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The Wall Street Journal's misleading op-ed about defense cuts and China

You know what? I really hate it when op-ed writers deliberately conflate apples and oranges to make the oranges appear to be hordes of Chinese soldiers bent on dominating the world. That's exactly what the Wall Street Journal gives us in an offering from Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza. The key graph:
Last year, the Obama administration took the first steps in a $400 billion defense spending cut, ending several crucial programs. The White House has now asked for another $400 billion in cuts. China, meanwhile, has averaged 10% annual spending increases for more than 20 years. As former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown once said of the Soviets, "When we build, they build; when we cut, they build."
Here are the three faulty points of comparison:

• The writers compare China's 10 percent annual increases with $400 billion in U.S. cuts that will be made through 2023. We're not cutting $400 billion out of next year's defense budget—that's the target spread out over the next decade. And you can argue whether that's good or not, but it certainly makes the comparison completely lopsided and completely misleading. That's not fair to the WSJ's readers.

• What's more, that $400 billion in cuts? Not actually cuts, but a cut in the projected growth of spending. The defense budget would still be bigger in 2013 than it is now. Republicans call BS when Democrats pull that trick with entitlement spending; it's just as misleading when applied to the GOP's pet causes.

• What's more, the writers compare the dollar amount in cuts versus the percentage increase in China's military budget. I hate to drag out this chart again, but I have no choice:
Using Wikipedia as a quick reference, we see that U.S. defense spending in 2010 was $685 billion—about 4.7 percent of the national GDP.  China's defense spending the same year $91.5 billion—a 12 percent increase from the previous year's $78 billion, and less than 2 percent of that country's GDP. China has a long, long, long way to go before it's making the same kind of investment as the United States. You wouldn't know that from the WSJ's very misleading comparison.

We need to have a serious national conversation about America's military posture in the world, and how we should approach China as it becomes increasingly confident, capable, and assertive in the Pacific. But that conversation should be grounded in facts. That's not what the Wall Street Journal gives us.


KhabaLox said…
Also, our entire nuclear arsenal appears on the budget under the Dept. of Energy, not Defense, and is often left out of defense spending discussions.

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