Leon Panetta started work as Defense Secretary Friday morning. After he took the oath of office, Panetta issued a statement to the Department of Defense with a clear but familiar message. "Our nation is at war," wrote Panetta. We must prevail against our enemies. We will persist in our efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat Al Qaeda." After some boilerplate language about supporting the troops and maintaining the superiority of the American military, Panetta hit on the question of the hour: the military budget. "I do not believe in the false choice between fiscal discipline and a strong national defense," he declared.
Discipline is precisely Panetta's challenge. As public opinion against America's foreign military engagements continues to soar, folks are digging deep into the specific numbers. NPR pointed out this week that the United States is spending more on air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq than it is on exploring the cosmos. Seriously, the military drops $20.2 billion on cooling costs in the Middle East. NASA's entire budget is roughly $18.5 billion. Congress isn't trying to hide from these numbers. The Hill reported Friday that "as few as 30 House Republicans would likely consider voting against a debt-ceiling deal that cuts $300 billion from security spending."