Mark Steyn is wrong about defense spending

Over a month ago, Mark Steyn utterly discredited himself by rationalizing the sequester’s defense cuts and defending the concept of defense cuts in general. He’s totally ignorant about defense issues, yet he lectures us conservatives on them, even though it is immoral to pontificate about issues about which one is ignorant.

He has recently written a new article titled “The High-Spending Pentagon’s Way of Doing Things Cannot Contain Indefinitely”. It’s ridiculous and wrong. In it, he claims that:

“President Obama has called for cuts of half a trillion dollars from the military budget. In response, too many of my friends on the right are demanding business as usual — that the Pentagon’s way of doing things must continue in perpetuity. It cannot.”

That’s utter garbage. Many rightwingers, including many defense conservatives such as myself, have condemned Obama’s demand of $500 bn in defense cuts, but NO ONE, repeat, NO ONE, not even myself, has demanded “business as usual” – NO ONE has demanded that  “the Pentagon’s way of doing things must continue”, let alone “continue in perpetuity. No one is defending business as usual.

What we HAVE demanded is that (depending on which person you’re talking to) these defense cuts be dramatically reduced in scope (which is what people like Victor Davis Hanson are saying) or cancelled altogether while continuing DOD reforms (which is what I’m saying). No one, not even the staunchest defense conservative like myself, is saying that the Pentagon should be allowed to continue business as usual. Instead, I’m saying that every aspect of how the DOD is staffed, organized, and operated needs to be reformed – but that every saving made in the DOD must be reinvested in the DOD. I’m acutely aware of the DOD’s problems and inefficiencies, and I’m proud that I’m the author of the largest DOD reform proposals package ever devised by anyone. So I can’t be challenged on that score.

Steyn rightly points out that:

“America is responsible for about 43% of the planet’s military expenditure. This is partly a reflection of the diminished military budgets of everyone else. As Britain and the other European powers learned very quickly in the decades after the Second World War, when it comes to a choice between unsustainable welfare programs or a military of global reach, the latter is always easier to cut.

It is, needless to say, a false choice.”

Yet, he falsely claims that:

“By mid-decade the Pentagon’s huge bloated budget will be less than the mere interest payments on U.S. debt…”

Excuse me? The Pentagon’s “huge bloated budget”? The fact is that the Pentagon’s budget is neither huge nor bloated. It amounts to $645 bn (plus $17 bn for the DOE’s defense-related programs), which is amounts to only 19% of the total federal budget and just 4.51% of GDP! It also amounts, per capita, to a lower expenditure per American than it did during the Reagan era. The Pentagon budget is NOT bloated by any honest measure.

Steyn was also wrong to claim that:

“So the assumptions of the last 60 years are over — and not just because of the cost. If America’s responsible for 43% of global military expenditure, why doesn’t it feel like that? Why does the United States get so little bang for the buck?

It is two-thirds of a century since this country won a war (and please don’t bother writing in to say what about Grenada or Panama).”

Garbage! Firstly, 43% is a minority, and secondly, the US DOES get much bang for the buck (although it could certainly get more bang) – for example, 11 carrier battle groups, over 3000 fighters, 5113 nuclear warheads, a ballistic missile defense system, 10 Army divisions, and a Marine Corps numbering 202,000 men. And the US won the First Gulf War (in a spectacular fashion, I might add) just 21 years ago. So the claim that it has been 2/3 of a century since America won a war is false.

(To be fair, Steyn is no isolationist and no Ron Paul fan. He rightly warns that “”Fortress America” is less a fortress than a state of denial, yet it’s one with increasing appeal to many Republican voters.”)

He ends his article thus:

“With characteristic timidity, Mitt Romney says that as commander in chief his Afghan strategy would be determined by the “commanders in the field.” More tea and sympathy! But a lazy deference to the inviolability of the present arrangements for another two-thirds of a century of unwon wars will not suffice.

I am in favor of a leaner, meaner military — emphasis on both adjectives. A broke America will perforce wind up with the first. But, if we want the second, the foreign-policy right will have to make a better case than it has this primary season.”

Maybe he’s listening to the wrong right-wingers.

Maybe he should start listening to me.

In short, Steyn has once again proven that he’s totally ignorant about defense affairs. He would be well-advised not to speak on these issues again.


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