The defense budget in back in the news – the perennial harbinger of Spring like the first crocuses. This year’s version of the ritualized passion play on Capitol Hill features Secretary Robert Gates’ highly publicized proposal to trim military spending by $78 billion over the next five years. That would amount to roughly $15.5 billion per annum. A closer look reveals that the numbers refer only to the fixed Pentagon budget while excluding the ‘off the books’ outlays for the war/occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Even the official fixed budget greatly understand outlays for our military establishment. Were we to include lifetime medical care, interest on debt, etc. some reasonable calculations that I’ve seen place the aggregate annual cost at $1 trillion+). Conservative estimates of those costs, which assume a steady drawdown of forces and expenditures, pretty much match the projected $78 billion cuts. So, in truth, this heralded bold step to rein in defense spending is a bit of legerdemain. That’s to be expected. These annual exercises usually are little more than stylized Kabuki.