Senator Lindsey Graham’s skewering yesterday of former senator and prospective defense secretary Chuck Hagel over the latter’s comments about the “Jewish lobby” and its ability to “intimidate” members of Congress will certainly go down in the history of confirmation hearings as a Top Ten moment. But somewhat obscured by that exchange was Senator Graham’s previous question to Hagel about the size of the defense budget relative to the country’s GDP. Hagel, clearly guessing, answered: “Well, we are, I think, it is probably 5% in that area.” Well, actually, it’s not Mr. Hagel. The national defense budget is 4% of GDP, with war funding included, and the base defense budget is only 3.4%. No wonder Chuck Hagel thinks, as he is quoted as saying, the Defense Department is “bloated.”
But of course, Hagel was saying the department was bloated after the Obama administration had already cut almost $400 billion from current and planned defense expenditures and in the face of the hundreds of billions more in proposed cuts by the 2011 Budget Control Act. And he was doing so in spite of the current defense secretary, Leon Panetta, arguing that such additional cuts would be disastrous to US security.