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Doug Mataconis Repeats Dean Acheson’s Folly

The self-infatuated Doug Mataconis has lined up in predictable “Conservative” support for Barack Obama’s suggestion that we balance the budget by cutting defense. He offers up three fatuous arguments below.

1.There is no nation on the planet that poses a real threat to the United States in the way that the USSR during the Cold War….That’s not to say that there aren’t threats out there, but the idea of any nation posing existential threat to the United States is, I think, off the table

2. Our allies (the U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Japan, and the vast number of nations that make up “Other”) can afford to pay more toward their own defense than they are now.

3. We could afford to make serious cuts in our defense budget without threatening our own security.

(Doug Mataconis, OBCit.)

Like all good political propaganda, Mataconis winds his arguments around a certain kernel of truth. The PRC probably couldn’t challenge the US to an all-out, existential war and destroy Kansas. If both nations walked into Thunderdome, I doubt that the Chinese would leave. Yet that assumes that the security of the United States extends no further than preventing the Vandal Hordes from burning down Congress and The White House.

Mataconis might not be able to afford the electricity that permits him to spew talking points on his blog if the US military wasn’t involved in at least 100 different things that would not meet his implicit standard for military threats. If you enjoy the economic, cultural and social benefits that come with when you live in Modern America, than you’d better be glad that the legions stand watch atop Hadrian’s Wall. Our lifestyle and comfort today result directly from America’s economic dominance. Enemies can take an awful lot of things away from us before they get anywhere close to depriving us of our physical territory.

On Mataconis’ second point, he may also have some justification. However, his conclusion is problematic. The United States invests a lot of time and effort in preserving the trade routes of the world. One of the reasons that the world is as rich as it is stems from the fact that anyone who shuts down a major artery of trade and commerce does so at the risk of rather violent punishment at the hands of a US Navy Carrier Group.

Mataconis closes his argument with the presumption that we can make serious cuts to the defense budget without effecting US security. I argue that we can and probably should cut defense, but that we cannot do so without increasing our level of security risk. We cut defense in a trade space. When we specify what we will defend, people around the world listen eagerly and take notes. In calling for a limited list of defendable threats, Mataconis commits the same gaffe Dean Acheson did prior to the tragic event known as the Korean War.

On 12 January, 1950 and Secretary of State Dean Acheson spoke on America’s security commitment in The Far East. After laying out a moral case for a continued military presence in the region, he then committed the vital error of specifying the perimeter he felt America should defend.

The defensive perimeter runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes to the Ryukyus. We hold important defense positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and those we will continue to hold. In the interest of the population of the Ryukyu Islands,…The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands.

– Dean Acheson

This perimeter excluded The Korean Peninsula. The dictator of North Korea heard this and took it as a sign that the United States would not willingly come to South Korea’s defense. Soon afterwards, the Korean Peninsula was the scene of horrible conflict. Had Acheson satisfied himself by saying that the United States would strongly defend its perceived national interest in the Far East with vigilance, the North Koreans may well have never seen fit to move on Seoul.

Thus, when Mataconis implies that we should only be funding defense against other nations that pose immediate, existential threats to the Continental United States, he is allowing the interested listener to assume a lot of other actions hostile to our wellbeing are totally fair game. Don’t believe for a second that people like the current band of kleptocrats in North Korea won’t parse that fatuous statement and try their mischief against us again.

It may well be that significant reductions in defense spending will be required to save America’s spendthrift wastrel government from future economic collapse. If so, than defense spending must and will be significantly reduced. But everything we cut (with the exceptions of Jack Murtha’s and Jim Moran’s detestable earmarks) will make life more dangerous for Americans. Each and every cut will make our world a less safe planet upon which to live.

Military spending is tied to specific missions. It can be reduced some to take out “wedges” and “cushions”. But once these small instances of fraud and bureaucratic gamesmanship are excised, every dollar taken out becomes another mandated mission that the US military can no longer undertake. Seriously cutting defense means seriously reducing the extent to which the United States can use its military to effectively safeguard modern civilization. We will have to pick and choose what we hand over to the barbarians with precision and care.

The cavalier and stupid assumption, made by chuckle-heads such as Doug Mataconis, that America’s defense and security are directly correlated to what the Chinese spend on computer hacking and submarines; will eventually make us and our children far less safe. What is required here is a carefully-planned and wise reduction in what missions our senior leadership commit our military forces to assuming in the first place.

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