Dick Cheney: President Obama prioritises food stamps over defence

 
Former Vice-president Dick Cheney in London on 17 April, 2013. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has some harsh words for the president's defence budget

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President Barack Obama "would rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops".

A lot has been written about the announcement by Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel on Monday of the latest US defence budget, but the comments by former Vice-president Dick Cheney on Fox News onMonday night were among the most inflammatory.

Mr Cheney said that US allies in the Middle East could "no longer trust the United States to keep its commitments" and that the announced spending levels were not driven by "any change in world circumstances", but by "budget considerations".

The editors of the Nation Review followed the vice-president's lead on Tuesday, writing:

No exogenous shifts justify moving to the smallest army since World War II, curtailed technological procurement, and a navy much too small to secure the seas for America and its allies. A military budget ought to be tailored to what our politicians, strategists, and soldiers believe necessary to accomplish our strategic goals: securing the American homeland, fulfilling our treaty commitments, and ensuring free passage for American ships and trade around the world.

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Soldiers today operate much more potent and less manpower-intensive systems”

End Quote James Joyner The National Interest

They call the defence budget "an announcement of American retreat" and contend that the congressionally mandated spending levels from the 2011 budget agreement, known as the "sequester", are welcome on the domestic side but have dealt "a devastating blow to the federal government's capacity to carry out its most fundamental responsibility".

Blogger Andrew Sullivan counters that Mr Cheney's comments demonstrate that the Republican elite is just as extreme as the grass-roots Tea Party conservative base:

He could have made an argument why he thinks we should maintain the stratospheric levels of defense spending that have been in place since 9/11; he could have argued that the US needs to maintain the ability to fight two major land wars simultaneously in perpetuity. He could have said a lot of things. But he decided to accuse the commander-in-chief of not supporting the troops and actually wanting to keep people in poverty.

The new defence budget is the "least bad choice", writes the National Interest's James Joyner. It does present additional strategic risks, but "given the realities of the fiscal environment, risk is unavoidable".

He also contends that comparing modern troop numbers to those of the past is misleading. "Soldiers today operate much more potent and less manpower-intensive systems," he writes.

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Almost every expert on nuclear weapons agrees that the United States has a far larger nuclear force than it needs to deter attacks”

End Quote Doyle McManus Los Angeles Times

The Nation's Bob Dreyfuss thinks the new budget reductions are a start, but not enough.

"Major weapons systems that might have been cut were sustained, the US special forces units are being increased substantially from already high levels and Hagel announced that the US Navy would maintain all eleven of its aircraft carriers," he says.

"Indeed, the military-industrial complex was so thrilled about continuing Pentagon support for big-budget, high-tech weapons systems that, according to the Wall Street Journal, stock prices for major defense contractors rose after the announcement."

The Los Angeles Times's Doyle McManus notes that while Mr Hagel announced a variety of cuts, including to aircraft, ships and vehicles, he chose to maintain "unnecessary" funding for US nuclear forces.

"Almost every expert on nuclear weapons agrees that the United States has a far larger nuclear force than it needs to deter attacks," he writes.

The reason, he contends, is because nuclear spending is "protected by political sponsors - sometimes based on honest disagreements over strategy, sometimes because of the jobs they provide."

It's worth remembering that even at the proposed levels, the US defence budget still dwarfs every other nation, including China. And although the total amount is less than originally planned, it's still an increase in total dollars spent over past years.

Graphic: Top 15 military spenders in 2013

Then there's the fact that Mr Hagel's defence budget proposal is just a starting point. Congress will have to debate and eventually approve the actual budget. In the past, that's meant that spending has increased, as vested interests fight to defend their programmes from the chopping block.

Recently, however, budget hawks on the right have shown a willingness to sacrifice some defence spending for greater fiscal discipline (witness the sequester agreement). Whether that trend continues will go a long way in determining whether the final defence budget looks anything like Mr Hagel's proposal.

 

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