Having spent some time earlier this week listening to people who think war is becoming obsolete, it is hard not to write about today’s publication of a survey suggesting Americans want substantial cuts in the defense budget. This is true across the board: Republicans as well as Democrats, with the average cut desired far larger than anything Congress is contemplating.
The war in Afghanistan is one target of the cutting, but the sentiment extends also to nuclear weapons, ground forces, air power and missile defense. As the authors put it
By far the most durable finding — even after hearing strong arguments to the contrary — was that existing spending levels are simply too high. Respondents were asked twice, in highly different ways, to say what they thought the budget should be, and a majority supported roughly the same answer each time: a cut of at least 11 to 13 percent (they cut on average 18 to 22 percent).
Far be it from me to suggest that public opinion should determine the defense budget. But combined with previous survey data showing that Americans think we spend far more on foreign aid than is in fact the case (and would support spending far more than we do), this new poll suggests that rebalancing is not only in order but politically viable. It would take only a small slice of a defense cut of $100 billion or more, which is what this survey suggests the American people on average would support, to significantly increase civilian capabilities and thereby compensate for at least in part for any loss of overall capability to protect the national security.
Rebalancing should be the order of the day.