In Greek mythology, the story of the “Sword of Damocles” told of King Dionysius and Damocles, the latter of whom assumed that being king meant living in the lap of luxury but came to find out it was more like living beneath a sword hanging from a single thread. The story comes to mind in light of the final column from John Bennett, a congressional reporter for Defense News who is leaving the defense beat. Bennett, who has consistently been one of the best defense reporters there is, decried the constant alarmism with which defense officials and military leaders have approached the Budget Control Act spending limits—citing officials’ constant references to the budget caps as a “sword of Damocles” hanging above the military’s collective head.

Leaving aside that those officials’ analogizing the caps on defense spending to Damocles’ sword completely misunderstands the purpose of the story, Bennett was absolutely correct to admonish officials for the allusion to impending doom over the defense budget. “Consider Feb. 12, 2013,” he writes, “That morning, the chiefs of the armed services delivered hours of bleak testimony. But even to a guy who at the time was working on his second liberal arts degree, the numbers behind their warnings just didn’t add up. As on that day, defense officials’ primary public strategy against the budget caps has been to scare the bejesus out of everyone.”

Trying to scare the bejesus out of people is one way to argue against reducing the defense budget. Senator Lindsey Graham has made a career out of it. And Leon Panetta spent a large portion of his time in the Obama administration making fact-free assertions in an effort to do so. As Bennett observes though, the tactic has largely failed. The analogy for this situation was not the sword of Damocles, but rather the boy who cried wolf.

The basic lesson of crying wolf is that it diminishes credibility of the one doing the crying when warning of actual danger. But that does not seem to be the case with national security officials. Lindsey Graham and any number of other politicians who claim the world is ending get consistently reelected. Leon Panetta draws more fire for a memoir that criticized his former boss than the patently ridiculous statements he often made as secretary of defense. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey will ride off into retirement this fall and be feted wherever he goes despite having claimed that the world is more dangerous than at any point in his lifetime. If it is not entirely clear, General Dempsey was born prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The problem is not one of credibility, but instead of status quo bias. The United States is a remarkably safe country given the favorability of its geography and economic power. These advantages allow American foreign policy and military elites to do things that are, quite frankly, stupid without having to learn any lessons. The very existence of great powers in seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century Europe was potentially at risk from foreign policy blunders. For the United States, even as monumental a mistake as the invasion of Iraq—and its cost in lives and dollars—is not enough to persuade foreign policy elites to reexamine their underlying premises.

The same is true for the military. Given the relative safety of the country and the financial resources at its disposal, the U.S. military has few incentives to reexamine its underlying assumptions. No threat short of nuclear war would threaten the existence of the United States as a political entity and few would threaten the ability of the U.S. military to protect it. Crying wolf, therefore, allows the military to avoid the type of reexamination it might otherwise need to undertake.

Perpetual safety is not guaranteed, but defense officials should embrace the relative security of the United States today. Hyping threats to pursue bigger budgets creates incentives to simply continue what it is doing now. In the absence of real risk against which to plan there is little need to rethink force structure or doctrine even if the existing structure is not suited to future threats. Maintaining the budget caps, however, does provide some incentive for the military to change the way it does things.. It would also avoid squandering resources that could be better used for other purposes including, responding to actual, significant military threats that may arise in the future.