4 days remain before the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor – a consequence of refusal to adequately invest in defense.
Sadly because the US has a $1.29 trillion annual budget deficit (which was not caused by defense spending), most politicians and commentators are discussing whether to significantly reduce American defense spending, and if so, how deeply. They include leftist politicians such as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (CPSU-IL), Congressman-elect Allen West (R-FL), Erskine Bowles, Alan Simpson, and AmSpec writers Joseph Lawler, James Antle and Philip Klein. Sadly, usually the debate is about how deeply, not whether to, reduce US defense spending.
The most extreme plan is the one proposed by Schakowsky, an extremist liberal from an extremely liberal state (IL). According to Philip Klein:
“On one end of the spectrum is a proposal advanced by the most liberal member of the deficit panel, Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky. Her plan calls for drastically cutting the military budget while raising income taxes, estate taxes, corporate taxes, payroll taxes, and capital gains taxes. She would implement “cap and trade,” add the government-run plan, or “public option” to ObamaCare, and have the federal government “negotiate” drug prices. In addition, she would spend $200 billion on more stimulus projects. In sum, her plan would put America on an accelerated course toward a European-style welfare state.”
Reducing defense spending – the most crucial item in the federal budget – is the absolutely worst option the federal government could pursue.
Schakowsky’s plan is even worse than that. Not only would it dramatically cut defense spending, it would also dramatically INCREASE domestic spending by adding a government insurance option, greatly increasing pseudostimulus funding (you think the $787 bn Obama stimulus was bad? This one would be even worse!), and growing other domestic government programs. On net, it would GROW federal spending and the budget deficit, even despite the massive defense spending cuts it proposes. Even the massive tax hikes it proposes would grow rather than shrink the budget deficit, because corporations and individuals would simply relocate to low-tax countries like Lichteinstein.
This ridiculous plan also proves that I was right all along: defense spending cuts will not even significantly shrink, let alone abolish, the budget deficit. The DOD (whose FY2010 budget was $534 bn) could be abolished entirely and there would’ve STILL been a $700 bn annual budget deficit.
Philip Klein mentioned that a stark contrast to Schakowsky’s proposal is the plan developed by another member of the Deficit Reduction Commission, Paul Ryan, the GOP’s budget expert.
Klein mentioned that the plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) does not call for any defense spending cuts. What he did NOT mention is that Ryan’s plan, called the Roadmap, would actually balance the federal budget completely (i.e. completely eliminate the budget deficit) in the long term, as certified by the Congressional Budget Office. It would also prevent entitlement programs from burying America under an even bigger mountain of debt than the current one. Needless to say, this means raising the retirement age. Which Ryan has publicly acknowledged.
In the final paragraph of his AmSpec article, Klein asked, “Do they want to maintain global military supremacy, or are they comfortable adopting a non-interventionist foreign policy and curtailing our military commitments?”
I think that regarding American military supremacy (which has already eroded over this decade, BTW), the answer is obvious: it must be restored. But Klein is offering Americans a false choice:
either a strong military AND a promiscously interventionist foreign policy, or a weak military and an isolationist foreign policy. This is a false choice and Americans should reject it.
What America needs is a strong defense (and therefore a defense budget not smaller than the current one, i.e. not smaller than 3.65% of GDP), coupled with a new foreign policy which, to borrow words from a former President, “recognizes the indispensability and the limitations of America’s role in the world”. This means that, even as America needs to maintain a strong defense, it needs to seriously reconsider all of its commitments to foreign countries and organizations, scale down or end some defense commitments, and bring troops back home from countries where they don’t need to be (e.g. Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iraq and Afghanistan). A promiscously interventionist foreign policy would be bad for the Treasury as well as the military, because would waste limited DOD resources.
Allen West has endorsed defense cuts, as well a policy of ending wars of nationbuilding (which are financed by a separate GWOT supplemental budget) (http://spectator.org/blog/2010/11/30/possible-way-forward-on-defens). While I agree that the US should stop waging wars of nationbuilding, I believe he’s flat wrong on defense cuts.
The truth is that defense spending cuts are NEITHER necessary to balance the budget NOR acceptable under the present military circumstances (i.e. the multiple serious military threats America is facing).
Defense spending (not including spending on Iraq and Afghanistan) accounts for a paltry 14.87% of the total federal budget and only 3.65% of GDP. Those are miniscule numbers. The DOD is clearly not to blame for America’s fiscal woes. Moreover, 3.65% of GDP is such a paltry amount that it’s evident to anyone who isn’t blind that the DOD can’t do with less.
Cutting defense spending (rather than GWOT spending) when it is already so small would severely weaken the US military, and is therefore an utterly unacceptable option. The DOD’s share of GDP has been permanently under 4% since FY1996, and the current defense budget is the SMALLEST (as a percentage of GDP) since FY1948, together with its Clinton-era and Bush-era counterparts.
Also, Antle, West and the journalist who interviewed West all neglected to mention an inconvenient truth: the fact that defense is a constitutional DUTY of the federal government, rather than an option that the federal government might or might not undertake. It is not for the FG to dither whether or not to provide for the common defense – it is its duty to do so.
As Ronald Reagan correctly said in 1985: “we must not relax our efforts to restore military strength just as we near our goal of a fully equipped, trained, and ready professional corps. National security is government’s first responsibility; so in past years defense spending took about half the Federal budget. Today it takes less than a third. We’ve already reduced our planned defense expenditures by nearly a hundred billion dollars over the past 4 years and reduced projected spending again this year.
You know, we only have a military-industrial complex until a time of danger, and then it becomes the arsenal of democracy. Spending for defense is investing in things that are priceless—peace and freedom.”
Earlier, a New America Foundation pseudoanalyst, Parag Khanna, has falsely claimed that
“The United States still has the world’s most powerful military, of course, but its utility is diminishing as the capacity to deter and resist spreads…. More fundamentally, the world has quickly become multipolar, with the European Union a larger economic player than the United States while China rises quickly on all measures of hard and soft power.”
Firstly, the US military is no longer the world’s strongest. The PLA is. Secondly, it is incorrect to say that “its utility is diminishing”. The US military is useful for a wide range of purposes, including deterring America’s enemies and rogue states. Bullies can be deterred only by military means.
As for the EU, it’s incorrect to say that it’s a larger economic player than the US. True, it has a larger GDP than the US, but it’s a confederacy of 27 different countries which don’t have a common currency (11 countries are not members of the Eurozone), a common leader, a common military or a common foreign policy. The EU is not a country, not anymore than the OAS or NAFTA is a country. Moreover, the EU’s economy is, by many measures, inferior to the US economy.
As Ryan’s Roadmap, and my own Blueprint for a Balanced Budget have shown, defense cuts are not necessary to balance the federal budget. And, as the threats menacing the US (such as North Korea) have shown, reducing the defense budget (or weakening the military in any other way) would be an utter folly. The Congress must not do so.