Steve Chapman

It would be misleading to say we greatly outspend our rivals. When it comes to military outlays and capability, we have no rivals. The United States is the New York Yankees, and everyone else is in Little League.

If spending is the solution, the problem has been solved many times over. If, on the other hand, we are still dangerously vulnerable to our enemies, more dollars are not likely to make us safe.

But we keep chasing the dream of absolute security, which requires an unending succession of wars in faraway countries that pose little or no danger to us. That's what justifies the immense military budget, an indulgence disguised as a necessity.

What neither party is willing to consider is downsizing our global obligations and ambitions. Both Republicans and Democrats can be found in support of staying in Afghanistan for three more years, keeping some troops in Iraq beyond this year and continuing the war in Libya. Wars cost money -- lots of it.

Nor is either party ready to reassess our permanent presence in Europe, South Korea and Japan -- which have ample resources to provide for their own defense. If our leaders want to preserve the option of intervening anywhere on Earth, anytime something happens that we don't like -- and most of them do -- they have to maintain a military establishment that dwarfs all others.

So don't expect the Pentagon to become noticeably smaller just because we're being buried in debt. An aide to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told Politico, "The chairman is deeply concerned about any defense cuts made during wartime."

There lie the crucial facts about the defense budget: 1) Washington politicians resist cutting in wartime; and 2) it's always wartime.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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