Battleland

DEFCON 1: Incoming Numbers!

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Washington is a Milky Way of numbers right now, all swirling around in a galaxy of confusion involving taxes, debt and interest rates.

Here are some other numbers that folks reading Battleland should know: $1 trillion out of $9 trillion, 48%, and 15 out of 22 nations surveyed:

– Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla, wants to cut $9 trillion from the deficit over the coming decade by, in part, cutting $1 trillion from the Pentagon’s $7 trillion kitty (his red-bordered report does not constitute an endorsement by TIME; the defense section starts on page 108.)

“One trillion dollars in defense cuts is reasonable,” Coburn said Monday as he unveiled his proposed cuts. “The threat of borrowing from China is greater than the threat of an armed conflict from China.” Coburn seems to have read our April piece on how cutting military spending by $1 trillion over the coming decade actually could make the military stronger. “I show how smart cuts and eliminating lower-priority functions in government programs will leave our military better prepared to meet potential threats,” he said. “One trillion dollars in savings will put the Pentagon back to the same level at the height of the Iraq surge.”

Coburn wants to cut the cost of military health care by some $200 billion by shifting more costs to uniformed and retired personnel. He’d shrink the Army to save $100 billion. Coburn proposes cutting $79 billion from the nation’s nuclear forces by scaling back the nuclear triad — fewer land-based ICBMs and submarines — and slowing down the purchase of a new bomber. He’d curtail the F-35 program and replace the Navy and Marine models with F-18s, saving $25 billion. Budget-watchers say Coburn’s proposal has about as big a chance of happening as a Taliban stopping a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone with his bare hands.

– Nearly half of Americans polled — 48% — believe the U.S. can “significantly” cut defense spending without endangering the country, according to a Rasmussen poll released Monday.

– In 15 of 22 nations recently surveyed, citizens believe China either will replace — or already has replaced — the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power, according to a Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project multinational poll:

This view is especially widespread in Western Europe, where at least six-in-ten in France (72%), Spain (67%), Britain (65%) and Germany (61%) see China overtaking the U.S. Majorities in Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Mexico and China itself also foresee China supplanting the U.S. as the world’s dominant power. In most countries for which there are trends, the view that China will overtake the U.S. has increased substantially over the past two years, including by 10 or more percentage points in Spain, France, Pakistan, Britain, Jordan, Israel, Poland and Germany. Among Americans, the percentage saying that China will eventually overshadow or has already overshadowed the U.S. has increased from 33% in 2009 to 46% in 2011.

The key question is how — and if — these facts are related. If China’s growing economic and military clout is real — and if it can weather the coming political storms it is sure to face — is Washington’s continued Cold War-era levels of defense spending the best way for the U.S. to try to keep its lead? Especially if the only way it can do that is by borrowing money from Beijing?

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