Rebuttal of Doug Bandow’s blatant lies about defense spending

In early February, the leftist (and misnamed) “American Conservative” magazine published on its website an utterly ridiculous screed (titled “The Attack of the Pork Hawks”)  by well-known leftist libertarian Doug Bandow, who has long advocated deep defense cuts and has been consistently lying about America’s defense spending. Although his screed was published 8 months ago in a niche mag that few people (and no conservatives) read, it made the same utterly false claims that leftist libertarians and liberals alike frequently make about conservatives and defense issues, so I’ve decided to write this rebuttal to refute all such claims once and for all.

Firstly, Bandow claims, in the opening of his screed, that conservatives who advocate robust defense spending, or increases of it, become big-government, big-spending liberals, just like the liberals who zealously defend education spending or the Medicare program.

Thus, Bandow revealed his utter ignorance of the Constitution, as well as his leftist, liberal, un-conservative mindset: he sees no difference whatsoever between providing for the common defense and spending money on unconstiutional welfare and education programs that handle issues reserved to the states and the people.

Under the Constitution, providing generously for the common defense is not only legitimate, it is actually the highest Constitutional DUTY of the federal government, as required by Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the Constitution, and as further proven by the Preamble, which says that one of the reasons why the federal government was created in the first place is to “provide for the common defence”. Furthermore, the majority of the enumerated powers granted to the Congress by Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution relates to military matters, making clear that defense is to be the federal government’s first Constitutional duty.

And defending America itself (to say nothing of its allies) cannot be done cheaply, contrary to Bandow’s lies (see below) and requires substantial, continous funding, so it’s Constitutionally legitimate.

By contrast, all federal welfare, education, agriculture, and health programs are unconstitutional, as they are beyod the scope of the feds’ enumerated powers.

Secondly, Bandow falsely claims that the US military budget is “bloated” and significantly too high for defending America. At the same time, he wants the US to terminate its defense commitments to all of its allies and dump them, and falsely claims that doing so would permit deep cuts in the US defense budget.

But again, that is not true. Defending America itself cannot be done on the cheap. A significantly reduced defense budget would be woefully inadequate to protect America, because defending the US itself (to say nothing of its allies) requires, inter alia:

  • Providing air superiority to control the airspace over America itself (and Canada), which requires a large number of advanced 5th generation aircraft to defeat incoming enemy aircraft (including bombers and their escort fighters);
  • Providing a large ground army to protect America’s land borders, or at least, the long border with Mexico, where a full-scale war with drug cartels is already ongoing (don’t take my word for it – visit Arizona);
  • Patrolling America’s long coasts: the two vast ocean costs and the Gulf Coast (where the Russians sometimes sent Akula class subs), and protecting the undersea resources and fishing areas in US territorial waters;
  • Providing a large, modern, survivable nuclear deterrent (which requires a large, survivable, modern nuclear triad and a large nuclear stockpile);
  • Providing a multi-layered missile defense system to protect the homeland;
  • Providing the human, space-, air-, sea-, and ground-based intelligence capabilities to collect all pertinent intel data about America’s enemies and making informed decisions about national security issues;
  • Providing the administrative support required;
  • Providing the healthcare, retirement, housing, and family support programs for the military’s members;
  • Providing a military judicial system; and
  • Other national security requirements.

All of that costs a lot of money. Yet, all of that is absolutely necessary to defend America itself, even if all allies are to be dumped. So no, even if they were all dumped and left to fend for themselves, the US would still need to spend roughly as much as defense as it does now. Any deep cuts would greatly undermine America’s defense capabilities.

And dumping America’s allies is a foolish idea, from America’s own security standpoint as well as a moral one. Not only would it be immoral, it would DECREASE America’s security, for two reasons:

  • Threats to crucial allies and trade partners such as Japan, South Korea, and Western European countries would, by the virtue of these countries’ economic importance for the US, have serious consequences for America itself. Aggression against these countries would send serious repercussions throughout the US economy.
  • Dumping these allies would force them to develop their own nuclear weapons, thus greatly worsening the already serious nuclear proliferation problem.

And Bandow’s ridiculous fantasy that the US can retrench safely behind oceans and not be threatened by those who would attack Japan or South Korea is downright ridiculous and laughable. The crocodile would not content itself with merely these countries; it would eventually, sooner rather than later, come to eat America itself. The US has already tried such a naive isolationist foreign policy multiple times, and each time, it failed abysmally. As George Santayana rightly says, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Bandow swears that deep defense spending cuts would not have to mean cuts in the development of new weapons, “only” in force structure, which he wants to see cut deeply across all services. He claims the US has an oversized  and “titantic” military, and claims it is too big to defend America.

But the US military is neither oversized nor “titanic”, and it is not too big at all. If anything, the US Navy and the USAF are too small. The entire US military was deeply cut after the Cold War’s end, and it is now 50% smaller than it was in 1991. The USN and the USAF have been cut deven deeper: the Navy now has only 284 ships, versus over 500 in 1989 and 592 in the Reagan years; it’s the smallest Navy since 1916. The USAF now has only 156 bombers (versus several hundred in 1991), 420 ICBMs (versus over 600 in 1991), and far fewer fighters, airlifters, and helicopters than in 1991. Its aircraft fleet today is actually the smallest and the oldest in the Air Force’s entire history.

Yet, two independent, neutral panels – the QDER Independent Review Panel and a CNAS group – have produced reports showing that the Navy needs 346 ships, versus today’s 284, just to back up American diplomacy abroad and deter enemies (to say nothing of defending America’s allies). Even today, the Navy can supply only 59% of Combatant Commanders’ requests for ships in general, and only 61% of their requests for submarines. And even under current budgets, the Navy’s cruiser, destroyer, and submarine fleets will fall precipitously below today’s already-inadequate levels. Yet, Bandow wants the Navy (and the defense budget) to be cut even further – and deeply. And despite his utterly false claims, such small ship and aircraft fleets would be woefully inadequate to protect even America itself, to say nothing of its allies.

Moreover, in contrast to Bandow’s isolationist delusions, the threats to America’s borders – ncluding American commercial shipping – are not limited to America’s borders. Pirates and aggresive countries like China and Iran are just few such threats. Yet, the US is totally dependent on the sea for prosperity and jobs: a large share of America’s GDP is due to foreign trade: exports and imports. The US economy is totally dependent on foreign trade, and the vast majority of exports and imports come by sea. But protecting American merchant vessels around the world will require a large navy – far larger than what Bandow claims. Cutting the Navy’s size would only place American merchant sailors, jobs, and prosperity at risk.

Bandow falsely claims that even after deep cuts, the Navy and Air Force would still be large enough to protect sealanes and airspace (he’s wrong regardless of how deeply he wants them to be cut, because the services are too small even today, so cutting them even further would make them even more inadequate). Moreover, if Bandow got what he wanted, the Navy and Air Force would be cut so deeply they would have no “reserve capacity” to respond to unforeseen threats, despite his claims to the contrary.

Sequestration would have similar consequences, and Bandow has joined the chorus of the leftists denying its destructive impact on the military. He claims it would be a mere cut in the growth rate (while simoultaneously saying it would bring defense spending back to 2007 levels). He invokes libertarian liars Veronique de Rugy (who isn’t even American and has already been utterly disproven here numerous times) and CATO’s Ben Friedman, who falsely claimed in February that sequestration would only cut defense spending’s growth rate to 10% per year, as opposed to a supposed 18% growth rate without sequestration, and that by FY2021, defense spending would still be 18% higher than today even with sequestration, as opposed to 21% without it.

But those claims and numbers are utterly false.  Today’s base defense budget is $531 bn. As this CBO report proves (see Table 1-4 on page 11), under sequestration, defense spending would be cut to just $469 bn and stay below today’s level for the entire decade (if not longer). By FY2021, it would still be at just $489 bn – $42 bn below today’s level – and in FY2022, at just $493 bn, $38 bn less than today.

At the same time, OCO spending, also subject to sequestration, would eventually zero out after US troops leave Afghanistan, so the total military budget would also be much smaller than today.

Thus, Bandow’s and Andrew McCarthy’s claim that by FY2021 defense spending would be higher than today even with sequestration is a blatant lie, meaning that these guys are liars.

Bandow also repeated de Rugy’s blatant lie that sequestration would only revert defense spending back to FY2007 levels. That’s also false; it would actually set defense spending back by an entire decade, to FY2003 levels, when the world was not nearly as dangerous as today, and China and Russia were not nearly as strong and belligerent as they are today. $469 bn would be, in real terms, the smallest base defense budget since FY2003.

And this deep cut would have the consequences listed here.

Bandow’s claim that sequestration’s cuts would be split equally between defense and nondefense spending is also false, as proven here.

His claim that military spending has increased by 74.5% since 2001, and that in 2007 it was 39% above 2001 levels, is also a blatant lie, as is his claim that it was only $300 bn in 2001. In FY2001, it was actually $390 bn in today’s money ($291.1 bn in CY2000 dollars). Today, the base defense budget ($531 bn) is only 35%, and the total military budget ($645 bn) only 65% above, FY2001 levels. Only, given that it occurred over 11 years and began from the lowest ebb since before Pearl Harbor.

Bandow’s complaints about US defense spending being higher in raw dollars than it was during the Korean and Vietnam War and the Reagan yers are irrelevant. As a share of America’s GDP and the total federal budget – the measures that truly count – defense spending is much lower than it was then, and lower thn ever since FY1941, excepting the late 1990s.

Bandow, like other isolationists, wants the US to dump what it calls “rich allies”, while objecting to the “isolationist” label. But that’s what he and his “noninterventionist” buddies are: they want America to dump all of its allies, not defend them against any bullies, appease all of America’s adversaries, withdraw from all alliances and some other multilateral fora, and adopt a “see no evil, hear no evil” foreign policy. That’s what the US was doing until 12/7/1941. It IS isolationism.

And what “rich allies” is Bandow talking about? Perhaps Poland, a poor country that the US has already sold out once? Perhaps Georgia, a strategically important, but poor country attacked by Russia in 2008? Perhaps the Philippines and Vietnam, whom China is bullying? Perhaps Taiwan – a small island democracy that just wants to be free from China’s Communist regime?

Bandow complains about America’s actions against these countries, especially China, and asks what would Americans think if China had bases in Mexico and patrolled the waters around the US. He claims that China’s military buildup is America’s fault.

But he’s lying. The US doesn’t have bases in any country bordering China, except Afghanistan (to be closed in 2014). America has had bases in Japan and SK for decades, yet, these bases have never been used to launch aggression against anyone, including China. The US has never attacked China. All it is doing is defending its Pacific allies against possible Chinese and NK aggression.

OTOH, what should the Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Filipino people think now, when China is bullying their civilian ships, taking over islands by force, and threatening to use force against all of these countries? And when China has 1,600 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan alone?

What should India think, when China is building bases in Pakistan and Burma, on India’s doorstep?

The US is not the aggressor here. China is.

Bandow falsely claims that China is spending so much on its military because the US is doing the same. But China has been steadily increasing its military budget by double digits every year of the last 22 years – even during the 1990s, when the US was deeply reducing its own. China’s military buildup has nothing to do with US military spending, and everything to do with China’s aggressive designs. If the US cuts its defense budget, China will only take that as a sign of weakness.

And China isn’t the only potential aggressor. Russia has recently sent nuclear-armed bombers near and into US airspace (they said they were “practicing attacking the enemy”) and its submarines to prowl in the Gulf and the East Coast. What should Americans think when Russia behaves so aggressively on America’s doorstep (and maintains its ties to Cuba)?

In short, all of Doug Bandow’s claims are blatant lies. The defense budget is not “bloated” at all and is barely adequate; the Navy’s and USAF’s force structure is woefully inadequate and vastly smaller than in 1991; dumping America’s allies would be a foolish and immoral policy yet would not allow for deep defense budget cuts; America is not to blame for other countries’ aggressive behavior; and their behavior is a result of their (particularly China’s) aggressive designs, not America’s overseas bases or military spending.

Doug Bandow is a disgraced libertarian liar. Not a word he says is true.


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