With the new proposed defense cuts, the U.S. Army will lose almost 50,000 troops in four years, the Marine Corps another 20,000 -- along with radical curtailments in the number of armored vehicles, front-line jet fighters and new ships. But will there be commensurate reductions in American commitments overseas?
Perhaps all U.S. troops will soon leave Afghanistan and Iraq, while China will not flex its muscles against Taiwan or Japan. Maybe North Korea will not attack South Korea. Cyprus probably will stay quiet. The former Soviet republics in theory could improve their relations with Russia. The Balkans should remain peaceful. Israel does not want another war with Hamas, Hezbollah or Syria, or a new one with Iran. Mexico may win its drug war. Yet the rub is not that there is a likelihood in 2011 of simultaneous conflicts in a variety of hotspots, but that there are no assurances there won't be at least one among so many scary places.
Finally, President Obama has proclaimed a new willingness to seek comprise and consensus with Republican opposition. However, the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives, energized by the Tea Party, believes that such sudden presidential outreach is predicated only on the electoral reality of Democrats losing 63 House seats in the last election. The conservative opposition also assumes that it was elected to dismantle, not facilitate, the Obama agenda.
So in 2011 we will see whether Obama still talks of his opponents as "enemies" who need to be "punished" and kept in the "backseat," or if he is willing to concede that bipartisanship now may mean that his liberal vision of 2009 was rendered inoperative by the political reality of last November.
On a variety of fronts -- health care, the budget, defense and politics -- we have heard lots of easy rhetoric the last two years. But now the reckoning comes due in 2011 -- and it may be not a pretty thing to watch.