The new Pentagon budget proposed this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel takes a reasonable first step toward rearranging America’s priorities after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Not surprisingly, the $496 billion spending plan — $75 billion less than the current budget — has provoked screeching from members of Congress who are inclined to see defense spending as pork and who object to the financial impact on their districts. Some also sense another opportunity to attack President Obama, this time by charging him with weakening America’s defenses.
The latter argument is lame. The nation will maintain its military power through sufficient forces around the globe, advanced weapons systems, and technological dominance.
Dollars diverted from the Pentagon to domestic needs will strengthen America by improving education and health care and rebuilding infrastructure. That, too, helps the country defend itself.
Secretary Hagel’s budget includes a call for replacing old and obsolete weapons with new systems and forces that are appropriate to the future. The number of U.S. Army personnel would be cut from 522,000 to 450,000.
The A-10 Warthog aircraft, a weapon that dates from the 1970s, would be cut, saving $3.5 billion. The U-2 surveillance aircraft would be replaced by drones.
Unnecessary bases and commissaries would close. Pentagon planning would assume an America able to fight one large war overseas while maintaining its capacity to defend the homeland.
The budget emphasizes improving the nation’s ability to wage cyber-war, offensively and defensively. U.S. capacities in this area must stay ahead of any enemy’s, although care must be taken not to provoke attacks on the United States because of its cyber-activities.
The price tag on the package will be hotly debated, but Mr. Hagel’s reduced budget proposal aligns with spending cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Even so, it seems likely that the Obama Administration plan will face more cuts and additions by the time it emerges from Congress.
In any case, Secretary Hagel’s downward direction of military size and spending, reflecting a normal postwar reduction of forces and equipment, is the correct course for the United States.