transform America's economy and society into something akin to European-style social democracy are undergoing considerable analysis and debate, especially as the 2012 campaign steams towards November. Most presidential re-election contests are referenda on the incumbent, and this year will be no exception, despite Obama's obvious strategy to focus on almost anything but his actual record. His "spread the wealth around" slogan, industrial policy that showers favourites with subsidies and loan guarantees, turning major car manufacturers over to union ownership, and taxing the rich as if they were miscreants, all resemble the paradigm of most current or aspiring European Union members.

But Obama's driving ideology, whether he wins or loses on November 6, has already had enormous implications for the US role in the world and the very structure of the international order. By reducing not only the visibility of America's global presence, but also its military capabilities, and by shifting the federal budget even further from national security to social welfare programmes, Obama has also sought to transform the United States into Europe. Of course, the obvious question is what happens once Washington's protective shield is diminished to the point of feebleness. It was one thing for European and other industrial democracies to be free riders under the sheltering US nuclear umbrella, its strong naval forces, and its essentially global force projection capabilities. But when the only superpower doffs its cape and Lycra uniform, packs them up in the telephone booth, and becomes just another mild-mannered suit, who will then shield those free riders, not to mention a much weakened United States itself?

Obama sees American strength as provocative. He believes its nuclear arsenal is excessive, and hence worthy of reduction, without fearing in any way that shredding the nuclear deterrent might actually have profoundly deleterious consequences not only on US national security, but on security and stability in the world as a whole. He sees his presidency causing "the tide of war" to recede in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, just as his tenure will mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow". Dramatic reductions in military budgets, and the consequent devastating reductions in force levels, capabilities and weapons systems, apparently do not trouble him even slightly.  

Indeed, in purely political terms, Obama's most amazing successes have come in his evisceration of the US defence budget, something no one predicted at his 2009 inauguration. His massive stimulus package, which funded spending wish lists that ambitious bureaucrats, special interests and members of Congress had long kept hidden in their desk drawers, contained essentially no net increase in defence funding. At a time when Obama was thundering about jobs and "shovel-ready projects", precious little of either of which the stimulus actually delivered, national defence had ample prospects for both. Instead, the military was starved.

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Mark R
September 17th, 2012
3:09 PM
@John Smith – in 2012 the U.S. Military budget is about 711.0 billion. The Chinese budget is about 143 billion. I was wrong about the US budget being six times larger than the Chinese budget – it’s only 5 times larger. My mistake, I’m not sure how that’s relevant though – the US military budget is absurdly large and responsible leaders (republican or democrat) need to make deep cuts. France, UK, Germany are safe because they have militaries large enough to defend themselves. NATO has been obsolete for nearly two decades, exceedingly obsolete in the last decade, and its value will only continue to decline. You REALLY think Russia is still the threat it was during the cold war and NATO is required to keep Europe safe? It isn’t 1962 anymore. Its 2012 – soon to be 2013 and European countries are safe because they, for the most part, aren’t meddling in every conflict that erupts somewhere in the world. You cast NATO as if it’s some essential component of North American and European defense when, for the past decade and a half, it’s mostly consisted of the US simply trying to drag it’s cold war allies into foreign conflicts. If NATO were to be dissolved tomorrow countries like France, UK, and Germany would see only a marginal uptick in military spending. Not sure why you’d criticize the CDI. Strengthen national and international security through international cooperation. Seems good. Reducing reliance on unilateral military power to resolve conflict. Also seems good. Reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. Seems really good. Reforming the U.S. military establishment. Absolutely good. It’s not impartial because it finds U.S. military footprint to be too large? Coming to a rational conclusion does not make one biased. Your points are ABSOLUTELY clear: the same old cold-war, America “world police” ideology that has been irrelevant for 20 years. Find a bogey man somewhere in the world and drum up fear in the American public to justify unnecessary military spending. Yesterday it was Russia, today its terrorists, tomorrow it’s China (or maybe we’ll go back to Russia, who knows. The writers of this tired old script are running out of ideas). I’m not a leftist, I lean mostly right and the right, particularly Republicans, have been miserable failure at conducting a rational debate on the topic of military spending… but hey, if you can get people to vote against Obama and the Democrats out of fear that Putin’s gonna nuke their house, why not engage in a little fear mongering? For over decades upon decades we have lived in a country where it is acceptable to send someone’s son or daughter off to die in a foreign country for a cause that has absolutely nothing to do with National Security. If the right wants to win elections they need to wake up and realize that that is not only unacceptable it’s dangerous and represents a decline, not an increase, in the strength of our Constitutional Republic.

John Smith
September 10th, 2012
1:09 AM
Mark R - China has been increasing its defense budget both as a % of GDP and in absolute terms every year for the past two decades. Jane's Defence Forecasts estimates China's defense budget will increase from $119.80b to $238.20b between 2011 and 2015. This will make it larger than the defense budgets of all other major Asian nations combined. The estimated US defense budget is $525.40b for 2013. This is not 6 times more than China as you claim. US defense spending is actually slightly declining. France, UK, Germany are 'safe' because of NATO which the US pays for almost totally. The US taxpayer is in fact funding the European welfare state and has been doing so since the War. Were these states to foot their own military bill it would come to much more than the 1/12 you claim they do now. Russia is increasing its military spending year on year. Despite your clain they're 'safe', Putin doesn't agree with you. The CDI you quote is not some impartial analyst of military affairs. It is dedicated to: "strengthening national and international security through international cooperation; reducing reliance on unilateral military power to resolve conflict; reducing reliance on nuclear weapons; transforming and reforming the U.S. military establishment." It is a well known critic of defense spending of any kind. I haven't bothered to check your other 'factual' assertions because I think my point is clear enough. Your facts aren't facts at all, just shrill, hectoring, conspiratorial nonsense about lobbyists and 'fear' the left spouts everytime the subject of US military strength comes up.

Philip Arlington
July 25th, 2012
12:07 PM
An article on this theme that had a chance of being taken seriously by people who don't already agree with you would include some statistics and an analysis of the opportunity costs of proposed expenditure.

Mark R
May 10th, 2012
8:05 PM
Military budget vs social programs is a classic straw man fallacy. China is safe, and they spend one sixth of what the U.S. does. France, the U.K., Russia, and Germany are safe and they each spend one twelfth. The U.S has over 100,000 troops in Europe, 70,000 in Korea and Japan, spends $80 billion a year in South Korea and $48 billion a year in the Persian Gulf. The countries we’re “protecting” have their own militaries that FAR outstrip their enemies. Even organizations like The Center for Defense Information state that our current military footprint is absurd overkill. The problem is that defense contractors have lobbyists, our foreign “allies” have lobbyists, and fear sells. Anyone who believes that our current level of military spending is justified is either uninformed or has ulterior motives.

Big Sarge
May 6th, 2012
5:05 PM
Too bad what Russia and anyone else thinks. We need to build our Missle defense system to be totally impenetrable. Mark R. wants us to reduce our miltary might. Why? for more social welfare programs? Our might keeps the whole world safe. Most importantly the US.

Mark R
April 11th, 2012
6:04 PM
U.S. spending accounts for 48% of worldwide military spending. China, the next largest military spender only spends one sixth of what the U.S. spends. Likewise, we currently have over 10,000 nuclear weapons. While this is admittedly down significantly from our 1966 peak of over 32,000, it’s still enough to nuke every major city on earth 3 times and still have over 500 nukes left. It is time to return to sanity in terms of military spending, and worldwide military footprint. This article addresses Obama and what he has done to our military but, as all discussions of this variety have a habit of omitting, fails to place our existing military capability in any tangible context. Here’s some vague context: The U.S. military has about twice as many aircraft as the next three largest militaries combined (Russia, China, India). Likewise, we have almost twice as many naval vessels as these same three militaries combined. Here’s a fact – the U.S. military is absolutely absurdly powerful and deep cuts aren’t just justifiable, they’re completely rational.

Mike B
April 3rd, 2012
3:04 AM
Great article. Hope Bolton gets a spot in a Romney administration. What a clear thinker.

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