Paul Greenberg

It happens after every war. America disarms. And so invites the next attack, and next war. The same haphazard pattern is emerging now -- even before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over, much as this administration pretends they are in order to cut the defense budget.

On both those fronts, the enemy is rushing to fill the vacuum left by the American withdrawal. This country's retreat has allowed al-Qaida, its branches and assorted allies and successors, whether the Taliban in Afghanistan or freelance terrorists in Iraq, to advance. At this rate, it may be only a matter of time before the next Benghazi or even the next September 11th, yet this administration has already sounded retreat. And taken not a scalpel but a meat axe to the national defense budget.

Under this just-proposed budget, the country's active-duty forces are to be reduced by more than a tenth and the reserves by 5 percent. Military pay and veterans' benefits would be pared accordingly. (Thank You For Your Service, Vets. The line for unemployment benefits begins just outside the door.)

Out will go various weapons systems good, bad and in-between, including the A-10 Warthog jet and flying fortress, aka the American infantryman's best friend -- well, next to his rifle. Who needs a defense, anyway?

How sum up this retreat from the world and reality in general in a few concise words? A senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, one Randy Forbes (R-Va.), came close: "It is very difficult for anyone to say with a straight face this budget will defend this country."

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Second Place goes to Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who noted that "Washington is trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who have suffered the most." Veterans of those conflicts haven't sounded as bitter since the fall of Fallujah, which the Taliban have just re-occupied after its liberation cost so much in American blood.

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Leave it to our still new secretary of "defense" to rationalize all these cuts. Chuck Hagel sounded like the last of the straight-faced kidders when he said that slicing away at the defense budget would strengthen the country's defenses. The pity is that he may not have been kidding at all but being perfectly serious. Which explains why, as long as he's in office, he'll sound like the new secretary of defense.

Mr. Hagel did mentioned in passing that, oh, yes, slashing away at American defenses might entail certain risks, but went on to explain, "We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.