Observing the correlation of forces in this city and the intensity of conviction in the base of each party, the outcome of the ongoing fiscal fight between Barack Obama and the Tea Party Republicans seems preordained.
Deadlock. There will be no big jobs-for-taxes deal. The can will be kicked down the road into the next administration.
A second truth is emerging. When the cutting comes, as it shall, the Pentagon will be first to ascend the scaffold.
Why so? Consider.
The Republican House cannot agree to tax increases without risking retribution from the base and repudiation by its presidential candidates. All have pledged to oppose even a dollar in tax hikes for 10 dollars in spending cuts.
For his part, Obama has refused to lay out any significant cuts in the big Democratic entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare.
As for the hundreds of billions in Great Society spending for Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, earned income tax credits, aid to education, Pell grants and housing subsidies, neither Harry Reid’s Senate nor Obama, in trouble with his African-American base, will permit significant cuts.
That leaves two large items of a budget approaching $4 trillion: interest on the debt, which must be paid, and national defense.
Pentagon chief Leon Panetta can see the writing on the wall.
Defense is already scheduled for $350 billion in cuts over the decade. If the super-committee fails to come up with $1.2 trillion in specified new cuts, an automatic slicer chops another $600 billion from defense.
House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon has issued an analysis of what that would mean: a U.S. Army and Marine Corps reduction of 150,000 troops, retirement of two carrier battle groups, loss of one-third of Air Force fighter planes and a “hollow force” unable to meet America’s commitments.
Also on the chopping block would be the Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If the super-committee trigger has to be pulled, says Panetta, “we’d be shooting ourselves in the head.”
That half defense-half domestic formula for automatic budget cuts was programmed into the slicer to force Republicans to put tax hikes on the table. They will refuse. For tax hikes would do more damage to the party than the slicing would the Pentagon.
Thus America approaches her moment of truth.
Thanks to the irresponsibility of both parties, of the Bush as well as Obama administrations, we are facing unavoidable and painful choices.
We are going to have to reduce the benefits and raise the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare. Cut and cap Great Society programs. Downsize the military, close bases and transfer to allies responsibility for their own defense. Or we are going to have to raise taxes — and not just on millionaires and billionaires, but Middle America.
And if our leaders cannot impose these sacrifices, the markets will, as we see in Europe, where the day of reckoning is at hand. Ours is next.
But if defense cuts are unavoidable, where should they come? What should our future defense posture be? Which principles should apply?
Clearly, the first principle should be that the United States must retain a sufficiency, indeed, a surplus of power to defend all of its vital interests and vital allies, though the defense of those allies must be first and foremost their own responsibility. They have to replace U.S. troops as first responders.
During the Cold War, America was committed to go to war on behalf of a dozen NATO nations from Norway to Turkey. Eastern Europe under Moscow’s boot was not considered vital.
Thus we resisted the Berlin Blockade, but peacefully. We did nothing to rescue the Hungarian revolution in 1956, or the Prague Spring in 1968, or the Polish Solidarity movement in 1981, when all three were crushed.
Now that the Red Army has gone home, Eastern Europe is free, and the Soviet Union no longer exists, what is the argument for maintaining U.S. Air Force, Army and naval bases and thousands of U.S. troops in Europe?
Close the bases, and bring the troops home.
The same with South Korea and Japan. Now that Mao is dead and gone and China is capitalist, Seoul and Tokyo trade more with Beijing than they do with us.
South Korea has 40 times the economy and twice the population of North Korea. Japan’s economy is almost as large as China’s. Why cannot these two powerful and prosperous nations provide the troops, planes, ships and missiles to defend themselves? We can sell them whatever they need.
Why is their defense still our responsibility?
In the Persian Gulf we have a strategic interest: oil. But the oil-rich nations of the region have an even greater interest in selling their oil than we do in buying it. For, without oil sales, the Gulf has little the world needs or wants.
Let the world look out for itself for a while. Time to start looking out for America and Americans first. For if we don’t, who will?