(MintPress) – When President Barack Obama unveiled nation defense plans in early January that involved downsizing the United States military, the criticism poured in. Despite Pentagon officials’ reassurance that the military would still surely be strong enough to take on any perceived threats, opponents of the downsizing said the move would make America weaker and not allocate enough money to the military.
Obama’s downsize of the military entails a smaller Army and Marine force while make more use of technology, such as surveillance and unmanned drones. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has worked with lawmakers to formulate the budget and that he supports the measures being taken.
In February at a speech in Las Vegas, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Obama was “shrinking our military and hollowing out our national defense.” When Politifact tackled the issue, it agreed that the military is “shrinking,” but only because the U.S. had already begun downsizing troop involvement in Iraq. Obama, however, was not exactly “hollowing” out the defense budget.
For fiscal year 2013, the Department of Defense was provided $525.4 billion in discretionary spending, only a 1 percent decrease from 2012 fiscal year levels. The White House says the budget will “provide the necessary resources to implement the President’s new defense strategy, keep our military the finest in the world by investing in priorities, and help achieve $486.9 billion in savings by 2021.”
By “investing in priorities,” Obama acknowledges other issues plaguing the country that need to be addressed. The recession and financial meltdown have put citizens into home foreclosure and further away from obtaining things that were once commonalities, such as health care and higher education.
On a global scale, world military expenditures are estimated at $1.6 trillion, according to 2010 figures. Based on those figures, the United States’ military expenditure account for 43 percent of the world’s total. China, which is often seen as the biggest threat to US military hegemony, accounts for only 7.3 percent of the world’s total.
Defense Department spending by the U.S. ($525 billion) accounts for around 20 percent of its yearly spending. The second largest military in the world, China, spends an estimated $106.4 billion on defense.
Lawrence Wittner, history professor at the University at Albany, SUNY, writes that “the U.S. government has vast superiority over all other countries when it comes to conventional war.”
But what about the talked-about threat of nuclear war? Since touting its capacity to make a nuclear weapon, preventative strikes or war with Iran has been a key foreign policy talking point despite the fact that the U.S. possesses an estimated 9,600 nuclear warheads, second only to Russia’s estimated 12,000. Together, the countries are in possession of around 95 percent of the world’s total nuclear arsenal.
However, both Romney and fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum say they would consider the idea of bombing Iran if they were elected president because of nuclear fears. Romney went as far as saying Iran will obtain “the bomb” if Obama is re-elected.
“The same Islamic fanatics who took our diplomats hostage are racing to build a nuclear bomb,” Romney wrote in an editorial. “Barack Obama, America’s most feckless president since (Jimmy) Carter, has declared such an outcome unacceptable, but his rhetoric has not been matched by an effective policy.”
While speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference (AIPAC), Santorum made his intentions to intervene with Iran very clear.
“If Iran doesn’t get rid of (its) nuclear facilities, we will tear them down ourselves,” he said.
Despite Iran’s limited near nuclear capacity and the United States’ stockpile of nuclear warheads, 51 percent of Americans believe the U.S. military should take action in Iran to prevent them from developing a nuclear warhead.
Wittner criticizes this violent approach with Iran, saying they not would strike the U.S. because retaliation would be much too great.
“With its 9,600 nuclear warheads, for example, the U.S. government could instantly massacre 2.88 billion people and leave most of the rest slowly dying in a nuclear wasteland,” Wittner wrote.
Obama has said he does not expect the U.S. and Iran to come to blows and hopes to resolve any underlying conflicts peacefully.
“We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table,” Obama said. “And we’ve got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.”
Despite the size and investment in the U.S. military, fewer in the public believe the U.S. is the No. 1 military power in the world. According to a recent Gallup poll, 54 percent of Americans believe the U.S. to be the supreme military power, a 10 percent fall since 2010. 32 percent of poll respondents believed the U.S. military was not strong enough.
Americans attitude toward the U.S. military is similar to that seen in the late-1990s. At one point in 1999, only 51 percent of Americans believed the U.S. had the world’s No. 1 military. Military perception grew every year until 2010, before it took a sharp fall. One could speculate that that public has grown tired of the extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the struggling nature of the conflicts.
The Associated Press reported that after the weekend shootings in Afghanistan that reportedly saw a U.S. soldier kill 16 Afghan civilians, American’s support of the war tumbled further. America began having strong negative sentiments to the Afghanistan war in 2010, when a Gallup poll revealed 43 percent of Americans called the war a “mistake.”
Political rhetoric has also stoked skepticism of the U.S. as being the military superpower. Romney has come out and said he would like to grow the military and increase spending on ships and planes.