Chuck Hagel's Smoke and Mirrors

Current budgetary recklessness is bringing the Unites States government into violation of one of its crucial biblical mandates.

On February 24, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released his Defense Department budgeting priorities that include reducing the U.S. Army to pre-World War 2 levels.

The spending strategy for 2015 takes into account the new nature of war, and the need to develop "new technologies," recognize the reality of "new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States."

Sadly, Hagel's proposals are part of a smoke and mirrors routine. Usually that label includes everything from lying and fraudulently misrepresenting facts to simply leaving out important information.

Chuck Hagel isn't lying to the American people, but there are some important facts covered in the policy sleight-of-hand. Behind the hidden door is the truth that the federal budget is segmented between mandatory spending, discretionary outlays, and paying interest on the national debt.

Since "mandatory" means just that under law, and paying interest on the debt is essential if – God forbid – the government is to be able to borrow more money, only discretionary spending can actually be trimmed from the bloated budget.

The Obama Administration isn't the first to don the magic cape and try to foist this illusion on the American people. Most of the crusading "budget-cutters" on both sides of the aisle execute the act with the finesse of a Las Vegas magic show.

Mandatory spending is expected to amount to 64 percent in fiscal 2014, though with Obamacare and other entitlement costs, the percentage can swell. Payment on the national debt will consume about six percent of taxpayer money, and discretionary spending – including national defense –some 30 percent.

But the discretionary portion is about the only item in the federal budget that can actually be cut. Hence the necessity of smoke and mirrors to seduce the public into believing there is true budgetary reform going on in Washington.

Hagel is right about the "more volatile, more unpredictable"… and "more threatening world" – and also about strategic and tactical changes in waging war.

But to sacrifice the capacity to carry out conventional war for the sake of appearing to cut the budget , and, at the same time expanding to meet new challenges, is risky and even dangerous.

Rather than either-or in our highly combustible world the approach should be both-and. That means insuring there is adequate ability to respond to conventional threats while preparing for new challenges. To cut the Army to pre-World War 2 levels is reckless behavior.

The aim, according to analysts, is to maintain forces at adequate defensive levels, but not for missions aimed at regime-change that leads inevitably to extended occupation of foreign territory.

One hopes that is true because regime change is as foolhardy in foreign policy as cutting the Army to what it was in America's dreamy isolationist era is with respect to defense policy.

Government, says Romans 13, bears the "sword" to "frighten those who do wrong" and to enforce justice, among other things. If authorities fail militarily to take necessary steps to defend their citizens while working diplomatically for a less dangerous world, they sacrifice the latter when they forget the former.

No magician can pull off that trick.

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