Associated Press
The last convoy from the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division leaves Iraq. President Obama wants to cut defense spending.
Certainly it is possible for the United States to maintain a strong, nimble, cutting-edge military for the future for less than seven times the cost of China's military. It's time to ask the right questions and put financial responsibility over politics to build a military that can keep us just as safe — but with a more reasonable price tag.

President Barack Obama's new defense strategy, including spending cuts, has drawn predictable reactions from left and right, with pundits and pols either praising the president for looking to the future or blasting him for decimating the American military.

But many of these judgments miss the mark by focusing simply on relative dollar amounts. A more incisive analysis should also ask how those dollars are being spent.

America's ability to protect its citizens is of utmost importance — indeed, the mandate to "provide for the common defense" is one of few responsibilities reserved exclusively to the federal government, and one of the most important reasons for its existence. If President Obama were to dramatically gut the military, there would indeed be cause for concern. But it's not clear that is happening.

The United States spends more than any other country on defense: roughly $700 billion in 2011. For context, that figure is more than the next 17 countries combined spend on defense. China, second on the list, spends just over $100 billion.

The American military budget has also grown at a fast clip since 2001, largely in response to 9/11, but outpacing spending during any other conflict in American history, including Vietnam and the Cold War. Even President Obama, who promised cuts, requested a 6 percent increase in military spending in last year's budget. This week's announcement is his first attempt to address military spending. Even after his proposed cuts the defense budget will look much like it did at the end of the Bush administration.

But it's also not clear that there is a necessary tradeoff between money spent and safety ensured. Obama's first priority should be to address inefficiency and mismanagement in the Department of Defense — an agency so badly run that the Government Accountability Office deemed it "unauditable" at least until 2017. Pentagon leaders, it appears, have more of a management problem on their hands than a resource problem.

Further, there is no rational scenario in which cutting defense spending would protect entitlement programs in any way. This is not an "either/or" choice between entitlements and defense; it is a "yes, and … " choice about cutting waste across the board and being more financially responsible and forward-looking with all of our national spending.

Unfortunately, many budget decisions seem to be based more on politics than on prudence. Lawmakers who want to keep defense jobs in their states have been known to mandate expenditures Pentagon leaders don't want; presidents are easily tempted to cut and spend just the right amounts to ensure re-election.

Certainly it is possible for the United States to maintain a strong, nimble, cutting-edge military for the future for less than seven times the cost of China's military. It's time to ask the right questions and put financial responsibility over politics to build a military that can keep us just as safe — but with a more reasonable price tag.