By Mike Ferner
(Cue sound of emergency alarms. Insert graphics for panic, terror, devastation and collapse here ______.)
Yes, believe it, friends. That is exactly what Outgoing Secretary of War Panetta said in a Feb. 1 exit interview with USA Today , when asked what effects looming cuts will have on the War Department if Congress fails to reach a budget deal by March 1.
Red-blooded Senate and House members eager to protect the military from even a rumor of a budget cut will certainly welcome Panetta’s words. Whether it will result in the U.S. becoming a “second-rate power” is a little less certain, considering we now spend as much for war as the rest of the world put together, with perhaps the exception of Upper Volta and the Cayman Islands.
To put the Secretary’s America-as-second-rate-power fears in perspective, the dreaded “sequestering” of the budget means the Pentagon will have to cut 8 to 9 percent out of this year’s $535 billion dollar budget.
In the near term, according to USA Today, the cuts would require the Air Force to throttle back on flight training, the Navy to keep ships in port longer and the Army to reduce utility costs at its posts. The U.S. would be able to handle its commitments in Afghanistan and the Middle East but little else. And continued sequestration cuts over the next decade would leave the Army with only 390,000 soldiers to guard the Empire’s reaches.
“We are the world's most powerful military, and we use that to promote peace and stability in the world,” Panetta stated. Whether the sequestration cuts would reduce world peace and stability by more than eight or nine percent this year was not clear, nor were any estimates given on peace and stability reductions over the next decade.
"When we're called upon to do other crises, whether it is in Syria or Mali or North Africa or elsewhere, we may not be able to respond," Panetta said…as the Syrians, Malians, North Africans and Elsewherians breathed a sigh of relief.
But let’s give the devil his due. In truth, I think the War Secretary is on to something. For most of us in this country, coming in second would be highly welcome, a real improvement over the current state of affairs, considering that among the nations of the world we are now in:
- 22nd place when it comes to keeping our people out of long-term unemployment 
- 35th place in keeping our fellow citizens above the poverty line 
- 48th place in infant mortality  – keeping babies alive until their first birthday – generally accepted as the best overall indicator of a nation’s health
- 50th place in life expectancy at birth 
- 91st place in overall equality of income distribution  and
- 116th place in the share of income held by the poorest 10%  of the population.
But take heart, Mr. Outgoing Secretary, we just missed a blue ribbon at something – the amount of money spent on health care . A “We’re Number One!” award just slipped through our grasp when those cagey Maltans figured out how to spend even more than we do, so now we’re only…well, a second rate power on health care expenses. You’ve sounded the alarm not a moment too soon.
Mike Ferner is a writer from Ohio. He served as a Navy corpsman during the Vietnam war and is a former president of Veterans For Peace. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org