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What does Romney mean by ‘a military so powerful no one would ever think of challenging it’

Gov. Mitt Romney said it again last night, in his Florida victory speech, but he’s been saying it in almost exactly these words in most of his recent stump speeches. Here’s last night’s version:

“President Obama believes America’s role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. He is intent on shrinking our military capacity at a time when the world faces rising threats. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would ever think of challenging it.”

I sincerely doubt that Romney or anyone else can find the quote from Obama about American leadership being over. As for the military cuts, it’s true. Obama, in fulfillment of the deficit reduction package agreed to by Congress last year, will ask for a mere $525 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2013.  That’s down from $531 billion for fiscal 2012, a reduction of $6 billion or 1.1 percent.

 (I should note that the $531 billion to $525 billion comes out of the Pentagon’s permanent cost structure and doesn’t include additional savings that Obama hopes to realize from the troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far as I know, Romney does not propose to resume combat operations in Iraq.)

At present, U.S. military spending equals roughly the combined budget of the world’s next 20 biggest military budgets. And if you look at the list of those next 20, almost all of them are reliable U.S. allies.

Romney, in the same speech last night and in his standard stump, promises to balance the federal budget without raising taxes (details to come when?) Romney says that passing on ever-increasing debt to our children is not just bad policy, but is “morally wrong.” (I agree.) But Romney also feels that a 1.1 percent cut in the military budget is a problem that leaves the U.S. so weakened that somewhere in the world someone might “think of challenging” us.

What does that mean? What constitutes “thinking of challenging” us?

Could it mean that China or Russia or Iran or whom (?) would actually attack the United States on its own territory?  No one has tried that since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. The way that worked out for Japan hardly seems to invite others to want to follow suit, but who am I to say. Before Pearl Harbor, I’d say you’re talking about the British in the War of 1812, which was the last foreign military invasion of U.S. soil. Anyway, I really don’t believe that Romney’s vision of someone “challenging” the U.S. militarily could really mean invading.

So what does it mean?

You could bring up Al Qaida and September 11 as an attack on America. I wouldn’t dispute that it was. But it was hardly motivated by a belief that the U.S. military budget was too low, nor does it seem likely that some higher military budget in 2001 would have deterred the atrocity.

Perhaps Romney’s vision of our inadequate (or soon-to-be-inadequate when the the $6 billion cut kicks in) power is about our treaty obligations. Is Romney talking about the ability to defend our NATO allies? To deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? Is it Israel? Is it the possibility that Iran will try to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipments? Does Romney think the $525 billion military would lack an answer? Which of these legal or even moral military obligations is it that the U.S. lacks the military might to fulfill?

It may be that the concept of a U.S. military so strong that no one could even think of challenging us means nothing, really, literally, concretely. Quite possibly, sentences like these in campaign rhetoric like this intended to pluck that resonant chord that exists in our hearts but not analyzed by our brains in the world of facts, logic and seriously thinkable possibilities. In this case, the chord is one of fear, especially the fear that Republicans feel at the possibility of Democrats in charge of the U.S. military.

Or perhaps Romney’s phrase means this: Perhaps it refers to the frustration that U.S. leaders sometimes feel when they cannot get some other nation to behave the way the U.S. says it should behave. Take Pakistan, for example, which is not cooperating as fully with U.S. operations (albeit on Pakistani territory) to capture and kill Al Qaida and Taliban forces. Or take Iran, with its unwillingness to drop its ambitions (although it claims not to have the ambitions) to develop nuclear weapons.

Or maybe it’s just the general cantankerous, truculent downright disrespectful attitude of some of those countries, toward the United States, calling us Great Satan, allowing mobs to demonstrate outside our embassies, hobnobbing and conspiring with others of similar bent.

If it means anything, I suspect that creating a situation in which no one would even think of challenging us, must be intended to invoke in the mind of listeners this last thing, to pluck the chord that says that when Republicans are in charge of the U.S. military, troublemakers are more inclined to do what we say and mind their manners.

But, seriously, back in that fact and logic world, is there a level of military budget so high that it could reasonably bring that about?

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