There are still some ways in which newspapers capture the moment better than blogs or social media. One such way is their ability to display the full extent of global chaos, a topic so diverse and variegated that it is tough to capture on an Internet page or blog posting. So if you want to understand just how beset with violence and crises the world currently is, you ought to pick up the A-Section of today’s Washington Post or New York Times and leaf through it.
Frankly, the world’s a mess. Hundreds of protesters were massacred in Cairo yesterday by the new military government, signaling a prolonged period of tensions ahead for the Arab world’s most populous nation. Jihadists are streaming into Syria from Europe and Asia, adding a new and troubling dimension to that country’s brutal civil war. Scores of innocents are being killed or injured every day by bombings in Iraq. The influence of Muslim radicals is rising in Pakistan, with worrisome implications for neighboring Afghanistan and India. Violent insurgencies are destabilizing every country in North Africa that straddles the divide between the desert north and tropical south — from Nigeria to Mali to Somalia.
And that’s just for starters. I haven’t even mentioned Iran and North Korea, where volatile regimes animated by messianic ideologies continue to seek nuclear weapons. So what is Washington doing about all this unrest? Well, mostly it’s talking. The White House is talking about everybody just learning to get along, which is one reason why the Wall Street Journal has a headline today that reads, “Egypt Violence Shows Waning U.S. Influence.” Meanwhile, Congress — or at least the Republican majority in the House — is talking about how important budget sequestration is to getting our fiscal house in order. You remember sequestration. It’s the deficit-reduction mechanism that derives 50% of its savings from the 20% of federal spending that sustains defense, at the expense of both near-term readiness and long-term investment.
There are lots of ways of measuring political dysfunction in Washington, but the metric that might matter most over the long run is the way we are imposing across-the-board cuts on our warfighters at a time when the whole world seems to be aflame. Each of the military services is being forced to cut money for training and new technology because the two political parties can’t compromise on developing a more coherent approach to deficit reduction, and meanwhile half a dozen overseas crises are bubbling that might one day soon require the injection of U.S. forces. Proponents of sequestration are acting like there’s no contradiction between cutting defense and coping with emerging threats. The Obama Administration knows better, but was desperately hoping for a few years during its tenure when foreign affairs could be put on the back burner.
Well, no such luck. The world is becoming more dangerous by the day, and slashing military readiness in such circumstances is just plain stupid. It is making the politicians who fashioned the Budget Control Act of 2011 look like they have no sense — either about national security or the interests of their own constituents. There are plenty of places where the Pentagon could become more efficient by reducing overhead, but sequestration is slashing the sinews of U.S. fighting capability as the world descends into chaos. If you are one of those legislators who thinks this is a smart way to run the government, then you might be in for a big surprise in next year’s midterm elections, because a majority of voters are telling pollsters that you don’t deserve to be re-elected.